SFU School for the Contemporary Arts

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Over its thirty year history, the SCA has produced outstanding alumni who have gone on to play a major role in redefining the arts in Canada. The interdisciplinary MFA program is widely recognized internationally as a unique opportunity where graduate students can explore connections between art forms and develop their own creative voice.

From the founding of Simon Fraser University in 1965 as a progressive and innovative new university in British Columbia, the university showed a commitment to cultural animation and the presence of artistic creators and thinkers as an essential component of campus life. The fine and performing arts in the first decade were situated in the Centre for Communications and the Arts, and non-credit workshops in dance, film, music, theatre, and visual art were introduced. Highly regarded practicing artists such as theatre director John Juliani and composer R. Murray Schafer helped establish SFU as an environment for artistic experimentation and groundbreaking research (e.g. the World Soundscape Project). An ambitious and vibrant public event series was begun in 1970. Until budget cutbacks resulted in curtailment of this series in 1984, SFU was widely known as a North American leader in the programming of leading contemporary interdisciplinary performance companies and artists.

In 1975, the Centre for the Arts was formed as an academic unit with credit courses in dance, film, music, theatre, visual art, and interdisciplinary art history under its first Director, Dr. Evan Alderson. By 1981, there were minor programs for each disciplinary area of the School, a major in Dance, and a BA with a major in the Fine and Performing Arts. Grant Strate, the celebrated choreographer and a former principal dancer with the National Ballet of Canada, became Director in 1980. Although subjected to cutbacks as a result of the provincial restraint program in 1983, the Centre showed resilience and spirit, finding a way to maintain the academic programs in all fine-arts disciplines. Ultimately, the eighties proved to be a period of growth and revitalization for the Centre for the Arts. Professional development programs for artists were introduced at this time, including the founding of the Praxis Centre for Screenwriters in 1986 and summer intensives in a variety of areas including Art Theory and Criticism, Voice Training, Choreography, New Media, and Javanese Court Gamelan.

When composer Rudolf Komorous became Director in 1989, the department was renamed the School for the Contemporary Arts (SCA) and grew to include BFAs in Film, Dance, Music, Theatre and Visual Art, a BA in Art and Culture Studies, and extended minors in all disciplines. The integrated BFA degree has proved to be an extremely key, facilitating a high order of disciplinary training combined with an original multidisciplinary pedagogy generally unavailable in other universities. Another significant development in this period was the introduction of an interdisciplinary MFA, established in 1990.

In recent years, under the direction of composer, conductor, and artistic director Owen Underhill (1986, 1994-2001, 2006-07, 2010-current), and Martin Gotfrit , composer and performer (2001-2010), the School for the Contemporary Arts has continued to thrive, enriching and refining its programs, establishing an ambitious cumulative research profile, and building a reputation for graduating intelligent and resourceful artists and scholars. The School has become more international in its outreach during this period with the introduction of Field Schools in Ghana and India.

As the sub-standard facilities of the School on Burnaby Mountain continued to deteriorate, a herculean and sustained effort was mounted to plan for and investigate numerous scenarios for a downtown move. Although this long-term initiative, over two decades, required considerable effort from many of the School’s faculty and leaders, the results have proven to be spectacular and worth the wait. The School would be remiss if it didn’t recognize Past President Michael Stevenson and Vice-President of External Relations Warren Gill (now deceased) for their extraordinary efforts in making the new SCA facility a reality.


A New Building in the Heart of Vancouver’s Downtown

Our new facilities in the redeveloped Woodward’s complex in downtown Vancouver include the state-of-the-art Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre, which can accommodate a variety of stage configurations (250-400 capacity), the Djavad Mowafaghian World Art Centre (housing our Javanese gamelan), the Djavad Mowafaghian Cinema/lecture hall (350 capacity), two equipped Black Box theatres (150 capacity), screening rooms, film sound stage, three dance studios, a music teaching studio and two composition seminar rooms, a visual art studio, the Audain Gallery, computer teaching labs, and numerous smaller computer-based editing and composing suites for film, video and electro-acoustic music. We have retained the Alexander Centre, the site of most of our visual art studios since 1993 to accommodate the visual art area and some graduate student studios. Some scholarly lectures and seminars are held at the Woodward’s building, some at SFU Harbour Centre five minutes away. Renovations at Alexander Centre were completed in summer of 2010 to accommodate the increased number of students in the Graduate program.

The inclusion of the Audain Gallery in the new building has proved to be a vital addition to the Visual Arts program. The gallery’s mission is to advance the aesthetic and discursive production and presentation of contemporary visual art through a responsive program of exhibitions and to support engaged pedagogy. The gallery encourages conceptual and experimental art projects that explore the dialogue between the social and the cultural. The new Audain Visual Artists in Residence Program and student exhibitions are central to the gallery’s programming. The Audain Visual Artists in Residence program allows the School to invite two artists each year to share artistic research through public presentation and engagement with the students.

Theatre Performance

The Theatre BFA Performance program offers a rigorous, dynamic approach to contemporary theatre practice. The program is respected nationally and internationally for its unique emphasis on ensemble techniques, physical practice, devising, and dramaturgy. Graduates of the theatre program find professional work around the world; many have continued their studies in graduate schools across North America.

Faculty Members

  • Steven Hill
  • DD Kugler
  • Cole Lewis
  • Ker Wells

Theatre Production and Design

The Production and Design stream provides a path for students who focus on the production and design aspects of the discipline. The curriculum includes technical production, stage and production management, stage lighting, design for the stage, dramatic literature, playmaking as well as introductory courses in acting, dance, visual art, music, and film.

Faculty Members

  • Gary Harris
  • Barry Hegland
  • John Macfarlane


The SCA Dance program provides the unique opportunity to study, create and perform dance within a collaborative, interdisciplinary department. The program features a variety of courses that include: dance technique and composition, choreography, repertory and performance, and the history and aesthetics of dance. This is enriched by courses in improvisation, experiential anatomy and body conditioning, dance/movement analysis, and the Ghana Field School.

Our students are challenged in studio and lecture courses to be versatile and articulate, to interact with new technology, and to understand that the collaborative process is crucial to their development as contemporary artists. Students engage with contemporary ideas and concepts through an understanding of dance viewed historically and in relation to other art forms.

We believe in a versatile approach to training and, to this end, offer technique courses in modern, contemporary, and ballet techniques. These courses, plus the course in experimental anatomy and body conditioning introduce students to the fundamental principles of movement while offering strong technical skills. Studio courses are accompanied by lecture courses in aesthetics and history as well as a selection of critical theory and history courses offered throughout the School.

Faculty Members

  • Henry Daniel
  • Marla Eist
  • Judith Garay
  • Rob Kitsos
  • Cheryl Prophet
  • Albert St. Albert Smith


The BFA Music Major program is renowned for its innovative and experimental approach to music through its focus on composition. Given the program’s unique position within an interdisciplinary contemporary art school, our students have rare and valuable opportunities to collaborate on film, dance, theatre, and visual art projects as part of their core training. Our rigorous and efficient curriculum offers a balance between acoustic and electroacoustic music, insight into music past and future, and occasions for performing both European and non-Western music through the Javanese gamelan and the Ghana field school. At the upper division, students complete at least one of two streams: composition and/or electroacoustic.

Faculty Members

  • Martin Gotfrit
  • David MacIntyre
  • Owen Underhill
  • Arne Eigenfeldt

Visual Art

Students enrolled in Visual Art are immersed in a dynamic and progressive education in contemporary art. The program balances studio-based production with a strong theoretical component. Our method of continuous enquiry connects hands-on production with critical reflection and is recognized for fostering an informed, experimental approach.

Contemporary art is a form of material knowledge that produces thought and experience. We are committed to investigating the ways in which art connects to a broad range of social questions and functions. Through exposure to the most challenging and innovative examples of contemporary art, our program encourages students to envision their own artistic practice while exploring a wide variety of media.

Students have opportunities to present work in the Audain Gallery, in our visual art studio at 611 Alexander, and site-specific projects throughout our downtown campus. As well as attending our ongoing series of talks by local and visiting artists, our students benefit from working with international artists participating in the Audain Visiting Artists in Residence program. In addition to our multidisciplinary approach to studio practice, our students study side-by-side with students from other disciplinary backgrounds. The presence of students from the MFA in Interdisciplinary Studies further contributes to our close-knit intellectual community that fosters critical thinking and creative growth.

Many of our students are admitted to prestigious national and international graduate programs while significant numbers of graduate students go on to successful careers in the arts or related fields. All students acquire knowledge that forms the basis for life-long learning connected to community networks.

Faculty Members

  • Sabine Bitter
  • Allyson Clay
  • Elspeth Pratt
  • Judy Radul
  • Jin-Me Yoon

Visual Culture and Performance Studies

Visual Culture and Performance Studies is the only BA at SFU that studies the fine and performing arts, with a focus on visual culture. In the first two years, Visual Culture and Performance Studies students gain a grounding in the history of visual art, cinema, studio art, and, if they wish, the performing arts. Upper-year courses include critical theory, historical and thematic topics in visual culture, a course in performance studies, interdisciplinary research methods, curating, and a popular internship course.

Visual Culture and Performance Studies prepares students for careers in the arts. Our alumni include arts writers, arts administrators, curators, film programmers, and practicing artists. The degree also prepares students for a number of graduate degrees. Our alumni have taken M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Visual Art, Cultural Studies, Performance Studies, Critical and Curatorial Studies, English, Liberal Studies, Theory, Culture, and Politics, Library Science, and other degrees.

Faculty Members

  • Laura Marks
  • Denise Oleksijczuk
  • Christopher Pavsek
  • Henry Daniel


Our BFA program combines rigorous technical training and skills development with extensive instruction in cinema studies and history. Students draw on courses throughout the School to deepen their understanding of other artistic disciplines – an understanding we consider essential to the creative life of every successful film and media artist.

Faculty Members

  • Christopher Pavsek
  • Patricia Gruben
  • Rob Groeneboer
  • Jacqueline Levitin
  • Nicolas Pereda