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MISSA Magic!

West Shore Culture

MISSA Magic!

Interview with Marna Lynn Smith, MISSA Executive Director

By Anne Marie Moro
Photo credits: Jo-Ann Richards of www.worksphotography.ca

MISSA Artist Painting

The Metchosin International Summer School of the Arts [MISSA] has been an international happening in the West Shore for over 35 years. It’s become an occasion for like-spirited folks, who love art and the creative process, to gather together to connect, make art and socialize. And it’s not just locals who populate Pearson College campus every year either. The superb instructional talent that congregates at MISSA attracts professional artists, teachers and serious adult students from all over the world. If you are surprised that this is happening right in your own backyard, read on. Some MISSA events are now open to the general public, too.

Q: Marna, what’s been the attraction of MISSA for all these many years?
A: Well, most of the people who participate come because they like that it’s a destination program. MISSA is an art school, of course, but we’re also—and more so—a destination and a retreat at a beautiful seaside campus. Pearson College has been around for 45 years and the low-slung, 70’s architecture perfectly matches the environment. It’s a beautiful, aesthetic place. It’s secluded and a wondrous, very insular, very cozy place. The isolation contributes to [the feeling of] artistic immersion that artists get when they’re here. They come to escape. Driving down the Metchosin Road, passing sheep and cows and wonderful farmland, they’re probably asking: “Where are we going?” Then, as they turn the corner and go down an even more narrow road and up a little hill, they see they are in 78 forested acres on the West Coast.

Q: How did the idea of MISSA get started? Is it a Pearson College initiative?
A: MISSA programming is a not-for-profit society and is not part of Pearson

College; there’s no governance of any kind. We rent the campus space for the 2-week programs. We have a board, an Executive Director and a small staff that works all year to promote and organize the annual event. MISSA was started by Pearson College art teachers, Robin Hopper and Fleming Jorgensen back in 1985. With campus completely empty during the summer, they thought about [using the space for] an art program. They began with only 5 classes, 5 instructors and about 50 participants Today, we have over 40 classes with over 400 people attending. The campus spaces are limited because our class sizes are so small. We run 12 workshops at a time with only 12 people per class. So, 480 is the maximum number of students [we can accommodate] every year. They are coveted spots! MISSA registration always launches in January and people can register all the way up to June. However, what typically happens is there is a big rush for tickets right way, so we encourage people to register by April 15, in case we do have to cancel some classes due to low registration.

Q: How are MISSA workshops organized?
A: The Ondaatje Art Hall is the only artist-specific building on campus. Upstairs has big tables and big windows and a kind of a commercial floor where we do our ceramics. Downstairs is an actual throwing studio that has wheels and the proper tables and kilns. Outside is a soda firing kiln that MISSA has built out over the years. To accommodate the rest of the classes, we spread out and use classrooms all over the campus. For example, we take a Chemistry or Math classroom and turn it into an art studio. We actually have people at Pearson who help tape down every single room with cardboard and plastic!

Photo by Jo-Ann Richards

Sometimes, we have to cancel a workshop, if there is low registration. However, as an art school, we always want to represent as broad, and as appealing a range of art instruction, as we can. We also communicate with our Friends of MISSA and past participants to ask them what they would like to see in our programming. We try our best to bring together the widest selection of artists possible. In general, ceramics is our strongest program and then painting, print making and then mixed media after that. Another thing that is very popular is our MISSA mugs, that serve as a fundraiser for the ceramics program. MISSA participants donate the mugs that participants can purchase every day. People love it! Even those who have been coming for the past 5 years get a MISSA mug every year [they attend]! We bring the mugs out slowly—a different one every day.

Q: What type of immersion experiences do you offer practicing artists?
A: MISSA ‘Mentored Residency’ program is available for accomplished artists who want to work on their own with support from a distinguished mentor. This year, the MISSA mentor is Canadian abstract painter, Don Farrell. From June 22 to 30, the artists have 9 days of uninterrupted studio time to explore new concepts and techniques to take their work to the next level. We pair artists up in smaller, studio-type rooms around campus. These mentored residency classes are different from our other classes in that they appeal to practicing artists who already know what they need and are looking for some internal inspiration as they meet and work with other artists. Many of the artists who apply have been painting for decades! Most already sell their work in galleries.

Q: I understand that you have some evening events during MISSA that are now open to the public.
A: We’ve organized MISSA Talks at Max Bell Hall, an inspirational evening of presentations by our visiting MISSA instructors on June 24 and 25, July 1 and 2. These evening Talks are open to MISSA students and to the public by donation.

Starting at 7:15pm, instructors get to share the work that they do. They share photos and anecdotes along with tricks of the trade. It’s really an up close and personal event. Everyone gets to meet instructors they wouldn’t normally meet. And the public gets a chance to find out what MISSA is all about, too. All public donations go towards the MISSA Bursary program to give emerging and established artists opportunities to attend MISSA. In 2018, MISSA awarded over $7,000 in bursaries.

Q: Your popular MISSA Studio Walks are a great way for students to experience other artists and media. How did that activity come about? (June 22 and June 29 from 7-9pm).
A: We introduced the Studio Walk last year to give MISSA students a chance to see what other participants and artists were creating during their stay. Students are usually so busy with their own work, they rarely had time to see what else was going on. They were so inspired by what they saw as they wandered around each other’s classrooms. This year, we’re inviting the public to join our evening campus tour and to visit with instructors in their classrooms. Last year, Terry from Salt Spring set up what looked like a beautiful fabric store in the admin lounge. She had her artistry draped on the doors, yards of beautiful woven fabric on looms. What she does is called SAORI weaving without boundaries, because you can’t make a mistake with this type of weaving. The loom is all set up so you can weave through whatever you want to make. No patterns to follow; the designs and ideas come from the heart. This year, Terry is coming back to do a 5-day course. Every visiting artist brings differing viewpoints to creating art. When all that comes together, it really is magic!

Save the MISSA dates, June 22 – July 5, 2019!

For registration and to learn more about the workshops, the MISSA Talks, Studio Tours, Public & Fundraising events please visit the MISSA Portal listing here on GoWestShore.

MISSA student painting

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