DIPLOMA IN DRAWING, 1989
BACHELOR OF FINE ART IN DRAWING, 1998
ALUMNI DISCOVERY INITIATIVE, INTERVIEW BY CANDACE HORSBURGH, 2016
Candace Horsburgh: When did you graduate from ACAD?
Patti Dawkins: I graduated in 1989 from the Drawing program at ACA (as it was known then). I had attended night classes prior to that, taking some drawing and design classes.
HORSBURGH: I notice you have an interest in photography?
DAWKINS: Yes, photography, and before I came to art school I was a calligrapher. That was what got me interested in coming to ACA. I had filled out an application when I was younger and didn’t have children. I didn’t think I would get accepted and it seemed impractical, so I didn’t submit it. The idea of going to art school kept coming back to me though, and down the road I became involved with calligraphy and that motivated me.
I knew a Visual Communications (VC) instructor, Larry Reidl, and he encouraged me to apply. He thought I could specialize in lettering, and between calligraphy and lettering I could probably have a decent business, although I didn’t end up going in that direction.
HORSBURGH: I think that happens a lot: a person comes and tries different things and sees that there are different avenues that interest them that they weren’t even aware of.
DAWKINS: Well, I think for me I was looking for something that would make me employable. In my first year they had a session from each program telling you what the program would be like in an effort to try to help you make a decision about what to major in. At that time, you had to choose your major at the end of first year. I went to all the sessions and I remember the head of the VC program said “you have to really like doing things for other people in this program.” And I knew from doing calligraphy that I didn’t like doing things for other people. I liked doing things for myself.
HORSBURGH: I totally understand.
DAWKINS: In that first year I applied to get into VC because it was the most competitive program, and I got accepted, but decided not to go. I phoned them to say I didn’t want to go into the VC program, that I would actually like to go into the Drawing program instead.
The Drawing program was small and new, it was only about two or three years old at that point. I really liked what I saw was coming from the Drawing students. It was very eclectic, and each person’s work was quite different and that appealed to me.
So, I called the school and said I wanted to go into Drawing, but they weren’t sure I could do that as they had a huge influx of applications for Drawing, up drastically from the smaller number of applicants earlier in the program’s life. I did end up getting into the program along with about 20 others.
Dreading the Axe - Oak
HORSBURGH: You also took Printmaking?
DAWKINS: I took printmaking courses all through my four years. At the end of my fourth year I thought, “what have I done? I need a job and I have a diploma in drawing!” I started asking instructors what they did when they first finished art school. Derek Besant [Drawing faculty], said, “Just take any job that is art related to get your foot in the door, you never know where that will lead you” and that resonated with me. I started keeping my eyes and ears open, and I was in the basement hallway one day and saw a little poster on the wall that said: “S.T.E.P. (Summer Temporary Employment Program) student needed to assist Printmaking technician for the summer.”
I went to the Printmaking technician, Kate Baillies, and asked if I could I apply for the position even though I was not a print major and technically no longer a student. She checked with HR and they said I could. So even though I was very exhausted, and had to make arrangements for my children, I saw it as an opportunity to get my foot in the door. I applied and got the job for the summer, it was a 3-month position. I worked with the Kate all summer, helping her do the summer studio maintenance. I learned a lot. Half my time was spent with her and the other half was spent on my own work. I had a Printmaking faculty advisor, Ken Webb, for the summer who would come in and talk to me about my work. It was an amazing job.
A few weeks into the job Kate told me she was leaving her position at the end of the summer. So again, I asked if I could apply for her position, and she said I could, and wrote me a reference letter. I applied for the job and got the position. Some things you can never anticipate when coming into ACAD. I didn’t know such a position existed before I came to the college. You come in with such a small window of knowledge about what art is and what kind of jobs are available, but by the end of your time here you are aware of many possibilities.
I felt very fortunate that I could walk into that position after I graduated. I stayed for 13 years. During that time they brought in the BFA degree and changed the name of the school to ACAD. I took six classes to upgrade to a degree. It was a great learning experience and I was exposed to a lot of courses that I wouldn’t have been otherwise.
I sat on the executive of AUPE (Alberta Union of Provincial Employees) and took the Steward’s Training Course. I also sat on the ACAD Board of Governors as the staff representative. It was a great experience to see the College from another side, and came in useful down the road.
I left the Print technician job in 2003 with the plan to get more engaged in my own practice and the art community outside of the College. I applied for a self-directed residency at the Banff Centre, created a body of work, and successfully applied for an exhibition at Stride Gallery and graduate school at The University of Calgary (U of C). I was fuelled by the desire to have a solid amount of time to get back into my practice in a different way, to get some feedback on my work, and to improve my writing and critical thinking skills.
HORSBURGH: That’s great. So that had nicely transformed since graduation, getting a degree and experience with exhibitions. Do you think it’s important that students apply for grants and shows as much as possible?
DAWKINS: Apply for shows and for grants if that’s the direction you want to go, but it doesn’t really guarantee you a steady income. It pays for you to make and show work.
I also got involved with the artist-run centres in Calgary. I was on the board of Truck, Contemporary Art in Calgary. I love Calgary’s artist-run scene. I go to a lot of galleries to see different kinds of work and check out what’s going on locally. It’s a great way get to know people in the Calgary arts community. I think its important for graduates and students to volunteer at a gallery and get to know what they are about if that’s the scene you are interested in. There are basically three kinds of galleries: artist-run-centres, commercial and public galleries.
HORSBURGH: You definitely used your diploma and degree as a stepping stone, then. How do you think your process has evolved since graduation?
DAWKINS: When I was getting my Drawing diploma, I took a photography class from a painting instructor, Bill MacDonnell. I loved the Printmaking department’s black and white dark room. I enjoyed the process and I loved being alone, in the dark, with the water running. It was quiet work. I made black and white photos and film positives for prints. I also did some sculptural work, cloth dipped in plaster, and got into large routered wood-cut drawings. I like to experiment with different media, use materials in a way that comes to me through the process and ideas. I like experimentation and exploration.
HORSBURGH: What insights do you have for current and prospective students?
DAWKINS: In 1995 I was asked to speak at convocation on behalf of alumni. After I accepted the invitation I thought, “Oops, my ego got in the way there,” because I hate public speaking. I was a nervous wreck. I thought: how could I do this without having to speak? I enticed alumni, who worked at ACAD or who I had kept in touch with to answer one question “What advice would you give to graduating students?” and made a 5 minute video. I believe the Luke Lindoe Library might have a copy.
My own advice is to think of how are you going to make money: from your art practice? have a job and make your art on the side? have an art related job? Do you want to work in a gallery or an arts organization? Find your own path, follow your gut, you know what is right for you and you have to go along with that.
HORSBURGH: You said earlier how taking the opportunities you did were beneficial, and I think if students jump on opportunities like you have, it will work for them.
DAWKINS: Yes, keep your eyes open and your ear to the ground for that kind of thing. There are lots of opportunities in the art world and lots of people earn a living in a variety of ways.
HORSBURGH: What would you like to be recognized for?
DAWKINS: I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m a really good support person for the arts. The arts community in Calgary needs more champions. People who stand up for the arts, that bring the arts to people’s attention, and support the arts in whatever way they can.
HORSBURGH: I think that’s great, and important as well!
DAWKINS: The public needs to be educated about the arts. I really get a kick out of taking people to galleries, people who would not normally go to galleries. Taking them to places they would not set foot on their own. ACAD is one of four institutions dedicated to the arts in Canada. I think its exceptional that one of those four is in Calgary. We also have the Banff centre an hour away… it’s amazing to me that a conservative city and province would have both an art college and an exceptional arts institute, the Banff Centre.
I think alumni play a role in creating a strong art scene locally and spread the word nationally and internationally. Calgary has a really wonderful arts community, so I encourage students to get involved and get to know people. Once you have gone to ACAD you are part of the club, and it is an exceptional arts community. Alumni go out and start businesses, they start galleries, they make work, they write, they curate and travel and get their work shown all over the place. All that effort puts Calgary on the map.
The Mona Lisa Museum of Kitsch
HORSBURGH: What is it that you do now here at ACAD?
DAWKINS: I am the Office Manager for the ACAD Faculty Association (ACADFA)* I do research for the Association particularly during negotiations, organize meetings, maintain the membership and financial records, produce a newsletter with contributions from the members. ACADFA also has a monthly e-bulletin, which covers the business side of the association to keep members informed of what’s going on, I network with other associations and their staff provincially and federally. Members come to the Association office to clarify their work obligations and the College’s obligations to them as per the Collective Agreement. I took this job because I was looking for a part-time job in the arts where I could use my experience and learn something new. This job has a lot of variety, which I like, and has given me another perspective of the College.
HORSBURGH: What are you working on now?
DAWKINS: I’m currently working on a few collaborative projects and they are all quite different. I have a Mona Lisa collection with over 400 items which I showed as an installation, The Mona Lisa Museum of Kitsch. I’m working on a yarn bomb project with a group of ACAD graduates, and I’m also working on a collaborative project with a former ACAD faculty member, A. Mary Murphy. She has written a series of poems about trees, mostly trees that are indigenous to Alberta and invited artists to do a piece of work as a response to a poem, to choose a poem and choose a tree to work with. I’ve done a series of work with Oak leaves.
HORSBURGH: You’ve been pretty lucky to be able to work in the art world right from the get-go.
DAWKINS: I have been. My brother calls me a connector: I think of connections between people and bring them togehter. I like doing that.
*In 2018 Patti retired from ACADFA. She continues to work in her home studio. She recently exhibited Home and Gardens, with Tomas Jonsson at The New Edward Gallery and will be participating in a group exhibition, A Conspiracy of Crones, at the U-Hall Space at TRUCK Contemporary Arts in Calgary June 6 -15, 2019. Opening reception June 9, 1 - 4 PM.
Patti recently received an award from the university formerly known as ACAD (AUArts) in appreciation of her years of service to the institution (updated May 2019).