Aboriginal art program unique in Canada – Students earn degree by teepee building

Aboriginal art program unique in Canada – Students earn degree by teepee building

WINNIPEG (CUP) — Students at Brandon University are in the process of earning their degree in the ancient Aboriginal arts of teepee building, beading, carving and tanning.

This Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in visual and Aboriginal art studies is the first of its kind in Canada, offering integrated Western and Aboriginal art instruction. The program is studio-based and offers four-year majors and minors in Aboriginal Art, ceramics and painting as well as a major in Digital Media and Design.

Last year BU had 92 students enrolled in its Fine Arts program. When it announced that it would be running the new program, enrollment increased by 100.

Scott Grills, the Faculty of Arts Dean, said this shows quite a need for this kind of degree in the province of Manitoba.

“192 students is still not as high as we would like it but this shows that there is a demand for this program,” he said.

In the summer of 2003, Brandon University received funding from the provincial government to go ahead with the project and since then Colleen Cutschall, professor of Visual Arts at BU, has been working to set up the new courses that will be offered.

Last semester the university ran a course in indigenous technology where the students were involved in a teepee-painting project. In the future, Cutschall said she would like the see the students take those skills further by developing teepee furnishings such as backrests for the inside of the teepee.

“The students have to go out and harvest their own supplies [to make the furniture], like willow branches,” said Cutschall, who has been with the university for 19 years.

She added that the challenges that they face when offering these types of courses is usually seasonal. They are limited as far as what they can offer in the winter semesters because some supplies will only be available in the spring or summer months.

“Something in the spring or summer session would work better and it would be more condensed,” she said.
Other courses offered include ceramics and aboriginal painting. Grills said that because the program is studio based, the students have the advantage of learning practical artist’s skills.

“In other programs they may learn more about art history or theory but here they will get the skills of a working artist,” he said.

Although the class sizes are generally small for the time being, the university expects that their showcase of student art, taking place in mid-March, will peek people’s interest in the program and increase enrollment.
At the event, the students will be showcasing their creations including ceramic pipes, blankets, beading and their teepee. The show will be their first big event as a department.

In order to expand the program, the university is also in the process of hiring for four full-time and one part-time staff to teach different aspects of Aboriginal Art. The university is conducting national searches to fill the positions.