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

Develops thinking across the media arts in a comparative perspective, synthesizing the historical and theoretical approaches of art history, cinema studies, performance studies, and computer-based media studies. Establishes bases for understanding the relationships among art forms that incorporate reproducible and digital media. Investigates some of the useful emergent methods for making comparisons among media, across history, and across cultures. 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. Prerequisite: CA (or FPA) 829.

CA 829-5 Extended Essay in Contemporary Arts

Extended Essay in Contemporary Arts

CA 829

Students will complete the final capstone project of the MA in contemporary arts. The extended essay builds on knowledge students have gained in course work. Students conduct in-depth research into a topic in contemporary arts and develop and polish an original argument, with the goal of producing a publishable article. The length of the essay should be that of a typical journal article, around 5000-7000 words. Students may also write a catalogue essay to accompany an exhibition. 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, 826, or 828.

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

Examines what are understood as the arts of the moving image: film, video, and other time based audiovisual media. A survey of emerging approaches in cinema studies relates these developments to the longer history of the discipline and the intermedial art forms that informed it, including theater, public spectacles, photography, painting, music, and sound recording. Additional topics include: 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; medium specificity in the moving-image arts in light of "media convergence"; what new forms emerge when moving images shift from the institution of cinema to museum and online contexts; new approaches to national cinemas and documentary; and cognitive and neuroscientific theories of moving images. 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

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

Practicum in Contemporary Arts

CA 827

This course is an elective in the MA program. Students are placed with an arts organization in order to carry out a specific project of finite length. The student's labor time in the practicum should total approximately 120 hours, to be carried out over the course of a term. Projects are initiated by the student in consultation with the supervisor at the organization and the MA program supervisor. Projects can involve research, writing, organizing events, curating exhibitions and programs, public relations, media production, archiving, and related activities. The student submits a proposal that indicates the project's purpose, schedule, plans for documenting and reporting, and planned outcome. Final outcomes will vary depending on the placement. The MA program coordinator and the supervisor at the organization approve the project. In some cases, the project must be approved by the Ethics Review Board. SFU’s code of conduct and academic dishonesty policies apply to students while on practicum. The MA program coordinator assigns a grade in consultation with the supervisor at the organization. May be repeated once for credit. Students with credit for CA 830 may not take this course for further credit.

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

New Approaches to Sound and the Arts

CA 828

Scholarly research on sound ranges from studies on listening, more-than-human soundscapes, audio media archaeology, sound art, and sonic cultures. These works question and expand upon longstanding issues concerning the onto-epistemologies of sound, the status of the voice, the role of music in everyday life, the politics of sound, and sound's relationship to the imagination and other sensory domains. This seminar will entail an examination of current debates and changing methodologies in sound studies, especially as they pertain to the contemporary arts.

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

Our [PhD/MA/MFA] application period for the Fall 2024 intake has now closed. Our admission portal for fall 2025 will open in October, 2024.


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. (For the purposes of lowering costs, unofficial transcripts may be uploaded to an application for review. If an offer of acceptance is given, all official sealed transcripts will be required.)

Graduate Studies
Maggie Benston Student Services Centre 1100
Simon Fraser University
8888 University Drive
Burnaby, British Columbia
Canada V5A 1S6

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


What are the approximate tuition and fees for this program?

This is a rundown of the Fall 2023 fees (they tend to go up a bit each year). The application fee is about $125 CND. If accepted into the program, a deposit of $250 is needed to secure your place. It is a per-term fee schedule, not per-unit. Please note: international students pay the same tuition as domestic students.

These are the Fall 2023 fees in CND:

  • All terms:
    • U-Pass BC Transit pass Fee: $180.40
    • GRAD Student Athletic Fee: $84.94
    • GRAD Student Activity Fee: $75.65
    • GRAD Student Services Fee: $50.99
    • GRAD Tuition (T2202A): $2066.11
    • Graduate Graduation Fee: $12.00
  • Fall Term Only:
    • Grad Health Plan Dental: $280.67
    • Grad Health Plan Medical: $204.33
  • 1st Fall Term Only (For international students only)
    • International Medical Guard.Me Insurance $281.00 (This is a temporary insurance before the BC Provincial MSP basic medical insurance is setup. Please see the International Medical Insurance information at these links:

Fall Total International: $3,224.09+ $75 Per Month BC MSP Health Fee

Fall Total Domestic: *$2,943.09

Spring Total: *$2,458.09 (+ $75 Per month BC MSP Health Fee is only for International Students)

In the Spring and Summer Terms, students are not charged for the Graduate medical and dental plans because they are an annual fee, so roughly: *$2,458.09 CND for the other two terms of the year. Living expenses are separate.

After 6 completed terms of full-time fees in a regular fee master's program, tuition is reduced to half of the full-time fee as the continuing fee.

A completed term is defined as a term a student is not on leave, or has not withdrawn (extenuating or otherwise).

*These are approximate amounts and are subject to change each year.

More details on tuition and fees can be found on the SFU Graduate Studies website.

Do International students in this program pay an international rate for tuition?

International students pay the same tuition rate as domestic students.

Can my application fees be waived?

SFU and SCA are not waiving application fees at this time.

Where can I find information on housing arrangements and costs?

Information on housing can be found here:

What kind of funding is provided for incoming MA students?

There are awards you don’t apply for, like entrance scholarships and fellowships, and awards you do apply for, like SSHRC, as well as a great number of other scholarships and awards. See this useful search engine.

MA Students are eligible for:

  • external awards (MA SSHRC: $17,500: application deadline: December 2021—Cdn. citizens and permanent residents only)
  • teaching assistantships (~$2500-$5000/semester)
  • research assistantships
  • internal awards (GFs @ $3500/semester; special entrance awards of $2000)
  • travel and research funds ($500-1500)
  • MAs only: funds for public programs (up to $1000)
  • private awards: see Grad Studies and SCA MA websites

Will a Teaching Assistantship position cover some of the 2 additional international health care fees?

Yes. As international students have two additional costs, the SFU Teaching Support Staff Union (TSSU) of which all TAs are members, can provide support for these costs while graduate students are working. More details can be found HERE.

What are the Graduate English proficiency requirements?

International applicants will not be required to complete an English-language test if they have completed a degree at an institution where the language of instruction and examination was in English in a country where English is the primary language. All University Graduate English proficiency requirements can be found on the SFU Graduate and Post-doctoral Studies website.

Do you accept Duolingo English test results?

The Duolingo English Test (DET) has been approved on a provisional basis, effective Summer 2024 through to the Fall 2026. The minimum required score for the DET is 130 overall with a minimum of 120 in each section. 

Can I apply if I do not meet all the English proficiency test minimum scores?

All applicants must meet the Graduate English proficiency minimum requirements. Please note, meeting the minimum scores does not guarantee entrance into the SCA grad programs.

Does this program require GRE results?

The SCA Graduate programs do not require GRE results.

Will you look at my CV and Portfolio before I apply to see if I am eligible?

Due to the high volume of applicants, Staff and Faculty are not able to review application materials. The review process is part of the application process.

Do I need to contact and establish a potential supervisor before applying?

MA students do not need to be matched with a supervisor upon admission. Students are assigned an interim Supervisor for the first two terms. Two co-supervisors are established in the Summer term who are the readers of the extended essay.

Is an interview part of the application process?

Yes, but only if an applicant is selected for an interview. The program selection committee reviews all applications in an initial round of assessment. Successful applicants from this initial assessment are then contacted for an interview.

Will you still accept applications after the deadline?

Due to the high number of applications each year, SCA does not accept applications past the application deadline.

If I am accepted into the program, can I defer my start in the program to the following year?

At this time, the SCA will not be granting deferrals for starting the following year.

Is there a waitlist for this program?

Yes, we have a waitlist for this program.

How long is this program?

4 full-time semesters.

How many Students are accepted into the MA program each year?

Approximately 10 to 11 students per year.

Does this program have a Spring or Summer intake?

No. All SCA Graduate programs start in the Fall Term.

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.

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 “practical training” in the MA Program entail?

Students can 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.

Can I transfer course credits into this program from another institution?

No. All course credits for each SCA Grad program are to be taken during the span of the program.

Can I take classes remotely in this program?

No, SCA Graduate courses are in-person only.

What are the COVID-19 protocols for the University?

Please see the SFU Return to Campus Website HERE.

Can I take undergraduate SCA courses for credit in this program?

SCA Undergraduate courses can be taken with permission from the instructor. However, credit for these courses will not count towards your graduate degree. Many students opt to sit in the class or audit the course instead.

Can I take graduate-level studio courses from the MFA and PhD programs?

Unfortunately, graduate-level SCA studio classes are reserved for the MFA and PhD programs. However, it might still be possible to take undergraduate studio courses for audit with permission from the instructor.

Do I need to supply my official transcripts in my application?

For the purposes of lowering costs and saving paper, unofficial transcripts may be uploaded to an application for review. If an offer of acceptance is given, all official sealed transcripts will be required.

I don’t have any related samples of academic writing, what should I submit?

It is preferred that samples of writing be related to the arts as this is a writing-focused program. Acceptable samples include senior undergraduate essays or other academic writing and published articles of approximately 2000-3000 words.

Can my references come from non-academic email addresses?

Yes, SCA will consider non-academic references from professionals; however, it is preferred that there is at least one academic reference.

Can I get an un-conditional letter of offer?

It is best to meet the requirements of the University prior to submitting all of the application material. As many official transcripts will not have been received within the application period, a condition of receiving the official transcripts will likely be included in the letter of offer as detailed HERE.

If I am offered acceptance, when should I address any enrolment conditions in the offer letter?

As soon as possible, but definitely by July, before enrolment opens. Many conditions will prohibit enrolment in classes until they have been met.

Will you provide feedback on my application if I’m not accepted?

Due to the high volume of applicants, Staff and Faculty are not able to provide feedback on applications.

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.

Is there an information session for this program?

There is usually an in-person information session each November. For the last couple of years, we have hosted our information sessions online. If you have missed the latest information session, you can request a link to the video archive of it from the Graduate Program Coordinator at

Projects & Activities

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.