The SCA's Master of Arts in Contemporary Arts thinks across the arts with an intermedial perspective. Students gain a well-rounded, interdisciplinary expertise by examining their chosen object of study (such as an artwork or movement) through theoretical and historical perspectives from art history, cinema studies, performance studies, and digital arts.

The program’s strong practical focus includes funded research travel, editing the CMA Journal, arts internships, funding and support for curating, holding the graduating symposium, and intensive professional preparation for publishing, public presentation, job and grant applications, and reaching varied audiences. Most of our graduates work as curators, programmers, arts administrators, arts writers, and practicing artists. Some go on to do PhDs in the fine and performing arts.

With its intimate scale, interdisciplinary design, and faculty of international reputation, the School for the Contemporary Arts at SFU provides a rich environment for scholars of the fine and performing arts. Working in parallel with students in the MFA program, MA scholars are immersed in an environment of creative experimentation.

For information about applying to the program, please follow the links at the Future Students section of our site.

Program Information

The MA in Contemporary Arts is a four-semester program. Under the per-term fee arrangement, students may take as many courses as they want. Students are required to take six courses, complete an extended essay, and participate in the graduating symposium.

Required courses

CA 821-5 Research Methods in Contemporary Arts

Research Methods in Contemporary Arts

CA 821

This core course is taken in the first term of the MA program. It develops thinking across the media arts in a comparative perspective that synthesizes the historical and theoretical approaches of art history, cinema studies, performance studies, and computer-based media studies. It establishes bases for understanding the relationships among the visual arts, visual culture, performing arts, and art forms that incorporate reproducible and digital media; these include cinema, video, photography, and computer-based media. In addition to this, the course investigates some of the useful emergent methods for making comparisons among media, across history, and across cultures. While other courses in the MA in Contemporary Arts focus on the distinctive nature of specific media arts, this course considers what properties cross different forms of media arts. Students with credit for FPA 821 may not take this course for further credit.

CA 822-5 Research Colloquium in Contemporary Arts

Research Colloquium in Contemporary Arts

CA 822

The research colloquium, a core course taken in the final term of the MA program, focuses on professional development in careers in the arts or PhDs. Through intensive peer review, students revise their extended essay (CA 829) for publication. They identify their audiences, choose appropriate journals, and other venues for publication, and prepare to submit their work, and plan their responses to journal decisions. We discuss permission, contracts, and other intellectual-property issues. Students practice job and grant applications, prepare CVs and cover letters, and work on their public profiles. Students also explore extending their research into curating and public programming. We devote time to public presentation skills for a variety of venues including the final symposium, in which they present their research to the public. Students with credit for FPA 822 may not take this course for further credit.

CA 829-5 Extended Essay in Contemporary Arts

Extended Essay in Contemporary Arts

CA 829

This essay is the final capstone project of the MA. The extended essay builds on knowledge students have gained in course work. Students research in-depth a topic in comparative media arts and develop and polish an original argument, with the goal of producing a publication. The length of the essay should be that of a typical journal article in the media arts, around 5000-7000 words. Students may also write catalogue essays or similar nonacademic publications. Students research the extended essay with the supervision of two faculty members. They prepare the essay for publication in the Research Colloquium, CA 822. Grading: The faculty supervisors jointly assign a grade of satisfactory/unsatisfactory. Students with credit for FPA 829 may not take this course for further credit. Prerequisite: CA (or FPA) 821 and two of the following: CA (or FPA) 823, 824, 825, or 826.

And at least three of:

CA 823-5 New approaches in visual art and culture

New Approaches in Visual Art and Culture

CA 823

Empire follows Art, and not vice versa as Englishmen suppose. - William Blake, annotations to Sir Joshua Reynold's Discourses (ca. 1798-1809) For WJ.T. Mitchell, pictures have lives and loves. Instead of seeing images as inert objects that convey meaning, he urges us to see them as animated beings with desires, needs, appetites, demands, and drives of their own. In the past three decades, literature on visual culture has burgeoned in art history, cultural studies, critical theory, philosophy and anthropology, and recently it has taken on a "performative turn." For art history, which is traditionally concerned with the interpretation of art objects, the artists who make them and the interests of patrons, the interdisciplinary field of visual culture has opened up new ways of thinking about images of all kinds. In a culture in which the production and dissemination of images has grown exponentially, it has never been more necessary to pay attention to how images work and what they do. While histories of images tend to locate intentionality in the maker or the patron, this seminar seeks to bring forward the intentions of the image, how, for example, its formal material characteristics, modes and contexts of circulation and use, reproducibility and referentiality, solicit responses: how images seem to take on, in Mitchell's words, "lives of their own." For your paper, you can choose as your main object of study a work of art, a landmark exhibition, or a famous image drawn from popular culture. This image or event will be the subject of student presentations at the end of the term. The topic must be a visual phenomenon about which there is a substantial discourse in print, preferably in both scholarly and popular sources. The final paper will be based on your presentation and should address some of the critical issues and readings discussed in class. Students with credit for FPA 823 may not take this course for further credit.

CA 824-5 New approaches in moving-image studies

New Approaches in Moving-Image Studies

CA 824

This course is an elective in the MA program. In it we examine what are understood as the arts of the moving image: these include film, video, and other time based audiovisual media. We will begin by grounding our objects of study, i.e. specific works and practices, in cinema studies and survey emerging approaches in cinema studies, relating these developments to the longer history of the discipline. Investigating cinema intermedially, we will keep in mind the art forms that informed it historically, including theater, public spectacles, photography, painting, music, sound recording. Then the course will examine how the practice, aesthetics, and reception change when cinema moves to television, both move to digital formats, and all these platforms move to handheld and social media. We will investigate medium specificity in the moving-image arts in light of what is termed "media convergence." We will consider what new forms emerge when moving images shift from the institution of cinema to other contexts such as museums and online sites. The course includes two or three weeks topics of interest that arise in the field, such as new national cinemas, new approaches to documentary, cognitive theory and neuroscience, etc. Students with credit for FPA 824 may not take this course for further credit.

CA 825-5 New approaches in digital art studies

New Approaches in Digital Art Studies

CA 825

This course will focus on the history and practice of digital art, with an emphasis upon the artistic outcomes of the new methodologies and practices within this field. Digital technology has fundamentally changed the process and products of contemporary creativity in art-making. Although a great deal of contemporary art involves some aspect of digital technology, this course will examine those artists and art-works in which digital technologies play an intrinsic part in the creative process, as well as the realization. A range of processes - from interactive systems through to algorithmic approaches (stochastic, deterministic, chaotic) - will be examined, with particular reference to artistic goals, approaches, and results. Students with credit for FPA 825 may not take this course for further credit.

CA 826-5 New approaches in performance studies

New Approaches in Performance Studies

CA 826

This course is an elective in the MA program. It traces the interdisciplinary origins of performance studies and brings its concepts and methods to bear on dance, music and sound arts, theatre and performance arts, and media performance while introducing cross-disciplinary ideas from emergent areas such as neuroscience, cognitive science, and gaming, for example. Course assignments will involve case studies as forerunners for further research. Students with credit for FPA 826 may not take this course for further credit.

CA 827-5 Practicum in Contemporary Arts

CA 828 New Approaches to Sound and the Arts (5)

And one elective graduate course relevant to the student’s research, either:

  • within the School for the Contemporary Arts (please see suggestions below); or
  • from another department, with permission of the MA Program Coordinator and the faculty member teaching the course.

MA Application Process

Application schedule for entry into the MA in Contemporary Arts program:

  • Applications may be started between October 21, 2020, and February 1, 2021.
  • The application deadline is February 7, 2021.
  • The supplementary document deadline is February 9, 2021.

Apply online HERE

Applicants should have an undergraduate degree in visual culture, art history, cinema studies, performance studies, cultural studies, communications, literary studies, or other degrees focusing on the arts. Applications with Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees that include substantial scholarly studies will also qualify.

All applicants who submit complete applications will be notified of their status by the end of March. Candidates accepted into the MA program will begin their courses in September.

Please be sure that your mailing and e-mail addresses are current, as you will be notified of application results by e-mail and by letter.

The only hardcopy documents we need to receive are your official sealed transcripts, please submit everything else online.


1. On-line Application for Graduate Studies

If you have not submitted the online application you will not be considered for the program.
All graduate program applications are processed through the Dean of Graduate Studies office. In order to use the online application system, you will need to pay an application fee of $90 CAN (students with Canadian transcripts) or $125 CAN (students with international transcripts) by credit card (MasterCard or Visa).

The on-line application includes a checklist of the documents that you will need to submit to us to support your application. This checklist will be updated on line as we receive your documents. Please refer to the on-line checklist to ensure that all documents are received - due to the number of applications, it is not possible for us to monitor every applicant's checklist closely.

2. Official sealed Transcripts of all post-secondary education. Sealed transcripts should be sent directly to the address below by the academic institution. Non-English language transcripts must include an official English translation.

SCA Graduate Program Assistant
SFU School for the Contemporary Arts
Goldcorp Centre for the Arts
149 West Hastings Street
Vancouver, BC, Canada, V6B 1H4

3. A Curriculum Vitae.

4. A Statement of Research Interests, which is a concise one page written overview of your research interests in relation to your proposed object of study.

5. A sample of Academic Writing, 2000-3000 words. Acceptable samples include senior undergraduate essays or other academic writing and published articles.

6. Three (3) Letters of Reference from (preferably) academic or professional sources. Letters can be uploaded online directly by each reference. He or she will receive login information and instructions for uploading his or her letter, once you have named him or her as a reference. We do not have a template for reference letters; your referees can use their preferred format.

7. International students: English is the language of instruction and communication in the University. The School for the Contemporary Arts requires English proficiency as outlined on the Dean of Graduate Studies website.

Please note that we must receive test results directly from the testing agency. Copies of documents sent by the student will not be accepted.


Students are eligible for fellowships, teaching assistantships, and research assistantships. We also encourage students to apply for funding before entering the program, including through SSHRC


These courses are suggestions only. Other relevant graduate courses across SFU can be taken as an elective with permission of the MA Program coordinator and the faculty member teaching the course.

CA 811-5 Interdisciplinary Graduate Seminar I
CA 812-5 Interdisciplinary Graduate Seminar II
CA 877-5 Selected Topics in Fine and Performing Arts
CA 889-5 Directed Study in Fine and Performing Arts
CMNS  855-5 Selected Topics in Communication Studies
CMNS  857-5 Selected Topics in Communication Studies
ENGL 811-4 Studies in Theory II: Performance and/in the City
ENGL 820-4 Studies in Print Culture Theory
ENGL 821-4 Studies in Manuscript, Print and Media Culture
GSWS 823-5 Graduate Seminar in Feminist Art/Literary Criticism
HUM  802-5  Themes in the Humanities
HUM 805-5 Special Topics
IAT 810-3 New Media
IAT 811-3 Computational Poetics
IAT 832-3 Exploring Interactivity
SA 875-5 Ethnographic Methodology: Social/Cultural Anthropology


Dr. Henry Daniel
Research specialization: Research-creation; performance studies; dance theory and criticism; dance and new technology.

Dr. Peter Dickinson
Research specialization: Perfomance studies.
Institute for Performance Studies,,

Dr. Arne Eigenfeldt
Research specialization: Generative art; computational creativity; new media and performance.

Dr. Claudette Lauzon
Research specialization: Contemporary art; visual culture; critical theory; conflict studies.

Dr. Laura U. Marks
Research specialization: Film theory; new media art; experimental media; art and philosophy; Islamic art and philosophy; Arab cinema.

Dr. Denise Oleksijczuk
Research specialization: Visual culture; photography; pre-cinematic media arts; nineteenth-century British art; curating.

Dr. Christopher Pavsek
Research specialization: Non-fiction cinema and art; cinema studies; critical theory; Marxist theory.

Dr. Eldritch Priest
Research specialization: Sound studies/art; philosophy of experience (specifically libidinal philosophies, affect theory, pragmatism); media theory (dealing with aurally, embodiment, simulation); composition; experimental music; postmodernism; ‘Pataphysics; Hyperstition.

Professor Judy Radul
Research specialization: Video; contemporary art and theory; art and law; performance; performativity; questions of the image.


What is unique about the MA in Contemporary Arts?

A few things! Students get interdisciplinary training in studies of the arts. A focus on practical training prepares students for careers in the arts. Studying in an art school in downtown Vancouver, they are immersed in the contemporary art scene.

How long does the degree take?

4 semesters, from beginning of September to end of December the next year.

Is there a thesis?

No, it’s a coursework-based MA. Students develop a single research project through several courses, getting the equivalent of a MA thesis without the thesis.

What does that practical training entail?

Students do a practicum with a local arts organization to develop skills like arts management, grant writing, communications, curating, programming, archiving, and production. They have the opportunity to share their research with the public by curating an exhibition or other public event, with funding. They gain publishing experience editing the CMA Journal. Intense professionalization: students learn to publish articles, present in public, develop their public profile, and apply for jobs and funds.

What kind of funding is available?

A lot! There are awards you don’t apply for, like entrance scholarships and fellowships, and awards you do apply for, like SSHRC (up to $17,500), BC Arts Council ($6000), and a great number of scholarships and awards. See this useful search engine and this dandy Graduate Student Funding Database:

What is SSHRC?

Glad you asked! The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada awards the Bombardier Master’s scholarship to excellent students. The deadline is December 1, so ideally you would apply for a SSHRC the year before you enter the program, but you can also apply while you are in the program.

What careers does the MA prepare students for?

Careers in the arts: curating and programming, arts writing, festivals, galleries, artist-run centres, arts administration, and arts advocacy. MA students also go on to do PhDs in studies of the arts.

The Comparative Media Arts Journal (CMA Journal)

The CMA Journal is a newly established open-access, student-run, peer-reviewed journal, publishing the best of graduate and postgraduate essays, artworks and experimental content, created and run by SCA MA students.


Audain Visual Artist in Residence program

The SCA's Audain Visual Artist in Residence program brings artists and practitioners to Vancouver who have contributed significantly to the field of contemporary art and whose work resonates with local and international visual art discourses.


For an archive of past Audain Visual Artist in Residence guests, exhibitions, and projects, please click here.

The program is generously funded by the Audain Foundation Endowment Fund.

611 Talks

With approximately four talks per term, the free and public 611 Talks series at the Alexander Studios, which is organized by the SCA Visual Art area, features curators, international and local artists, both distinguished and emerging, and other cultural producers presenting on their practices, projects, and ideas. The series is a productive occasion for working artists and students to discuss their methods and concepts and to explore the contexts and theories of contemporary art while also engaging with visual culture in a broader way.

For an archive of past 611 Talks guests, please click here.