At the Ottawa School of Art, everyone belongs – creative or not

In the heart of downtown Ottawa, there is a school for aspiring artists called the Ottawa School of Art, founded in 1879 as an association to promote fine arts in Canada. As the diploma coordinator of the programs at the school, Andrew Fay said that people of all ages register to the program, some who have even already received degrees but want to further their understanding of art.

“We have a three-year fine arts diploma program, we have a one-year portfolio certificate program which people use and then go to, let’s say, Algonquin College or Ottawa University or schools around the country,” explained Fay. “The school though is non-profit and it is open to the public so we also have general programs – so night classes – and we also have a children’s program as well.”

Fay reasons that the biggest difference between the school and other college or university programs is that the art is very traditional as opposed to a lot of art programs being digital. He went on to say that students who register to the school are not seeking the theory, but the skills.

Among those who graduated from the program, some have gone back to school, some have done international residencies and some have started working, as per the coordinator.

“There are lots of jobs in the arts. There is a whole infrastructure built for art jobs where people need the skills,” he explained. “We have had our students do the centennial flame at Parliament Hill, to redo the masonry there. We have had some do television work for makeup and things. Sculpture students have done prosthesis for medical.”

Although it can take a while to get recognition by the public, Fay revealed that some graduates have even gone on to develop their own artist career.

Gabriel Bouffard is one of those students who wants to start his own artistic practice. He is in his second year in the three-year fine arts diploma program. After doing his time in University, he joined the school in order to obtain a more “hands-on approach.”

“We’ve learned a lot of important foundations, especially in drawing,” said Bouffard. “The school has a great approach here on teaching us these basic skills so then we are later able to move away from it and experiment. There is a great balance between more foundational stuff and more expressive, looser kind of art.”

Bouffard said that he is working full-time so the school has helped him make a flexible schedule that is manageable for him.

Jacqueline Mudie has already graduated from the three-year fine arts program, but her experience at the school was so amazing that she came back to do a fourth year after graduation.

She had looked at Algonquin as well as Carleton University after taking a year off from high school where she learnt she was very kinesthetic. Luckily the school provided a perfect hands-on environment for her that allowed her to have an intimate learning experience with the teachers.

“I had an amazing experience with each educator here and I know them quite well because I am not sitting at the back of the class with a 100 students,” she said. “There are ten people in this class and we all become a small community.”

There are roughly five classes and Mudie said that the schedule is not as intense as University. There are a lot of assignments that allow the students to practice the different aspects of art.

She explained that in the first year, students learn the basics whereas in second year there is more freedom but the learning experience is still structured.

“And then in third year you can pretty much be as creative as you want in terms of what you want,” she ended. “It’s more about learning the rules and then afterwards, it’s about breaking the rules and knowing how to.”

In the future, she wants to “further her art skills” by going to Concordia University and then eventually start an art collective.

Mudie recommends this program to everyone, even those who already have degrees or do not have any experience in art.

“It’s such a great community at this school and so encouraging, so helpful. It’s a magical place,” she praised.

The school will be celebrating its 140 anniversary next year.