There is more than one way to manoeuvre through a career in the fine arts and communications—and you don’t always start your career there. Some people, like Charlotte Hunt, discover a new passion after getting a fine arts degree. Judy Stelck left a career in banking to try her hand at arts administration. For others, finding the perfect career is pure accident—Ryan Parker hadn’t even considered the fine arts until he signed up for drama to get his last high school credit.
The journey may be straight and narrow or endlessly winding—but isn’t that part of the adventure? Meet a few of the alumni who have taken different paths to pursue their passions—and discovered themselves along the way.
A walk on the creative side
All paths led to downtown Edmonton’s landmark Western Supplies Building for the five alumni who make up the Perpetual Notion Design team. But owners Geoff and Julie Kramer, and designers Dustin Borowski, Chontelle Bushore and Keenan Kirk, each took different routes to the funky office space where their collective creative juices are constantly flowing.
Unlike her fellow designers who spent their formative years drawing hockey team logos or filling up the margins of their notebooks with doodles, Julie says she didn’t even take art in high school.
“Most everyone here was a creative person first, but I started out more on the writing side in advertising and public relations—I didn’t even know how to mix paint when I arrived at MacEwan, but I knew I liked the creative side so design and illustration made sense.”
Design may be what brought them together, but a passion for creativity (and a healthy dose of coffee) is what keeps them going when things get tough.
“Every time something new comes in the door, it’s received with arms wide open. Right away, we’re asking ‘how can we make this ours and make it cool?’” says Julie. “Our team is really talented, we all work well together and we’re up for any challenge. As long as we’re being creative, we’re happy.”
Band of Brothers
The Provincial Archives
In 2014, Stephen Tchir joined the Provincial Archive, a self-described “folk-informed indie-pop quartet,” replacing one of the band’s longtime members—though he was already considered an honorary band mate, having known and played music with frontman Craig Schram since fifth grade.
“My favourite part of being a working musician is the pleasure of playing with a talented group,” says Craig. “It’s a real privilege to be surrounded by these people.”
But Stephen wasn’t waiting by the phone for his chance to play in a band. “I quickly learned that to make a living in the arts sometimes requires multiple streams of income,” he says.
He has taken on a variety of activities—freelance playing (including accompaniment) and teaching—“on top of the artistically stimulating work that I do in the Provincial Archive and other groups.” He also has a day job in post-secondary administration. Craig shares that sentiment—while he’s pursing a career in music, he’s also focusing on his business career.
And that group (which also includes alumni R. Bramwell Park, Music, Performance ’04 and Composition ’05, and Nathan Burge, Audio Visual ’00) is receiving accolades for their talents—in December 2014, they picked up an Edmonton Music Prize for their third album, It’s All Shaken Wonder.
“Music always begs more of the musician,” says Stephen. “There is always pressure to push oneself to the next level. Music is more than a career or a vocation. It offers a life of unending possibilities and learning.”
When Dave Breakenridge graduated from the Journalism program in 2004, he wanted to write and report news. But thoughts of doing more than covering the local beat seemed farfetched. In spite of that, he climbed the ranks of Sun Media in Calgary, and in 2014 was named editor in chief of the Edmonton Sun.
“My boss in Calgary was joking when I got the job here,” says Dave. “He said, ‘It took me 14 years and you managed to do it in 10.’”Dave is modest about his success; his passion is in pushing local news content and developing original stories. He starts his days early by consuming as much news as possible—reading local and national papers over breakfast and checking in with Twitter. In the office, he connects with his news team at the morning story meeting and continues to check in with them throughout the day.
“We have a really great team covering local news,” he says. “I like to keep abreast and give feedback when it’s needed.”
He says that while competition is a fun part of the job, it’s not enough to be first with breaking news. Citing the two occasions in which Gordon Lightfoot “died” on social media, he says news organizations have been burned by trying to be first. “I want to make sure we’re getting out fast, but also that we’re getting out right.”
An Artistic Journey
When she heard that Art Gallery of Alberta curator Kristy Trinier was planning a road trip to visit artists’ studios in northern Alberta to prepare for the 2015 Alberta Biennial of Contemporary Art, Brenda Draney found the potential that trip presented irresistible.
On a lark, Brenda suggested she join Kristy to work on her own contribution to the biennial—plein air painting (painting on location). Kristy agreed and the next thing she knew, Brenda was recreating the province’s northern landscapes on canvas, while Kristy went on studio visits.
The result is Missive from The North, a series of eight paintings that is being displayed alongside the work of 41 Alberta artists, including MacEwan University alumni Erin Schwab and Travis McEwan, and Leslie Sharpe, chair of the university’s Fine Art program.
For Brenda, an accomplished artist who has exhibited across Canada and been recognized with several awards, the honour of sharing exhibit space with so many talented artists comes with a sense of arrival.
“When you’re young and studying art, it can seem like a flight of fancy or a dream,” says Brenda, who holds a diploma, two undergraduate degrees and a master’s in fine art.
“There is so much involved in an artist’s practice–the complex work involved in research and in the studio—and exhibitions are a part of what we do. In that sense, exhibitions are confirming. That doesn’t mean this is a time to pause and reflect as if you’ve reached something. It’s a chance to start thinking about things in a different way and about new projects coming up around the bend.”
Belle of the Box Office
Judy Stelck had two decades in banking behind her when she decided to change careers. She had money set aside for a year of education—the mother of four knew she was a good organizer and that she loved music and theatre, so MacEwan’s Arts and Cultural Management just made sense.
“I hadn’t been in school since I was 17 and the first paper I had to write almost had me in hysterics. It was scary, but learning is never a waste and it makes your life is so much fuller.”
She quickly rallied and finished the year with a practicum at the Street Performers’ Festival. After a short stint at the Citadel, Judy found her long-term home as manager at TIX on the Square.
In the 14 years since, she has seen the community box office, and the many local arts organizations it supports, grow and flourish.
“Back then, we only had two or three events and I was at a show almost every night introducing myself to theatre companies. Seeing just how much work goes into a production was inspiring and really made me want to make sure people saw it.”
She’s certainly done that. Today, TIX on the Square promotes and sells tickets for over 1,000 events a year and displays the work of more than 200 local artists in its store.
“There are so many talented people who share of themselves in this city and I’m proud to help spread the word about the incredible arts community we have in Edmonton.”
A Step in the Right Direction
January in New York will likely be the most memorable of Ryan Parker’s life—and not because of the winter storm of 2015. Ryan is currently starring in his first off-Broadway show, Nevermore—The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe—a production written, composed and directed by Jonathan Christenson, artistic director of Edmonton’s Catalyst Theatre.
Off-Broadway is a long way from drama class in high school, where Ryan essentially stumbled into acting. He took the class for an easy three credits, and discovered he actually enjoyed it. But when his drama teacher encouraged him to audition for the Theatre Arts program at MacEwan University, he was skeptical.
“I wasn’t sure I could make a career doing theatre, but she said, ‘You can, and you have to go.’ So she pretty much strong-armed me into it,” he laughs. “Those two years changed me absolutely—I came out of that program a different person. The people I was with; the teachers I had; the experiences I went through—they changed my view of the world.”
Since graduating, Ryan has created a name for himself on professional stages that include the National Arts Centre (Ottawa), the Barbican Theatre (London, U.K.), the Arts Club (Vancouver), the Globe Theatre (Regina), Vertigo Theatre (Calgary) and the Citadel Theatre (Edmonton). He is also a co-creator of the ukulele cover band, the Be Arthurs, and the sketch comedy troupe, Blacklisted, and owns his own photography studio.
When asked what he loves most about where he is today, he doesn’t hesitate. “I like that it’s not the same thing, day-in, day-out,” he says. “I constantly switch hats. I’m continuously being tested and pushed, and I feel like I’m still figuring things out. But every step I take seems to be in the right direction, and that’s a good thing.”
All the World’s a (Back) Stage
After graduating from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Charlotte was bored with her retail job and was surprised to find she didn’t like painting alone in a studio. She missed her years in arts college, where she could bounce ideas off her peers and share her work. To make some extra money, she began moonlighting as a set painter for Halifax’s Neptune Theatre.
“I was enjoying the theatre aspect so much that I wanted to get some training and do this for real,” she says, which is how she found her way to MacEwan’s Theatre Production program.
She graduated in 1992 and after a few years working freelance around the city, she took a job as a props builder at the Citadel Theatre. In January 2015, she celebrated 20 years with the theatre.
Charlotte, now the assistant head of props, says, “Sometimes you’re just trying to get stuff made and put it out there, but there is a lot of problem solving and you’re never really doing the same things twice.”
As one of three people in her department, Charlotte gets to produce and procure the props required to add realism—and sometimes magic—to the theatre’s season of shows. Her role also requires her to become a “mini-expert” on unusual matters to tackle all sorts of technical challenges—from how to paint a prop tortoise to match the appearance a real century-old one, to making easy-to-clean-up fake vomit.
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