Every year, the design program’s executive committee organizes a year-end portfolio show to display the work of bachelor of design students to industry professionals, friends, family, alumni, and other students. Each graduating student will have at least one item from their portfolio that gets into this show to be presented. The show will feature a mix of work from across the range of design disciplines that are taught in the bachelor of design program, ranging from illustration to web design.
The purpose of the showcase is to compile the best chosen work from the graduating students completed throughout their degree. Although some students may only have one piece of work included in the gallery, it gives the program the opportunity to create a showcase featuring only the best quality work. “It’s great to look through the work you have done throughout the program and kind of just see your growth,” recent 2022 graduate Melaina Goos says. “(With) a lot of the stuff you submit, it’s the best work you’ve done and it’s cool to really see that and showcase that.”
The show is divided into three parts. First is the opening of the Mitchell Art Gallery, which will display some of the best selected work from graduating students and will be shown until the following week. After that is the industry portion of the night, where professionals can meet students and talk about careers for the first half of the event. Lastly, the showcase opens to students, friends, family, and alumni to join in and check it out.
Robert Andruchow, chair of the department of design, says that the event is a great opportunity for new grads to start their job search. “They’re actively looking and they may actually recommend to a student to apply on a job or actually just recommend they set up a meeting,” Andruchow says. The show also attracts alumni of the design program who come to meet the grads and check out their work. “They are very supportive of the design communities,” he adds.
This long-standing showcase has been known to help designers share work with the world, and allow their projects to shine bright; but the year end show isn’t all roses. Co-presidents of the design program’s executive committee, Thia Ma and Chloe Anna, reveal that there are many complications that go along with planning an event this large. Whether it’s from the cost and access to supplies, or just coming up with fresh ideas, the end of year show requires a lot of preparation. And for the artists themselves, Anna adds that it can even just be difficult to know when your work is actually done.
Another complication? The selection process. In previous years, getting your work into the show wasn’t easy. In fact, the portfolio show has a reputation for being biased when it comes to inclusion of students’ work. Goos admits that, as a student-led event, there were some major issues in the past. “There were lots of miscommunications,” she says. “I think, too, it was a really short timeline….all of the students were just balancing their own work and then (also) this. I think it was just a lot to do.”
In previous shows, Goos reveals that having your work shown wasn’t guaranteed, and that work from each of the students was individually chosen. This year, the process is much more inclusive. “There’s definitely more profs that are helping out, which is amazing,” Goos adds. “I also think, too, there weren’t as many volunteers for the show (in previous years), and that was also a really hard piece too.”
Now, with more support, extra volunteers, and in-person, unrestricted access to the exhibition, the executive team is determined to fix these issues. As for how the work will be chosen this year, Ma notes that it’s based on the overall nature of the work. “I think it’s just quality,” she explains. “It really just comes down to (if) it’s representative of the best work you’ve done.”
The design program’s Studio Technician, Mike Kendrick, believes that the increased student involvement with the portfolio show has made a huge difference. “Honestly, this year has been really, really good,” he says. “I think that after three years of remote and hybrid teaching….everybody was pretty burnt out and exhausted. But it really feels like there was a reignited spark this year….there’s just an energy in this year’s organization that feels really good and has me really excited for the show launch.” The care and effort put into the show really represents what the design program means: hard work, determination, and teamwork.
“Everyone’s had a piece or a stake in it, and everyone’s been showing up and giving that effort,” Ma says. “Even our (chair) of the entire faculty has been really supportive.” Out of the 35 students graduating this spring, Ma reveals that 30 of them are volunteering to help out.
“Even as the (executive) committee, we’re definitely trying to be more transparent with the students — and not only to say what’s going on, but to just hear from students’ feedback,” Anna says. If there’s an issue or discomfort with anything, the design team can figure it out. “Honestly, designers always have solutions,” she adds. “That’s what we do; we’re problem solvers.”
“Regardless of what’s happened in the past, I think this year is one of the years where the faculty and the students have been way more collaborative at putting on the show than we’ve been previously,” Ma exclaims. “And, of course, COVID factors into that. But I think we’ve just been a lot more present in terms of representing our ideas and what we’d like to see from the show.” As the first show back in three years that is fully in-person with no restrictions, the design program has been given the opportunity to change the ideas around the event. “We’re looking forward to what shape we’re gonna take,” Kendrick exclaims. After returning to campus following the pandemic, MacEwan is slowly getting back to normal with events and program showcases. This year, the graduating students hope to reinvent the portfolio show as a more organized, more diverse exhibition than it’s been in the past.
“Last year, a lot of things were last minute…the circumstances were not great,” Anna admits. With limitations on funding, availability of students and staff, and other organizational issues, the event wasn’t as successful as the design program could have made it. “(This year), we’ve really pulled together as a team,” Ma says. “Even among those challenges, we lost some funding as well that impacted our ability to put on the show. But we’re still sticking with it….and (we’re) gonna make it amazing.”
Every year, the showcase event creates a theme; this year’s theme is titled, “Unfolding.” So, what exactly does that mean? Ma explains that, like most things in design, it’s up for interpretation. “You come into post-secondary with that ‘blank slate’ or blank piece of paper (mentality), and then as you take your classes, you learn, (and) you absorb information, you’re slowly getting folded. And as you get closer to that end — graduating and moving on into your career — you’re unfolding possibilities for the future,” she says. “Unfolding” can mean something different to everyone, but “design (itself) is always changing,” Goos adds. “I think that’s what makes it really amazing.”
Anyone and everyone is welcome at this event. Prospective students wanting to check out the program, alumni who want to return for a visit, and industry professionals are all common audiences present at the portfolio show. Anna and Ma explain that, in general, people are just excited to be back on campus and be taking part in large events again.
Everyone is drawn to design for different reasons, but for students in particular, “it’s the passion,” Ma says. “I think you’ll see that as the years go on, students are getting more passionate….they are just so talented,” Anna adds. Goos’ advice from a recent alumni to incoming students is simple: “Enjoy the different pathways you can take through design,” Goos says. “Find your niche. Find what you like, and just really enjoy it and experience it.”
Hopefully, this year’s portfolio show will be one for the books. “We really want this to be something that’s sustainable, so that the energy just keeps going,” Ma says. “(We want people) to not think that design fits into one bubble. I think a lot of people have that misconception.”
The event will be held on April 27. The student work showcase will run until May 6, 2023 in the Mitchell Art Gallery, located in Allard Hall.