Connecting Across Disciplines as a Visual Art Graduate

April 11, 2023

In the past year, SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement (VOCE) has welcomed new faces in roles spanning event programming, communications, and audio editing for the Below the Radar podcast. Research Assistant Sena Cleave reflects on the ways they translated skills they acquired at SFU’s School for the Contemporary Arts (SCA) to their work at SFU VOCE.

In April 2022, having de-installed my final student exhibition at SFU’s Audain Gallery, I faced a question familiar to many soon-to-be graduates — what next? During my time studying visual art at the SCA, I learned how to build an art practice, but felt I was missing guidance about balancing this practice with employment. I knew that the work artists do outside of their creative practice can inform it, so I looked to SFU VOCE to broaden my skills and become familiar with ways of connecting across communities and disciplines. I was hired in late 2022 and was fortunate to meet colleagues who have supported my work both within and outside of the office.

I began by recording and editing episodes of the Below the Radar podcast, which features interviews with guests working across artistic, academic, and activist spheres. Through the audio editing, I listened in to insightful conversations on topics like art and colonialism with Marianne Nicolson, anti-racism in universities with June Francis, climate journalism with Geoff Dembicki, and an upcoming episode on community development with Michael Clague.

The skills I developed while recording and editing audio transferred directly to my art practice. With cinematography help from Paige Smith, who is currently on leave as VOCE’s Program Assistant, I made a video titled Futon or the Quilt. What drives this piece forward is a recording of my voice reading out loud from a book. Among other ideas I was exploring, I thought about the intimacy of being read to, so I used techniques I learned while editing Below the Radar to experiment with different listening experiences. In November, I was invited to show the final piece alongside artworks by A. Branch and Vitória Monteiro in I Have Forgotten My Umbrella, an exhibition at Mónica Reyes Gallery curated by artist and SCA professor Kathy Slade.

Still image from Futon or the Quilt. Courtesy of Sena Cleave.

I also joined VOCE’s efforts to transcribe Below the Radar episodes so they can be read in text form. This process let me exercise creative thinking and practice my writing and text editing skills. My goal was to clarify or add context while maintaining the flow and the tone of the recorded conversation. I researched for resources that relate to the topics discussed in the episodes and I linked these resources in the transcripts, which can promote learning about the organizations and community efforts that surround the work of each episode’s guest. These reference materials give context to the episodes and help maintain access points to political or social events that can fade from public memory. The transcripts make podcast episodes accessible to a wider variety of learning styles and research purposes while increasing their lifespan as archival learning tools. Both the audio interviews and the transcripts can invite different audiences to academic knowledge that is so often siloed. 

This February, when Julia Aoki joined VOCE as Program Manager, I was excited to chat about her longstanding experience in non-profit organizations across Vancouver. She agreed to an interview, and we spoke about her entry into advocacy work through the Powell Street Festival Society and the value of fostering partnerships between different marginalized communities. While translating the recorded interview into an article, I highlighted certain parts of the conversation to tell a story about how one can enter into community-oriented work via the arts. My conversation with Julia reinforced for me the interconnectedness of the projects at VOCE. This work has guided my interest toward art practices and organizations that position themselves within a broad web of socially-engaged and community-oriented efforts. 

While I move on beyond SFU VOCE, continue to practice artmaking, and find my space in non-profit organizations, I appreciate the office for enriching the skills I developed as an SCA student. I have expanded my ability to edit both writing and audio, and I grew my knowledge about the ways that art practice intersects with disciplines like advocacy, community development, and academia. 

Find more of my work at

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