SOVA at 10

When talking about the location of the Yukon School of Visual Arts (Yukon SOVA) in Dawson City, two issues are often raised:

What does the location do for students? What does it do for the town?

Kyla McArthur, who works at SOVA as the administrative officer and is also a town councillor, spoke of the benefit to local and regional students.

“One of the reasons that I think this is an amazing program is the opportunity it affords both local and regional potential students.

“It can be pretty daunting to apply to arts school at one of the southern universities. We don’t have specialty fine arts programs in a lot of the communities. You could come in here and maybe not be at the same level coming out of high school as someone from a fine arts high school in the south.

“But when you leave here after your first year, you are at the same level as anyone leaving the first year program anywhere.”

From here, students can go to schools that are affiliated with this one to continue working on their Bachelor of Fine Arts degree after their foundation year.

Emily Carr University of Art and Design (Vancouver), and NSCAD University (Halifax) have been popular choices, but there are links to OCAD University (Toronto), Alberta College of Art and Design (Calgary) and the University of the Fraser Valley in British Columbia.

“Our experience has been that our students have done well wherever they have gone,” says Eldo Enns, the acting program director at SOVA.

Dawson is an active arts town. Jackie Olson, a Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in artist and current executive director of the Klondike Visitors Association, notes that the town has artists’ residencies in three areas.

There is the Berton House program, overseen by the Writers Trust of Canada, which houses four people annually; the Dawson City Music Festival’s Songwriter In Residence, which happens every winter; and the Klondike Institute of Arts and Culture (KIAC) residency program, which operates under the umbrella of the Dawson City Arts Society’s ODD Gallery.

The KIAC program has a constantly changing roster of artists staying in Parks Canada’s Macaulay House year round. This includes two who are selected specifically for what they can offer to the SOVA program while they are here.

All of the residency programs have long lists of applicants wanting to experience what the Klondike has to offer.

“Speaking as an artist and a community member,” Olson says, “I think that SOVA plays a very important part in the artistic fabric of this community.

“They’ve been very involved in bringing Outside artists to the community, especially First Nations artists. The ‘Indexes to the Land’ program has been very valuable. I really enjoyed the series. I’ve been a part of it and they have really been engaging the community art, and artists as well, in the artistic experience, which the students get to share.

“I think having an artists’ school in the community supports the fabric of the arts, which are continually growing. There’s a lot of closet artists that have an opportunity to formally engage in an educational environment. I’ve seen many mature students go through that program, enjoying the one-off courses, not taking the full program, and growing from the experience.”

Both Olson and John Steins, an artist, as well as SOVA’s studio technician, feel that the influx of young artists brings new life and perspectives to the artistic community.

“One of the reasons I work here is that I benefit from the energy of the young people,” Steins says.

For more information about the Yukon School of Visual Art go to

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