The SCA’s PhD in Contemporary Arts is a research-intensive program focused on interdisciplinary approaches to the fine and performing arts. The program supports both scholarly and practiced-based research, with students tailoring their degrees to their specific research interests.

Students pursuing primarily scholarly approaches to visual culture, media arts, sound studies, and performance studies will take existing graduate seminar courses and produce a substantial written thesis under the mentorship of leading scholars in their chosen field of study. Practice-based artist-scholars or researchers with a curatorial, programming, or public-facing practice will take a mix of seminars and studio-based courses and directed studies, resulting in the creation of an original artwork or a public presentation supplemented by a substantial written body of work incorporating students’ reflection and commentary.

In all cases, students will be interacting within a lively intellectual and creative environment, in which the exchange of ideas and methods will encourage and enrich both discursive practice and research-creation.

For information about applying to the program, please follow the links at the Future Students section of our site, or scroll to the bottom of this page.

Program Information

Students pursuing the PhD in Contemporary Arts are expected to complete the program in 12-15 semesters (4-5 years). Each student is matched with a potential supervisor, normally upon admission, and the supervisory committee should be formed during the first year.

The program consists of course work, qualifying examinations, a thesis prospectus, and a thesis (scholarly or practice-based), for a minimum of 35 units.

Students complete:

CA 890 – Professional Practices Seminar I (0)

CA 891 – Professional Practices Seminar II (0)


CA 821 – Research Methods in Contemporary Arts (5)

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.

And at least three of:*

CA 811 – Interdisciplinary Graduate Seminar I (5)

Interdisciplinary Graduate Seminar I

CA 811

Critical study of contemporary issues in the fine and performing arts, with emphasis on concerns common to diverse artistic disciplines and the interaction between art and society. Students with credit for FPA 811 may not take this course for further credit.

CA 812 – Interdisciplinary Graduate Seminar II (5)

Interdisciplinary Graduate Seminar II

CA 812

Continuation of CA (or FPA) 811. Students with credit for FPA 812 may not take this course for further credit. Prerequisite: CA (or FPA) 811.

CA 813 – Interdisciplinary Graduate Studio (5)

Interdisciplinary Graduate Studio

CA 813

A selected topics studio course with an emphasis on interdisciplinary artistic projects. Students with credit for FPA 813 may not take this course for further credit. Prerequisite: CA (or FPA) 811.

CA 823 – New Approaches to Visual Art and Culture (5)

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 – New Approaches in Moving-Images Studies (5)

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 – New Approaches in Digital Art Studies (5)

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 – New Approaches in Performance Studies (5)

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

CA 877 – Selected Topics in Fine and Performing Arts (5)

Selected Topics in Fine and Performing Arts

CA 877

Study of particular artistic techniques or issues. The topic varies from term to term. Students with credit for FPA 877 may not take this course for further credit.

CA 883 – Studio in Fine and Performing Arts I (5)

Studio in Fine and Performing Arts I

CA 883

Intensive studio work, concentrated in a particular art discipline, but with opportunity to involve interdisciplinary materials and techniques. Students with credit for FPA 883 may not take this course for further credit.

CA 885 – Studio in Fine and Performing Arts II (5)

Studio in Fine and Performing Arts II

CA 885

Continuation of CA (or FPA) 883. Students with credit for FPA 885 may not take this course for further credit. Prerequisite: CA (or FPA) 883.

CA 887 – Selected Topics in Fine and Performing Arts (5)

Selected Topics in Fine and Performing Arts

CA 887

Study of particular artistic techniques or issues. The topic varies from term to term. Students with credit for FPA 887 may not take this course for further credit.

CA 889 – Directed Study in Fine and Performing Arts (5)

Directed Study in Fine and Performing Arts

CA 889

Students with credit for FPA 889 may not take this course for further credit.


CA 892 – PhD Qualifying Examinations (0)


CA 895 – PhD Thesis Prospectus (0)


CA 899 – PhD Thesis (15)

* coursework may be substituted in consultation with the supervisor or Graduate Program Chair.

Visual Art Studios at 611 Alexander St.


If you are interested in applying for the PhD program for Fall 2022, please refer to the PhD program application procedures to review what you will need for your application.

  • Applications open October 18, 2021.
  • The application deadline is December 31, 2021.
  • The supplementary document deadline is January 5, 2022.


1. Online 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 Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies. 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 online application includes a checklist of the documents that you will need to submit to us to support your application. This checklist will be updated online as we receive your documents. Please refer to the online checklist to ensure that all documents are received. NOTE: 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 and Postdoctoral 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 Research Statement. This two-page document should indicate your academic/artistic background, the nature of your scholarly and/or creative practice, and the faculty members in the School who might supervise your work. It should also include an outline of the doctoral research you wish to pursue in our program, the significance of this research, and the contexts (artistic/scholarly/other) through which you are framing this research.

5. A sample of Academic Writing. Acceptable samples include MA or MFA papers or other academic writing, catalogue essays, published articles, and grant applications.

6. For students pursuing the practice-based PhD option: A Portfolio of your work, including a list which prioritizes the viewing/listening order of materials. You may upload video, audio, images, or PDF documents (less than 10 Mb each). Unfortunately, we are unable to accept physical media (DVDs, CDs, etc.). For works that involve a creation and production team, please make your role (Director, Choreographer, Curator, etc.) clear.

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

9. International students: English is the language of instruction and communication at SFU. The School for Contemporary Arts requires English proficiency as outlined on the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies website. Please note that we must receive test results directly from the testing agency. Copies of documents sent directly by students will not be accepted.

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 Gallery

As the location for yearly student exhibitions, SFU Galleries' Audain Gallery at SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts extends the pedagogy of the SCA. Through exhibitions, seminars, panels, artist talks, studio visits, and working directly with visiting artists, the programing and activities of the Audain Gallery offer our undergraduate and graduate students a unique opportunity to participate in high-profile, internationally focused and engaged artistic practices.

Audain Gallery
Simon Fraser University
Goldcorp Centre for the Arts
149 West Hastings Street
Vancouver, BC, Canada V6B 5K3
P: 778.782.9102

For an archive of past SCA exhibitions at the Audain Gallery, please click here.

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.


Main dance studio at 149 W. Hastings st.