School of Visual Art, AUArts
AUArts: Could you tell me what you do, and what you teach?
Sondra Meszaros: I teach in the Drawing department within the School of Visual Art, and I’ve taught in the department for the past 16 years.
AUArts: What are the differences you see from first to fourth year?
Meszaros: When they're first coming in, there's a lot of diversity of backgrounds, ranging from students that have no art background to students who went to art-specific high schools. You’re trying to get everyone into a foundation of similar ways of thinking, criticality, getting them to experiment. That's a huge part of first year. As students move through their second, third and fourth year, they're developing this very sophisticated and articulate research practice that goes along with whatever their individual creative practices are.
AUArts: Where did you go to school?
Meszaros: I did my BFA at the Ontario College of Art and Design University. I also have my Master of Fine Art from the University of Windsor.
I did my BFA, MFA and came to teach at AUArts pretty much as a straight path. There were no breaks in between. I've always had my teaching practice, and then my creative practice. I'm represented by a gallery out east in Toronto, Corkin Gallery, and I show there regularly. I've been in their stable for almost 20 years.
I'm also represented by Jarvis Hall Gallery, here in Calgary. I have a unique perspective of showing commercially in different parts of the country and internationally.
I have an ongoing collaboration with Megan Kirk, who's the print technician here. We’ve done many socially engaged events where we're working with people within the AUArts community, but also the extended community with Femme Wave Arts Festival. We've going to be working with Esker Foundation to develop some youth programming through that.
I have a genuine interest in activism and demonstrating to students I've worked with here that I'm out in the community doing things, advocating. That’s outside of the class setting.
AUArts: What is unique about the AUArts community?
Meszaros: I feel we have the insular community within the campus, but then specific to art and design institutions is you have the extended art and design community within the city. I’m always trying to encourage students to get outside of the building, because this is a bubble (a great bubble) and it's really exciting and inspiring.
But it's also a bubble. I've developed quite a few classes recently that are more about activism and thinking about what you want to do with the politics that you're learning about. How are you doing that out in the world? I’m trying to encourage them to think about life after AUArts, which I think is a really important thing.
That would be a distinguishing thing about first year versus fourth year. First year, we are just introducing them, trying to not scare them, kind of integrate them and encourage them and support them.
Fourth year is very much encouraging, supporting them but thinking about how are we giving them the skills to go out into the world as alumni, which is really important to me.
It’s really interesting to teach first through fourth year. Sometimes by the time they graduate, I've taught them six times, which is unique in an institution to have that kind of concentration and way of getting to know the students. It’s pretty special.
AUArts: I’ve heard from an alum how the teachers and students are really great about supporting their events and coming out.
Meszaros: I was doing an exhibition this winter/spring when I was teaching, and the students knew about it. I kept saying to them, I'm working so hard because I want to make you proud. And it’s true.
I’ve been asked about my teaching practice and how the politics I’m exploring in my work make its way into my teaching.
I'm here and I'm doing this, and I want my students to know that I'm being a spokesperson for these things, whether it's feminism or other ways of talking about the complexities of the political climate that we're dealing with across the world. That’s a really important thing that I'm open with students about. And proud of. They want to see someone doing the things that they're trying to learn to do.
AUArts: What do you enjoy about the AUArts community?
Meszaros: We’re at this exciting moment where we're becoming a university, and there's been this really interesting way in which the faculty has diversified. I feel really hopeful. I think institutions inherently are kind of pessimistic and negative, and I feel like we're in this exciting moment.
There are a lot of people here who have innovative ideas about education, which is why I want to be here, to collaborate and work with them.
I was really interested that the Drawing department had autonomy here and that it was its own thing. I think that's something that is pretty special about this school. The values of the department are really interesting in terms of how we're thinking about being experimental with how we teach. I think it's really reflected in the students.
There's something so exciting about what can happen in the potential, in the classroom with the students. And just thinking about how we can pull that excitement out of the classrooms, into the halls and into the general institution. I think we're kind of on the cusp of a lot that could happen. We’ve got all the right ingredients. It's just making it happen. It's an exciting time.
AUArts: What is your favourite part of teaching here?
Meszaros: I think what's unique about this school is that faculty are in a position where we can generate experimental curriculum. I created a studio class based in feminism and resistance, and you wouldn't always get that freedom at other schools to do something like that.
Students want to talk about those things and of course we would, but we couldn't always fully indulge it, even though they knew it was an interest for me and my practice, and things I was doing in the community. To develop a whole class where we can spend 14 weeks exploring these themes – it's been pretty remarkable. We can be a catalyst at this school for experimentation, which is kind of what education should be.
AUArts: And this is what you’re teaching your students to do as well?
Meszaros: And get them to trust you and say, you can take chances and do these things and be outspoken and be in the world in a certain way. I think that's very much what it means to be a creative, to choose a trajectory that doesn't conform, essentially.
AUArts: If you had a piece of advice for new students thinking of coming to art school, what would you tell them?
Meszaros: The biggest thing I say to them is you just need to be open and curious to new experiences and new things.
And that's pretty much it. It’s tricky for students if they're not open. It's usually the open students that get my attention immediately. They’re like, let’s try it. You try it out. If they have ideas and expectations to conform to certain ideas, then immediately it sets up this thing we have to dismantle.
It’s such an interesting thing to try to work with them. If you let go of your expectations, that's usually when it just happens for them and they're able to see all these different paths they can take.
The biggest thing I say to them is you just need to be open and curious to new experiences and new things.
And that's pretty much it. It’s tricky for students if they're not open.
It's usually the open students that get my attention immediately. They’re like, let’s try it. You try it out. If they have ideas and expectations to conform to certain ideas, then immediately it sets up this thing we have to dismantle.