Supporting the next generation of artists

Visit Kelly Andres' website and you'll find a photo of a pair of feet, wearing yellow shoes and black tights, sticking out from a backyard tent; in another, a black beetle lingers on an outstretched hand; in yet another, a pair of lamps appear to be wearing gauzy gowns in a living room.

Andres is an artist with a penchant for transforming mundane, everyday objects into something whimsical or even absurd, as these images from her website illustrate. An interdisciplinary artist, her creations often employ digital technology and elements of performance art. The result is an unusual spectacle that engages many audiences – even those who don't 'speak art.'

"I tend to make work about my everyday. I'm kind of a sponge: whatever's around me at the time seems to come out in my work," says Andres. "For a while, I was working as an environmental educator and that started to come out in my work – I started to work with bikes and plants. I find whatever's happening in our lives is very relevant and usually needs to be talked about or reflected upon."

Her education has also taken an unusual trajectory. After completing a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Art at the U of L, she opted to stay for her master's degree and work with faculty members Professor Mary Kavanagh and Dr. Joanne Fiske. She also worked with Professor Michael Campbell and other members of the faculty who provided direction and inspiration.

At the time, the U of L didn't have a Master of Fine Arts program, so the University offered Andres a different option: an individualized, multidisciplinary Master of Arts, in which she could blend fine arts with women's studies.

"In doing so, I explored both the theoretical side of women and gender studies in art, and incorporated a studio practice as well," she explains. "It was essentially a double degree."

The program was a great fit for the budding artist and thinker, says Kavanagh, one of her supervisors.

"It doesn't take much for Kelly to continue to grow and learn and strive – that's what makes her a good artist," Kavanagh explains.

As a graduate student, Andres began to show her work all over the world, first in Vancouver, and then New York, followed by exhibitions in several European countries and Singapore, where she completed an artist's residency. As Andres didn't have a cohort of students with whom she could relate during her program, the international travel filled a gap, providing opportunities to connect with other like-minded artists.

"What's important about residency and exhibition forums is that Kelly was able to connect to a larger world and to bring these experiences back to her studies in a very direct way," Kavanagh explains.

In fact, Andres' desire to engage with the world is partly why she's been so successful, says Kavanagh.

"In the visual arts, we try to help students connect through their own work and explorations with current disciplinary theory and practice – we encourage students with the interest, capacity and drive to go into the world and engage beyond the classroom."

Talented artists like Andres have created a critical mass at the U of L in recent years, prompting the University to create two new graduate programs: a Master of Fine Arts and Master of Music. Starting in September 2009, students wishing to pursue the next level of their education in art, dramatic arts, new media or music can do so at this institution.

James Dobbie, assistant dean, student program services in the Faculty of Fine Arts, explains that the new programs also reflect the evolution of the university. For many years, the U of L has had an undergraduate emphasis, despite attracting a large number of graduate students. But in recent years, the University's research capacity has grown enormously, drawing more and more students to its graduate programs.

Although the U of L is smaller than other research institutions in Alberta, graduate students will receive resources they might not receive at larger schools, says Dobbie.

"The facilities we have are second to none in terms of what we can offer graduate students."

Graduate students in art, for instance, will receive individual studio space, a benefit which is rare at large institutions. As well, students in Fine Arts graduate programs will have superior access to funding opportunities, including a scholarship called the Advantage Award.

"For each month of studies, the student is guaranteed to receive $1,000 in income from the university," Dobbie explains.

One year after completing her master's degree, Andres is preparing to move to Montreal in the fall where she'll begin an interdisciplinary PhD at Concordia University. Ultimately, she has set her sights on academia and says her experience working on her graduate research under Kavanagh and other faculty members has prepared her well. She's grateful to have received the mentorship she did as well as the opportunity to work independently.

"It was always my own work and my own voice, but Mary provided a lot of really great conversations. It was quite peer-to-peer at a certain level…It was great not to have your own ideas squashed down or evaporated, which allowed me to trust her and open up so my work could be more fluid."