Learning Together

Four NaAC artists participate in the first Artist Practicum Program

In October 2022, the National accessArts Centre (NaAC) introduced the first Artist Practicum Program, a new offering designed to help artists move further in their professional careers. With a focus on technical training and studio operations, practicums gain skills that increase their understanding of their artistic medium, confidence, and employability in the arts. 

“We’re always trying to provide our artists with bigger and better—and more meaningful—opportunities to develop their skills in a professional context; to be able to attend any art centre, work independently, and have an enriched experience in any context.”

Raewyn (Rae) Reid, Visual Arts Studio Manager, NaAC. 

For eight months, each of the NaAC practicums will work directly with a mentor who teaches them skills in their chosen medium: drawing and painting, photography, ceramics, or fibre. The first half of the program is focused on shadowing their mentor and assisting in the studio with hands-on learning. What that looks like will be different for every department, says Rae. 

The studio facilitators —or mentors—in each department will work with their practicums one day a week to learn about different techniques. “It starts with getting the artists familiar with the studio and the things that are in it…developing a good understanding of all of the different mediums, how they can be manipulated, and how the artists can use them to be thoughtful about the results they want to get from their art pieces,” says Rae.

The second half is focused on independent studio practice. The artists will have the opportunity to apply their skills as they develop a body of work that will be exhibited at the NaAC. As part of the process, they’ll learn with the exhibitions team how to best display their artwork in the space, resulting in a ready-to-install show they can exhibit anywhere. 

“A lot of the exhibitions that start here in the studio, in our space, end up going to other places,” says Rae. “It will be exciting to see these artists make a body of work and then see where that goes!” 

Stepping Up—Inside the Studio and Out

For Rae, the Artist Practicum Program is more than a learning opportunity; it’s a chance to bring more equitable practices into the arts. 

“When it comes to disability arts, there’s a system of comparison. Folks are bewildered that a person with a disability could possibly make something that looks great and is thoughtful. It’s such a silly system to evaluate what an art piece is worth,” says Rae. “Our artists are artists whether in these walls or outside of these walls. They are professional, and their art isn’t pretty good for somebody with a disability—it’s just pretty good.” 

Rae and the other mentors hope the program will set the artists up for success in any arts context. “It’s important for our artists as well as for the broader arts and culture ecosystem to be able to engage in meaningful ways. An artist who is successful here should be able to be successful anywhere, but sometimes that level of accessibility is just not there.” 

Part of changing the system, says Rae, is empowering the artists to step into leadership roles:

“I see [the Artist Practicum Program] as a way for these artists to be leaders in the studio… whether that’s being able to challenge other practices or coach other artists through different processes. Each of them is a leader in their own way.” 

For All Practical Purposes 

The Artist Practicum Program was designed with three outcomes in mind – to increase technical knowledge, employability and independence, and disability leadership – but, like many of the programs at the NaAC, it’s responsive to the goals of the participants. And each of the four artists came to the program with a different goal. 

Drawing & Painting Practicum

Mentors: Carlos Artega & Raewyn Reid

Artist: Mark Bedford

Mark has been attending the NaAC for over 10 years, when it was still called Indefinite Arts Centre. As an artist, he specializes in drawing and painting, with an emphasis on realism, animals, and portraits. 

Mark joined the Artist Practicum Program to get to know other people in the studio, and learn more about his medium. “I get to chat to the staff and ask them questions. I hope to be a better artist and learn more about realism, and making a picture look more like what it looks like in real life.” For Mark, that means learning how to mix paint and draw better. 

As for the future, Mark hopes to use his new knowledge and skills to improve his practice and help other people. “My long-term goals are to be able to participate more in the classes and maybe get a paid job as an artist at the NaAC or other artistic institution,” he says.

Photography Practicum

Mentor: Jarret Hlady

Artist: Laura LaPeare

Laura’s also a long-time NaAC attendee. She’s been attending the Centre for nine years. She’s dabbled in painting (having recently done a travel series inspired by the song “Kokomo” by the Beach Boys), ceramics, and fibre art. 

The Artist Practicum Program gives Laura an opportunity to learn more about taking pictures, specifically when hiking in nature. “I want to learn how to take close ups and how to have a steady hand when taking the pictures as well,” she says. 

In the end, Laura plans to show her mom how steady she can be on hikes. “My long term goal is that maybe with all the photography I take, I can create a scrapbook and decorate it with lots of ribbon. I hope to be a professional photographer,” she says. 

Ceramics Practicum

Mentor: Jen Wharton

Artist: Alison Cherer

Alison loves ceramics. She’s been attending the NaAC since 1997, and joined the program to learn about pottery, the pottery wheel, how to mix glazes, and how to use slump moulds. “I just want to create as much as I can,” she says. 

On her first day of the program, Alison played a game of bingo to find items in the studio and practiced making pinch pots. “I also made a Jack Skellington head out of clay!”

Alison knows there’s a lot to learn, and even though she’s not sure what her long-term goals are, she’s sure of one thing: “I love working with clay, so I want to do more of that!” 

Fibre Practicum

Mentors: Wednesday Lupypciw

Artist: Andre Paradis

Andre has been making art at the NaAC for 20 years. He specializes in fibre art, with an emphasis on latch hook rug making. “I like to experiment with formats. I even made an amazing weave using a hula hoop,” he says. 

Andre joined the Artist Practicum Program to share his skills with the NaAC community. “I’ve done card weavings and circular weavings before, and I’m ready to learn how to weave on the looms. Also, I’m learning a lot about native plants and Indigenous thinking in the Ways Of Knowing program, and I’m excited to take some of this learning into my artwork!” 

Like many artists, art gives Andre a means to communicate. “Communicating through art is so easy, and it gives me a different way to connect with people. I am kind of a fun party guy and have many friends in the studio, and art brings us together in a way I can’t describe,” he says.

The Artist Practicum Program is really experimental, adds Rae. “I can’t wait to see how this unfolds with each of the artists individually and within the broader context of our studio. It will be exciting to see what these artists do with their new knowledge and skills, especially in the greater arts community!”  


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