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Bachelor of fine arts grads showcase work at year-end exhibition

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If you want to see a display of underdogs overcome challenging obstacles to be victorious, visit the 2008 bachelor of fine arts graduating exhibition instead of renting the Rocky movies. A group of 14 graduating fine arts students struggled against an apathetic city, lack of exposure for the arts and heavy workload to organize a successful exhibition.

The budding artists began organizing the exhibition at the start of fall semester with help from both faculty and Nickle Arts Museum staff. The class shared different duties such as publicity, catering, getting insurance coverage and presentation of works.

The exhibition draws from many of the students' inspirations, such as Ivan Ostapenko's caffeine addiction and 2008 BFA graduating class president Lauren Simms' mathematics skills.

Simms' dreams of getting a mathematics degree and interest in two-dimension illusions of space inspired her "String Drawing" work. The collection bends the viewers' perception to her advantage.

"The strings are sewn into boxes so that from a particular vantage point in the gallery, the drawings come together," she explains. "As the viewer steps back, the drawing collapses into a system of black and white strings."

Over a cup of pitch-black coffee, Ostapenko, a graphic designer, points out how his caffeine addiction led to the creation of his work, "Moments of Clarity," a collection of empty paper coffee cups lined up on the wall.

"Both of these are means of exposing my obvious dependence on caffeine, as well as tracking months," he says. "You know, the first blank cup of coffee I bought made me write on it, and I liked the result, so I turned all of the cups I stopped throwing out into this exhibit you can see."

Simms notes that this year's exhibition was more difficult to organize and required more work because of a smaller graduating class. But the sheer amount of effort put in to the exhibition prepares students for the transition from student to professional artist.

"Previous graduating classes consisted of 30 or more people, compared to our group of 14 students," she says. "Tasks assigned to sub-committees were now assigned to one or two individuals. The show acts as closure for the degree program, but also as the beginning for emerging Canadian artists by allowing them to exercise their fundraising, organization, teamwork, self motivation and creativity skills."

For Ostapenko, the exhibition is a visual representation of the challenges facing the art department and hardships of the art community in Calgary.

"Over the last four years, the art department has to deal with crises like the death and re-birth of the Visual Studies Undergraduate Society, underexposure and an apathetic city community," he says.

Ostapenko explains that the arts community's growth is challenging given Calgary's reputation as a city apathetic towards culture, but the community still survives as an ever-increasing number of successful artist-run galleries manage to keep everything afloat.

"Calgary may be far from a metropolitan culture, but as the city grows, there is noticeably more attention given to the arts, due to more money trickling down into art initiatives thanks to the economic boom," he says.

However, Ostapenko points out that the arts community still has a long way to go and faces some disadvantages compared to other mediums.

"Right now, the local music scene is enjoying a lot of exposure due to highly publicized events like the Junos and the Virgin Festival--something the visual arts does not have," he adds.

Simms is pleased with the success of the exhibition, adding that it is important for many graduating students to get a taste of the artist life.

"For most of the students involved, the BFA graduation exhibition is an opportunity to not only show in a professional gallery, but also to fund, organize and mount a major exhibition," she says.

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