Art in Your Area: Local Collections in Context

What art collections say about a place is intriguing. Museums, corporate collections, private galleries and art in the street all offer opportunities to learn about ourselves and our society. In the case of Vancouver, the city’s thriving arts community is evident in its public and private collections.

We’ll explore a variety of local art collections and contextualize the art-making within history. Did 19th-century photography inform the Vancouver School of photography in the 1970s and 1980s? Are there Surrealist origins behind Vancouver’s N.E. Thing Co. or Vincent Trasov’s Mr. Peanut performances in the 1970s? We’ll unearth these roots and discover conceptual and historical tools that will encourage site visits regardless of location. Rather than read the signage and walk away, we’ll learn to experience the art.

A $60 discount will be applied automatically for adults 55+.

Currently not available for registration.

Schedule clarification: Online courses begin on the first date listed and end six days after the last date listed. In the week following each date listed, you can study that week’s material, leave and respond to messages, and engage in course activities. You can do this at any time that suits you during the week; you do not have to be online at specific times.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course, you should be able to do the following:

  • Plan a museum visit that limits the artwork you view  
  • Assess artwork on a set of terms created by you 
  • Explore art in new and challenging ways 
  • Discuss the merits and controversies of a contemporary art
  • Research new ways of finding art in your immediate area 

Learning methods


Week 1: Planning your visit

Our journey begins by developing strategies for researching museums and for finding private collections or artworks which are open to view on a limited basis. We learn how to best use your viewing time and how to cut down on wasted time in the museum. We discuss when and how to purchase advance tickets, because this is as important as searching for cost savings.

Week 2: Art in nature

The Vancouver Art Gallery has a wing dedicated to paintings by Emily Carr and other members of the Group of Seven. No longer a forgotten artist, Carr’s reputation has in many circles eclipsed her contemporaries. We explore how this came about and who were her influences.

Week 3: Surrealist leanings

In the 1970s, Vancouver became a centre of ironic and satiric art that had its roots in the 1920s and European surrealism. We trace a connection from N.E. Thing Co., operated by Ingrid and Iain Baxter out of their home in North Vancouver, to the urban streets of 1920s Paris.

Week 4: Art in the streets

The 2010 Art Biennale in Vancouver that coincided with the city’s hosting of the Olympics was an opportunity to see how the public behaved around public art. Several controversies about public art that occurred at the time will be explored and set in the wider context of public ownership of art.

Week 5: Modernism more broadly

Simon Fraser University has a solid collection of modern paintings by leading Canadian artists, scattered around the Vancouver and Burnaby campuses. We’ll put together a guide to finding and viewing some of these works, and will conduct a historical review of their importance.

Week 6: The image still

Vancouver in the 1970s and ‘80s was a focal point for emerging experimental photography. An examination of the roots of this practice, starting in the early 19th-century studios of photographers such as William Notman, will let us take a deeper dive into the resonance of the still image.

Books, materials and resources

You will access reading material using SFU's online course management system, Canvas.

Hardware and software requirements

This course is delivered using SFU's online course management system, Canvas. You will receive course details and Canvas access instructions on the first day of the course. You can check if your browser is compatible with Canvas here.

To get the most out of the online course, you should be comfortable using everyday software such as browsers, email and social media. This course is designed to allow you time and opportunity to interact with other students online, and to complete exercises and activities away from the computer.

Academic integrity and student conduct

You are expected to comply with Simon Fraser University’s Academic Integrity and Student Conduct Policies. Please click here for more details. Simon Fraser University is committed to creating a scholarly community characterized by honesty, civility, diversity, free inquiry, mutual respect, individual safety, and freedom from harassment and discrimination.

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