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)

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)

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)

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.


The application period for the Fall 2023 program start is now over.

If you are interested in applying for the MFA program for Fall 2024, please refer to the MFA program application process to review what you will need for your application.

Applications will open again in October 2023 for the Fall 2024 start.



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.


What are the approximate tuition and fees for this program?

This is a rundown of the Fall 2022 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 student pay the same tuition as domestic students.

These are the 2022 Fall Term fees in CND:

  • All terms:
    • U-Pass BC Transit pass Fee $176.80
    • GRAD Student Athletic Fee $83.27
    • GRAD Student Activity Fee $75.37
    • GRAD Student Services Fee $49.99
    • GRAD Tuition T2202A $2025.60
    • Graduate Graduation Fee $12.00
  • Fall Term Only:
    • Grad Health Plan Dental $269.10
    • Grad Health Plan Medical $195.90
  • 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: *$3169.03 + $75 Per Month BC MSP Health Fee

Fall Total Domestic: *$2888.03

Spring Total: *$2423.03 (+ $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: *2423.03 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 and Postdoctoral 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 SCA PhD students?

We aim to provide all accepted PhD students with robust financial support over the course of their programs, including a minimum of $20,000 CAD per year over four years.

This matches the current level of support provided by a four-year Social Sciences and Humanities Council of Canada (SSHRC) Doctoral Fellowship (which applicants who are Canadian or permanent residents can apply for).

Individual student funding packages will be comprised of a combination of awards (including major entrance scholarships), fellowships, teaching assistantships, research assistantships and, where possible, sessional instructorships.

Students can also apply for travel and research funds ($500-$1500 per annual cycle) over the course of their degree.

Students in the practice-based stream can also apply for limited funding to support the presentation of their thesis projects.

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 Postdoctoral Studies website.

Do you accept Duolingo English test results?

SFU does not accept Duolingo English test results.

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?

Before accepting a student into the program, the School will consider the proposed research in relation to faculty resources in the field. Students will be matched with a supervisor upon admission, so supervisory capacity and fit is an important consideration for us.

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 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?

Normally 4 to 5 years.

How many students are accepted into the SCA PhD program each year?

Approximately 3 per year.

Does this program have a Spring or Summer intake?

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

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.

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.

Is there a minimum word length or limit for the Research Statement?

The Research Statement should be limited to 2 single-spaced pages in not less than 11-point font, and with margins of at least 2 cm.

How many items should I include in the portfolio?

The average number of portfolio items is 5 to 7. More can be included, but please keep in mind the selection committee will be reviewing a fair number of other applications

Can I provide links to sound recordings and videos in my portfolio?

Yes. It is much easier to review applications where links to sound recordings and videos are provided in a .pdf file. It is best to provide these examples in the order of importance/relevance to your application. If the videos or sound are hosted on a specific artist website, provide a link to the page where the video is rather than just a link to the entire website. Links to other media sites such as Soundcloud, YouTube, Vimeo, etc. are fine also.

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 referee.

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.

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 from the Graduate Program Assistant 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.


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.


PHD in Contemporary Arts


Peter Dickinson, Graduate Program Chair:

Graduate Program Assistant:



Henry Daniel

NiNi Dongnier

Marla Eist

Judith Garay

Rob Kitsos


Christopher Pavsek

Simone Rapisarda

Noé Rodríguez

Nadia Shihab


Arne Eigenfeldt

Mauricio Pauly

Eldritch Priest

Sabrina Schroeder

Owen Underhill


Steven Hill

Erika Latta

Ryan Tacata


Kyla Gardiner

John Macfarlane

Miwa Matreyek

Wladimiro A. Woyno R


Sabine Bitter

Raymond Boisjoly

Elspeth Pratt

Judy Radul

Jin-me Yoon


Henry Daniel

Peter Dickinson

Claudette Lauzon

Laura U. Marks

Denise Oleksijczuk

Christopher Pavsek


Visit our Graduate information page to find out about the application process and timeline for the SCA PhD program.