About this early arts history project

by Carole Gerson

When Simon Fraser University opened, the theatre housed the Centre for Communication and the Arts and was a vibrant hub of artistic innovation. Dancers, actors, musicians, composers, poets, film-makers, and painters congregated in a buzz of creative interdisciplinarity, which inspired students and attracted the general public. Artistic residents and visitors who specialized in traditional and experimental genres of theatre, music, film and dance contributed to the rich programming of noon-hour shows, evening performances, film series, poetry readings, and serious lectures.

"The most remarkable legacy of the first decade at Simon Fraser University is a creative generation that has become a major influence on the development of Canadian culture.  In the past four decades, many of the students who chose to become involved in the arts in the non-credit exhilarating environment of the Centre for Communications and the Arts have continued their creative work, and in many cases have become mentors to a new generation of artists" (Baird, 20161).

Among the many long-term professionals who provided guidance and instruction were Iris Garland (dance), Michael Bawtree and John Juliani  (theatre), R. Murray Schafer and Phyllis Mailing (music), Stan Fox (film), Ian Baxter& and James Felter (visual arts). Among the numerous student participants who became prominent were dancer Karen Rimmer, poet Sharon Thesen, publisher Karl Siegler, musician Hildegarde Westerkamp, theatre director Robin Patterson, film-maker Sandy Wilson, arts administrator Wendy Newman, and actor Norman Browning.

"With little academic infrastructure and much uncertainty about its future at SFU, the non-credit version of the Centre was predominantly an artist-run centre dedicated to creative exploration.  Artists drawn to the Centre were interested in pushing the boundaries of the very institution in which they were based, and they were largely free to pursue their interests, and to shape their workshops and special events as they saw fit, mostly outside the constraints of the institution" (Gerecke, 20122).

A team from the SFU Retirees’ Association is now setting out to capture the flavour of those years in a book and this website. The book will include memories of participants, analyses by area experts, and selected illustrations; this website will provide a more expansive display of selected images, films, video and audio recordings, and further documentation. While this project will draw on materials now housed in SFU’s libraries and archives, much likely remains in the possession of those who participated in various events.

If you have memories or documents to share, resources to recommend, or donations of archival materials to offer to the university, we’d love to hear from you! Please write to the project organizers via our Contact page.

This project is grateful for support from many individuals and administrative units at SFU: the Retirees Association, Past President Andrew Petter, Joanne Curry (VP External Relations), Faculty of Arts & Social SciencesFaculty of Communication, Art & Technology, and University Advancement.

1 Baird, N. (2016). CCA: SFU’s alternative environment for the arts.  In M. Gibbons (Ed.), Remembering SFU: On the occasion of its 50th birthday (pp. 163-166).  Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada: SFU Retirees’ Association.

2 Gerecke, A. (2012). Dance as "lead card" in the development of Simon Fraser University’s fine and performing arts (pp. 141-154).  In A. C. Lindgren & K. Pepper (Eds.),  Renegade bodies: Canadian dance in the 1970s (pp. 141-154). Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Dance Collection Danse Press/Presse 2012).

March 12, 2021