Sixteen students are taking classes this year at the Yukon School of Visual Arts in Dawson City.
Eleven full-time and five part-time students have signed up to start Sept. 7, according to the school’s acting program director Eldo Enns.
That’s a significant improvement for a school year that at one point came very close to not happening at all.
Earlier this summer, when enrolment numbers were as low as four, conversations started happening about potentially shutting down SOVA for a year to sort things out.
The numbers eventually hit six which was considered the minimum number of students to make the program viable. A cohort of 16 is much better than 11, which is what the program had in 2016.
Enns came in to replace the former program co-ordinator who left this summer.
“I was brought in here to see if we could re-charge the batteries here and see if we can get some numbers happening,” he said.
When news started coming out that school enrolment was “fading slightly,” the arts community and the community of Dawson came together to try and make things right, he said.
“To see it fade away like that, it just didn’t make any sense to us and we didn’t want it to happen.”
Enns said he and other SOVA staff started reaching out to anyone they could think of and used social media to get the word out.
“We’ve had many artists in residence over the decade who love this place, there’s always a big line of artists who want to come here,” he said.
“So you’re reaching into that community, you’re getting on social media, you’re finding all the contacts you can think of in the art world, and people who might know those contacts, and putting the word out there.”
SOVA staff also reached out to students who had already expressed interest in the program to answer questions or help them fill out any last-minute required paperwork, said Deb Bartlette, Yukon College’s vice-president academic.
There was some delay in providing that kind of attention this year until Enns was brought on, she said.
“There’s always a bit of last minute flurry and a lot of time is put in by staff giving that one-on-one service to help students,” she said.
Enns said about half of the students this year are from the North.
After a decade in Dawson, SOVA has many former students who can act as ambassadors for the program, Enns said.
He said declining numbers at arts schools around the country “isn’t an excuse for our numbers declining. We’re … the only program north of 60 in our country that actually wants a combination of northern and southern students and it exists because of both.”
He already has his eye on recruiting students for the next class. Enns said he’s heard from former students and artists in residence from across Canada who are willing to help promote SOVA outside the Yukon.
He’d also like to spend more time recruiting in the other northern territories.
“There’s just so many things that can be done here to make this program go and we’re going to give it our best shot.”
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