Melanie O'Brian

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Melanie O’Brian focuses attention on visual art

February 10, 2016
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By Allen Tung

Simon Fraser University has three art galleries, known collectively as SFU Galleries, and at the helm is Melanie O’Brian, who is responsible for the galleries’ artistic and curatorial direction and operations. She also manages the SFU Art Collection, which includes more than 1,000 works installed on SFU campuses.

O’Brian is the 2015 Staff Achievement Award recipient in the artistic category for her advocacy for contemporary art and her implementation of initiatives and programs that have benefited the cultural landscape of SFU, and Metro Vancouver.

“She has significantly broadened the discourse on contemporary visual art at SFU through the galleries’ exhibitions, publishing and public events programs, as well as through the professionalization of the University’s art collection and its integration into programming,” says one of her nominators.

Says O’Brian, “It is really satisfying to feel your colleagues’ respect, and that they appreciate your work.”

Since joining SFU in 2012 she has overseen a number of public art installations on SFU campuses. These include a permanent installation at the Residence Dining Hall of Damian Moppett’s “Large Painting and Caryatid Maquette in Studio at Night (Sculpture Version), 2012”. She has also remounted projects by recent contemporary arts alumni, which can be found on the Burnaby campus.

“The idea is if we have more art on campus, students will feel art is meaningful on a daily basis and be encouraged to interact with it,” says O’Brian.

 “A lot of work goes into putting on exhibitions and working with artists, and planning themes for the long- and short-term,” she says, noting that the work also involves researching, writing grant applications and liaising with colleagues both internally and externally.

In celebration of SFU’s 50th Anniversary, O’Brian ambitiously curated a three-part exhibition, Through a Window: Visual Art and SFU 1965–2015, that showcased the  history of visual art at SFU since the University’s inception in 1965. It’s a first-of-a-kind timeline of SFU’s visual art history.

 “Humanity and culture are recognized by art and its achievements,” she says. “It’s how we articulate ourselves in terms of the human experience. Contemporary art reflects contemporary life right back at us.”