Point of View

Why are CNA's applied arts programs located in Stephenville?

Freelance writer Wendy Rose wonders whether CNA's visual arts program would have been cut if it had been based in St. John's.
Freelance writer Wendy Rose wonders if the Bay St. George campus of the CNA was ever the right location for an applied arts program. (CBC )

"It makes absolutely no sense to me."

This line always sticks out in my head when I think of the many lengthy conversations my friends and I have had over the location of the only applied arts school in Newfoundland.

It always boils down to the same question: Why is an applied arts school over 800 kilometres away from the cultural hub of Newfoundland and Labrador?

The College of the North Atlantic's Bay St. George campus offers journalism, film and video production, music industry and performance, recording arts, visual arts, digital animation and video game design. These programs make up the Media Arts Centre at CNA.

There must be some very legitimate reasons for keeping the arts school in Stephenville, but I've yet to find a reason that satisfied me.

It seems like a no-brainer: put the arts school wherever the biggest arts scene is. This, of course, would be St. John's, with its art galleries, museums, film festivals, music venues and media outlets.

Program cut in 2013 budget

After the release of the 2013 provincial budget, I was outraged to see the visual arts program removed from the course list. The program churns out amazing artists every year, but due to low enrollment numbers, the program has been dropped. I have met many people in St. John's and the surrounding areas who claim they would have loved to enrol in the program — if it wasn't more than 800 kilometres away.

In a news release, CNA president Ann Marie Vaughan explained how the reductions were focused on programming that had a three-year low enrollment pattern of less than 10 students per year.

"These are indicators to us that we've exhausted the market for those programs. At the same time, we have significant wait lists in other program areas," Vaughan explained. "We need to shift as an institution to ensure our program offerings match student and labour force demands."

For many artists in Newfoundland, a piece of paper from a visual arts program is exactly what they need to further their career and perfect their specific skills, while also learning about different mediums of art.

Right now, I wonder if CNA would even be able to meet the demand they would be faced with if any of the applied arts programs were offered in St. John's. Even though I quit journalism school two months into my second year to write for media outlets back in St. John's, I would enrol in the program again in a heartbeat if it was centralized in a larger urban centre.

Isolation has pros and cons

On April 8, a group called 'Save The Visual Arts Program' popped up on Facebook. More than 500 people have joined the group, with many comments about the program, the cuts and of course, the location. Current students, former students and alumni are all putting in their two cents.

For Adrienne Squires, an ex-VA student, the location is the killer.

"If they wanted to save it, they should have moved it to St. John's where people actually want to live," Squires said in a Facebook post. "There's a larger population, more people are willing to move there from other parts of the province, and there's a MUCH larger art scene in the city. It's easier for people to make connections and contacts within the city, easier to get a job afterwards, and easier to see yourself living there long-term. I would love to see this program saved but unless they're willing to move all of their resources to St. John's, it's not going to happen."

VA student Kristina Gidge isn't a fan of the cuts but the location of the visual arts program works for her.

"It takes total immersion to be successful in an arts program," Gidge said. "I know a lot of people who had issues with the location, but realistically for things like art and music, isolation can often foster creativity, at least if an artist chooses to accept their location in this way."

Many questions remain: Would this program still exist if it was in St. John's? How many people would enrol if they didn't have to move to Stephenville for the program? How many ex-students would still be enrolled?

Which program will be next?

As an ex-journalism student at the Bay St. George campus, I have felt the pain many students struggle with in Stephenville. Dubbed the "S-ville blues" by some students, the feeling of isolation does not necessarily result in successful work the way it does for Gidge.

More than 75 per cent of the students I started journalism with in 2011 are no longer in the program. With only two students graduating the two-year program in 2013, many wonder if journalism will be next on the chopping block.

On April 9, a public forum for art workers was held at Eastern Edge Gallery, giving workers and artists who are affected by the budget cuts to the arts sectors a chance to voice their concerns.

A member of the craft council expressed her concerns for the cuts to VA, as it is the only place to study ceramics and metalwork in the province. Two workers from the education sector feel unable to encourage young artists to follow their dreams of pursuing a career in the arts, as the future seems uncertain.

How can we consider ourselves a "have" province when we consider all of the things that have been taken away from us with the 2013 provincial budget?

As a journalist, I need the arts community to keep having gallery openings, public art shows, daring performance pieces, art by instruction projects, workshops and art marathons. I need film festivals. I need new exhibit openings at The Rooms. I need the arts community to keep doing what it does, so I can keep doing what I do.

Keep the budget cuts coming. We don't do it for the money anyway. We do it because we love it. We do it because it's part of us and we can't make it stop. I need this pen in my hand. He needs a paintbrush in his.

We'll keep proving our worth. We will never stop painting, drawing, sculpting, writing, filming, dancing, teaching or learning. We will never stop loving art or making art.

Just try to stop us.