History + Evolution

  • Highlights

    Founded in 1925, Emily Carr University of Art + Design is one of the oldest post-secondary institutions in British Columbia and the only one that is dedicated solely to professional education and learning in the arts, media and design. One of the University's roles is to act as an advocate for the arts and reinforce the need for public support. At every opportunity, the University promotes public understanding and appreciation of fine arts, media arts, and design for their significant impact on the well-being of our society.

    Emily Carr's alumni and faculty are among the most influential and important artists and designers working in their respective fields. Graduates go on to careers in a variety of fields, and are regularly accepted into graduate studies programs in major universities and art institutions around the world. Our graduate students pursue careers in many fields.

    Emily Carr received degree-granting authority in 1989 through the Open Learning Agency, and in 1994 was granted authority to offer degrees in its own name: Bachelor of Fine Arts in Visual Arts, General Fine Arts, or Photography; and, Bachelor of Design in Communication Design or Industrial Design.

    In 1995 it became Emily Carr Institute of Art + Design, and in 1997 was granted authority to offer Bachelor of Media Arts degrees. In 2006, Emily Carr's Master of Fine Arts program received its first cohort of design, media and visual art students. University status was granted to Emily Carr In May of 2008, and the school is now known as Emily Carr University of Art + Design (ECU). In 2013, ECU began to offer a second graduate program, the Master of Design.

    In 2015, ECU celebrated its 90th Anniversary. The university moved in 2017 to a newly built, state-of-the art campus at Great Northern Way. The new campus puts the University at the centre of a new social, cultural, educational, and economic engine for British Columbia.

  • Today

    A new home

    On Friday, April 24, 2015, special guests of the University broke ground at a ceremony marking the launch of construction of a new campus on the False Creek Flats of East Vancouver.

    Designed by Diamond Schmitt Architects, the new campus, located just off Great Northern Way, opened in September 2017. The campus features sky-lit atria, galleries and exhibition spaces, a natural light-filled library and learning commons, and studios with large north-facing windows. The exterior is punctuated with coloured-glass panels referencing the distinctive palette of Emily Carr the artist.

    In May 2018, the campus was officially LEED certified to the Gold Level, having met the Canada Green Building Council’s rigorous set of standards for waste reduction, energy and water conservation, air quality and more. The official project scorecard gives the building the highest possible scores for Innovation in Design and Regional Priority.

    A new president

    The University’s long-standing President and Vice-Chancellor Dr. Ron Burnett retired on July 31, 2018, after a 22-year tenure. Under his leadership, the University began offering graduate programs, undertaking original research in creative fields, advancing technological and digital innovations, and making space for Indigenous voices through our Aboriginal Gathering Place. A large part of his legacy is the Great Northern Way campus, which is the first purpose-built facility of its kind in Canada.

    Dr. Gillian Siddall was appointed President and Vice-Chancellor on September 1, 2018, following a long career in academic leadership and the performing arts. She holds an Honours BA and MA in English from the University of Guelph and a PhD in English from the University of Western Ontario. She is also a jazz vocalist and co-founder of the Guelph Jazz Festival.

  • 2000

    The New Millennium: Interactive

    The Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design moved confidently into the virtual and actual global dialogue of the 21st century. In the year 2000, on the occasion of its 75th history, Emily Carr took a backward glance and held a huge celebration. Ada Currie Robertson, one of the original graduates from 1929, attended the events. A number of its most significant graduates from each decade of Emily Carr’s history were recognized and awarded the newly established Emily Award.

    This era marked the beginning of significant growth in number of students and stature, highlighted in 2008 by the Emily Carr’s attainment of university status by government decree. The Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design became the Emily Carr University of Art and Design under the stewardship of John (Jake) C. Kerr, the first Chancellor of the University after whom The Jake Kerr Faculty of Graduate Studies is named.

    Looking back over the course of the first decade of the new millennium reveals curricular changes, increased internationalization, new programs, investment in new technologies and increased collaboration with creative and cultural industries and educational institutions.

    The University’s national and international reach was greatly enhanced through numerous new programs and initiatives. The development and delivery of online education in both studio and theory credit courses in art, design and media allowed the University to reach across the world. In 2009 the student exchange program matched students with 71 partner institutions in 14 countries while the University’s student body represented fifty countries. Visiting speaker programs also hosted talks by international artists, architects, designers, theorists, poets and writers.

    The University developed partnerships with other universities across British Columbia. In collaboration with North Island College, the University delivered the third and fourth years of a Bachelor of Fine Art (General Fine Art major) degree at North Island College's Comox Valley campus. The University also developed an interdisciplinary four year joint degree program with the University of Northern British Columbia that connects creative writing and studio practice. The delivery of these programs has been in part made possible through a well-funded and innovation collection of online courses in studio and academic courses.

    The Great Northern Way Campus, a collaborative endeavour with Simon Fraser University, the University of British Columbia and the British Columbia Institute of Technology and Emily Carr University acquired property east of the Granville Island property that will allow for future growth of the University’s programs.

    During the first decade, the establishment of an Aboriginal office and the initiatives of the Academic Administration saw the development of a significant number of courses that teach art and design from an aboriginal perspective.

    The Critical and Cultural Studies, the academic core of the University’s degree programs, gained greater prominence as increasing numbers of academic courses were offered in Art History, Design History, English, Humanities, Media History, Science and Social Sciences in support of our degree granting status. A major in Critical and Cultural Practices was developed where students could complete more than half of their credits in academic courses. Curricular changes were also made to reflect the University’s commitment to sustainability with courses across faculties addressing issues related to ecological sustainability, green design and other environmental concerns. In addition an Illustration degree was recently launched.

    The new millennium represented significant technological innovation. The University recognized the need to train designers and artists with both the proficiency in these new developments and knowledge and ethic to approach them critically. In 2006 Intersections Digital Studios, the home of Research at Emily Carr University, was launched and dedicated to ongoing research in art, media and design research. Through Intersections Digital Studios, graduate students and faculty access state of the art digital technologies and subject matter experts. Alongside it, the Research and Industry office fosters collaborative projects among students, faculty, and outside industry and community groups and secures significant funding for research from government and industry.

    Another significant change was the development of the Graduate program. For some time there had been interest in a graduate program at Emily Carr and in 2006 the University was granted the authority to offer a Master of Applied Arts degree. In 2013 the Master of Design degree was established. With opportunities in design, visual art and media arts, the Masters Programs offer students the chance to advances their practices through rigorous studio, theory and research classes, critiques by established visiting artists and designers, an internship and the development of a thesis.

    Finally, Emily Carr’s graduates met increasing international acclaim through a variety of sectors. Designers were recognized for their focus on sustainable design, such as Niki Dun (03) whose bicycle ambulance, designed for the use in rural communities in southern Africa, was featured in Bruce Mau’s Massive Change Exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Emily Carr’s faculty expertise in documentary practices also contributed to the success of filmmaker Jason DaSilva whose documentary on his experiences with Multiple Sclerosis was recently shown at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York.

    A renewed focus in painting at the University led to Emily Carr graduates Etienne Zack (00), Jeremy Hof (07), Arabella Campbell (02) and Brenda Draney (MAA 09) each to win first prize in successive RBC Painting Awards, a national painting prize. Other grads from this decade who made names for themselves in the visual arts include Terence Koh (02) with recent solo exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt; and Isabelle Pauwels (01) the recent recipient of the inaugural Brink Award which entails a solo exhibition at the Henry Gallery in Seattle.

  • 1980

    1980 to 1999: Content in Context

    The 1980s represented diverse forms of expression and fostered photo-conceptual work as well as romantic neo-expressionism. Student work was ambitious and outward looking due in part to a lively visiting artists program

    In 1980, Robin Mayor facilitated the move to the new campus on Granville Island. The Charles H. Scott Gallery opened as a professional gallery with Ted Lindberg as its first director. Alan Barkley became president in 1986 and hired many new faculty members. To address the need for gender equity within the faculty, a concerted effort was made to hire experienced women artists and teachers. There was a growing interest in issue-based practices in the arts. In the curriculum, interpretation and content began to take precedence over technique and pure materiality. The commitment to design was expanded with the establishment of the Industrial Design Department.

    In response to the new provincial mandate, the University implemented the Outreach Program under Nini Baird. The program included the Printmobile and workshops in remote communities throughout the province as well as part-time studies, summer school, and later the Florence program. An art educational television series, including Mark & Image (1988), was developed with the Knowledge Network by the late Tom Hudson, Dean Emeritus, along with Ann Morrison and Maurice Yacowar.

    By the late 1980s the Granville Island building was too small to accommodate the burgeoning number of students. The Design and Painting Departments moved off Granville Island until, in 1994, the south building opened. The building also provided for a larger library to acknowledge the new degree-granting status (Bachelor of Fine Arts and Bachelor of Design) and the need for more academic courses. Along with the degree program came the name change from College to Institute. Mammoth graduation exhibitions with up to 5000 people attending, printing grad catalogues, and the student newspaper In Flux (formerly Planet of the Arts) were characteristic of this period of growth and increased visibility.

    If the 1980s were focused on issues of gender then the 1990s brought forth those of cultural diversity and sexual orientation. A student exchange program was instituted. Digital technology became the primary toolbox for design and media practices. Dr. Ron Burnett, who became President in 1996, increased the commitment to digital technology and began redefining the University’s place in the art and design world.

    Graduates saw their careers developing internationally, gaining recognition were for instance artists Steven Shearer (92), Brian Jungen (92) and Geoffrey Farmer.

  • 1960

    1960 to 1979: Tune In, Turn On

    The 1960s was an era of political and social unrest and change beginning with the civil rights movement early in the decade. The Vancouver School of Art moved into a new building in 1963 which was a testament to modernism: large open studios, skylights, high ceilings and well-equipped workshops. During the early 1960s painting was typified by hard edge abstraction but pop and op art soon found a place in the studios. At the same time, practices were becoming increasingly multidisciplinary. Programs in photography and film animation were added. Performance and installation art became common-place and groups such as Intermedia introduced media-based and interdisciplinary practices using poetry, dance and visual art. Artists influenced by Robert Smithson and others explored interventions into the natural and urban landscape.

    The VSA reflected the experimentation of the times including chemically altered states of consciousness and the questioning of traditional educational practices and social values. Grades were all but eliminated, classes were open, and students worked on self-directed projects long into the night. Formal drawing classes and art history were optional. Many students thrived in this climate of freedom and creativity.

    During the 1970s the need for more space became apparent. The Painting Department moved to rented quarters at the Pacific National Exhibition grounds and Foundation moved to studios on Water Street in Gastown. Robin Mayor orchestrated the steps toward new facilities and administrative independence, moving the school from the Vancouver School Board authority to become part of the Vancouver Vocational Institute, and finally, in 1978, attaining autonomy as an independent art college with a provincial mandate. The provincial government renamed the school Emily Carr College of Art, which led to protests by faculty and students. It was felt that the name did not adequately represent the contemporary environment of the school as it again moved into new, larger accommodations on Granville Island.

  • 1940
    Imagined drawing location c. 1950

    1940 to 1959: Art in Living

    The Great Depression followed by World War II challenged the continued viability of the fledgling Vancouver School of Art. Financial resources were limited and many talented young people were enlisted into active service. Bruno and Molly Lamb Bobak, Orville Fisher, Paul Goranson, Edward J. Hughes, Gordon Smith and Jack Shadbolt all served active duty as either soldiers or war artists. Those students and teachers who remained behind persevered and in 1940-41 produced over 100 posters in support of Canada’s war effort. In 1943, at the height of the war, the Vancouver School of Art matriculated only three graduates.

    Rex Dixon with ceramics students c. 1955

    In 1943, teachers Fred Amess and B. C. Binning formed the Art in Living Group to address design in urbanization. Teachers and students studied housing, neighbourhoods, and communities and presented their findings in four exhibitions at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Binning, with the help of his colleagues, built one of the flat-roofed houses in Vancouver. This decided modern approach brought students and faculty together to consider the social benefits of good art and design.

    In 1946, after an active push to attract war veterans on study grants, conditions at the School improved and between 1946 to 1952, 97 students received diplomas. Mature and sensitive men and women, their thinking broadened by experiences of the larger world, came to study fine and commercial art. The provincialism of the early years was expanded as ideas and forms associated with international modern art movements such as abstraction became known to students through teachers like Gordon Smith and Jack Shadbolt. Painting flourished at the School.

    In 1952 the school moved into the larger, renovated School Board building which included a library space. The result was, as Jack Shadbolt said, “…a healthier, living, breathing Art School.” Fred Amess became the Principal upon the retirement of Charles H. Scott. Amess believed in the importance of teaching crafts and hired ceramists Reg Dixon, David Lambert and later Robert Weghsteen. These teachers took promising students to St. Ives in England to study with their mentor Bernard Leach.

    B.C. Binning chair c. 1949

  • 1925

    1925 to 1939: Decor and the Land: Finding a Place

    Critique: Students look at drawings c. 1930

    In 1921 the British Columbia Art League was founded to advocate the

    establishment of both an art gallery and an art school. Four years later in 1925 the Vancouver School of Decorative and Applied Arts opened its doors to 89 day and evening students on the top floor of the Vancouver School Board building at 590 Hamilton Street. Local architect G. Thornton Sharpe was the founding director but within a year Charles H. Scott, artist and former art supervisor for the School Board, assumed the directorship.

    Original teaching staff includes Charles Marega, Theodore Korner, and Kate A. Hoole, the first woman on the faculty, in addition to Scott and Sharpe. Scott, who was inspired by the Glasgow School of Art, hired his sister-in-law Grace Melvin from Glasgow as well as Jock MacDonald from England to teach design and craft courses. Fred Varley came from Toronto to teach painting and drawing. Marega, Scott and Melvin were committed to traditional approaches in art and to design for industry and everyday applications. By contrast, Varley, a member of Canada’s Group of Seven, and MacDonald encouraged a more radical expressionistic approach to painting and landscape which shook the roots of provincial art audiences. Their influence had a profound effect on Vancouver artists well into the 1940s.

    Faculty and Administration, Vancouver School of Decorative and Applied Arts c. 1925

    Conflicting artistic ideologies and fiscal restraints that resulted in substantial salary reductions prompted Varley and MacDonald to leave the School and found the British Columbia College of Art in 1933. They took with them many of their best students but within two years the school closed due to a lack of funds.

    In 1929, the first graduating class of the VSDAA comprised nine women and two men, and despite the depression, the school began to grow rapidly. The depression encouraged student interest in the more practical program of design.

    As early as 1929 the administration began to lobby local government for a new building. In 1936 the renamed Vancouver School of Art moved into renovated facilities in the former Vancouver (Central) High School located in the same block. Students and graduates regularly exhibited in the new Vancouver Art Gallery and also produced murals and sculptural reliefs in urban spaces.