On December 15, the Yukon School of Visual Art Dawson City campus will open its doors to the public for its annual Christmas open house and mid-year student Exhibition.

In September, 16 students from across Canada, and one international student from Beijing, China, charged into the foundational one-year study at the college.

The open house invites the public to walk through the rooms the students have inhabited since their arrival, interact with the students and view their first semester of work.

One of the projects being featured at the open house is a gallery of artwork and writing that had many of the students published for the first time.

In conjunction with Dawson newspaper, the Klondike Sun, and the September/October Macaulay House artist-in-residence JP King, the 17 students of the English class reflected on art in Dawson through a descriptive text, (where the image is located, the artist, its history, what materials were used to create it, etc.) and created an interpretive image in response to the element that drew them to the artwork.

The project ran as a two-part series in November issues of the bi-weekly Sun.

While the project introduced the community to the students, it gave students a chance to explore the different nooks of the community and gaze with fresh eyes on the artwork that they have come to pass on a daily basis on their way to the liquor store, while out for drinks at the Westminster Hotel, or going for a walk down Front Street.

“It was a chance for [the students] to get out there and check out art,” says Sam Cheuk, SOVA English instructor. “It’s so easy to ignore when Dawson is so inundated with art.”

Cheuk, a published poet, is still in the process of discovering Dawson as well. He arrived in Dawson in September, seeking a break from big city life after teaching English literature at Yew Chung College in Hong Kong earlier this year, and previously at New York University in 2007.

King, from Toronto, is a self-publishing artist with work that focuses on North American mythologies through collage, writing and book-making. While in residency in Dawson, King worked on collage and a manuscript about miners seeking documents buried in landfills, fighting those who do not want the past uncovered.

King shared his process of working with text and images with the class.

“It was helpful having [King] talk to the class,” says Cheuk, challenged by the range of student experience as the college attracts young students fresh from high school, students having completed an undergrad, and mature students.

“There is always something to glean from other people’s process,” he adds.

The students’ work was evaluated separately for writing and the image response. A panel including Karen Dubois, Klondike Institute of Art and Culture executive director, and Lulu Keating, an independent filmmaker and writer, selected the best writing and interpretive artwork.

Matt Smith was selected for his interpretive image, and Nathaniel Marchand was selected for his writing (to exemplify, Marchand wrote a descriptive paragraph about Smith’s image which accompanies this article.)

Sipping tea on the retro ’70s plush brown and orange floral coaches in the SOVA student lounge, Smith and Marchand recount their arrival in the Yukon.

Before coming to Dawson, Smith, 20, studied animation at the Art Institute of Vancouver, then worked at cemetery “digging graves” this summer in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. From Halifax, Smith trekked to Dawson to pursue creativity.

“Adventure was the main thing,” says Smith. “Through studying animation I wanted to get up here and have different life experiences and do art.”

Smith says he hopes to pursue future studies of animation and filmmaking in Montreal or Vancouver. Classic Disney and Pixar, and contemporary experimental animation, such as the work of Jan Svankmajer and Richard Linklater, inspire him.

“The Waking Life, one of Richard Linklater’s, is my favourite movie of all time,” he says.

Marchand, 20, from Midland, Ontario, was also drawn to the Yukon with an urge to explore.

“I’m still figuring out if school is right for me, but I wanted to try something new,” he says.

Marchand went to Ryerson University in Toronto for a stint in culture studies, and has since bounced between jobs working at a downtown Toronto restaurant and at the Huron Ouendat Village at Huronia Museum in Midland as a historical interpreter.

In 2006 he received a government grant do painting and carving for five months, which he sold at the farmer’s market and local stores of friends in Midland.

“Ideally, I want to live new experiences and keep producing art, music and writing,” he says.

He has future travel plans including destinations such as Iceland, Chile and Nepal.

Both Smith and Marchand are looking forward to sharing their passion for art with the community during the open house.

Other projects on display will include clay sculptures, printmaking (in which the students used large objects, such as a bicycle and a lamp, crushed by a steam roller), and Smith mentions something about filling a room with thousands of rocks.

“I think [the open house] will really encapsulate the work we can do,” says Smith.

“I’m looking forward to getting feedback from the community,” says Marchand.

Smith quickly agrees.

“I do want to carry on in art school and in the future have gallery shows, so having other people see my work, experience it and interact with it…” he shrugs and grins. “It’s a start.”

The open house takes place from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., will serve appetizers, and staff and faculty will join the students to mingle in the studios.