5Q with Fine Arts professor Jerry Ropson
Jerry Ropson teaches in Mount Allison’s Fine Arts department. He was nominated for the Sobey Art Award this year, one of the top awards for young artists in Canada.
1. You were recently nominated for the Sobey Art Award, a national honour. What does this kind of recognition mean to you?
I truly appreciate the recognition, and I was honoured by my placement on the longlist. It has been humbling to see just how many people have reached out to congratulate me, and how there suddenly seems to be more concentrated interest in my work, and from those that perhaps might not usually look this way.
2. Can you tell me a bit about your current project in Newfoundland?
Over the next year, I will primarily live, create, and research within rural Newfoundland. Maintaining a studio in my hometown of Pollards Point for the first time in my life. I will produce a multifaceted video and installation project, building upon writing and ideas that have been amassed over the last three years through informal community-based research conducted in rural Newfoundland and in northern Alberta, (where a significant number of Atlantic Canadians, and nearly all of my family, have relocated).
I will visit communities throughout northern and western Newfoundland, particularly those that remain isolated or “cut-off” in distinct and geographic ways; i.e. this itinerary might include visiting the abandoned community of Great Harbour Deep, the last post-confederation resettlement project (2002).
I intend to exhibit the resulting project regionally, nationally, and abroad.
3. Other recent Sackville-area projects?
I certainly try to keep busy here in Sackville, although it’s pretty difficult to take on very much during the teaching year. I’m always working away on small-scale paintings and ceramic work. I work with local pottery guru Kaeli Cook to produce small ceramic forms that often go on to be included in other larger installation-based works. Most of what I do starts with drawing in some way. Drawing and storytelling are, for me, still the most immediate and direct way to sort through and often manifest an idea. I’ve done projects with Ok.Quoi?! Contemporary Arts Festival here in Sackville as well as contributed projects to last year’s, “Art in the Open” in Charlottetown. I have a number of residencies, projects, and exhibitions already scheduled for the upcoming year in Newfoundland, Halifax, and Montreal. It’s going to be a busy one!
4. How long have you taught at Mount Allison? What's your favourite part about teaching/creating at a university?
I came to Mount Allison in 2010, initially on a one-year contract, and was hired the following year in a tenure-track position. I just earned tenure this past year, so it’s been an extraordinarily positive/successful year for me.
There’s a lot that I like about teaching here at Mount Allison. I’ve been the “fourth-year co-ordinator” for the past two years. Guiding students through their final year of study, and helping prepare students a professional life post-BFA… that feels pretty imperative. I felt privileged that the department trusted me to take the lead.
For the first couple of years that I worked here, I felt everything was overshadowed by the pending move into the “new building.” Now that we’re settling into the “The Purdy,” (as our students have come to call it) everything feels like it’s fallen into place. I honestly really like teaching and working in that space, and although there’s been a few kinks to work out, there are mornings when I stand at the far end of the building, looking back through, towards campus, and the space is all abuzz with students, the light is coming in through those large glass windows, and Thaddeus (Holownia) or Dan (Steeves) are leaning over the railing from above to say hi to someone. I feel pretty lucky, and I think, “This is a great place to work and teach.”
5. You've also taught other age groups, how does this compare to the above group?
I have been teaching in some capacity or another for a long time. Years ago in Montreal, I was even a Preschool Teacher with the EMSB for a short while. Later on I taught at The Visual Arts Centre.
I always wanted to teach art at the undergraduate level because I thought that the majority of students who went to university to study art would be there because they wanted to be an artist. This isn’t always the case any more. The BFA is a far more versatile degree nowadays and students come here with all sorts of expectations and objectives. As the education system has shifted, the interests and intentions of students have changed. Just in the past couple of years, I’ve seen students of mine go off to start professional careers as artists, just as I’ve seen several go on to pursue graduate studies in architecture and design, and even go on to medical school.