The Visual Arts Students’ Union reappeared in 2017 after a year of inactivity. With their events now open to all students, the union is growing in popularity. Annie Bérubé, former president of VASU, is calling for support from the art department to restore the union to its former state. Bérubé, a fourth-year student in fine arts, has witnessed first-hand the changes that the union has gone through over the last few years.
Bérubé says that the union went through a period of decline that led to its disappearance in 2016. One of the problems they faced was the lack of student interest caused by how closed up the union had become.
“I saw the department when I started my classes in 2013. The department was vibrant, and VASU was very active and busy,” Bérubé said. “Between 2013 and 2016, it became very cliquey, and students didn’t connect with the association.”
To address this issue, the VASU executive opened up the union’s events to the wider public. Now, students from all programs can become members and attend events, including model-drawing sessions, mixers and exhibitions.
Despite the increase in attendance, Bérubé says that the union still has trouble getting funds for these events — partially due to administrative changes.
“In 2013, we had Louise Barak, an audiovisual clerk, who helped VASU a lot by keeping track of the accounts and making sure that publicity was done,” Bérubé said. “Now, there’s no clerical help from the art department. We rely only on students, and it makes it difficult.”
Alison Norlen, a professor of fine arts, says that the period of time when VASU lost their presence in the department coincided with changes at a university level. Now, Norlen hopes that the union will recover their administrative help.
“A couple of years ago, we didn’t have clerical staff ourselves — after shifts that happened in the university. Now, we have administration within our department,” Norlen said. “It would be very worthwhile to have a discussion about ways we can alleviate that part of the strain [on] VASU. That’s something that should be put forward.”
Norlen also highlights the need for better office space for VASU — she envisions a larger space that fosters more student interaction.
“At the moment, we are trying to organize a better meeting ground for them — there’s some space down in our building that we are looking into. If we ever get another building, it would be fantastic to have a VASU gallery or lounge,” Norlen said. “I think they are underappreciated in terms of our facilities and what we are able to offer them.”
VASU is also seeking additional funding from the art department. According to Bérubé, the department used to give the union funds from the money collected through locker rentals, which is something that they no longer do.
Norlen says that the department could do more to help VASU financially, and she intends to raise the issue at the next faculty meeting.
VASU has historically been an important part of the art department. Now that it’s back, their events are giving art students a place to get involved as well as gaining attention from the wider student body. Norlen recognizes the value of the union and hopes to see it expressed more tangibly.
“I’m a massive fan of VASU,” Norlen said. “It allows for a student voice that wouldn’t otherwise be heard. Anything we can do to make their significance to us realized — I think it’s worth speaking about. To me, it’s a no-brainer — they are very significant to us.”
Ana Cristina Camacho / Staff Writer
Photo: Vasu / Supplied