Media arts centre celebrates 24 years of scholarships

Not-for-profit gives first time filmmakers’ extensive resources

CFAT residents work in the electronics studio. (Photo: Matthew Ritchie)

Ever dreamt of winning an Oscar? Then you should follow in the footsteps of Halifax filmmaker Ariel Nasr. The University of King’s College graduate — whose documentary feature, Buzkashi Boys, was nominated for an Academy Award this year — wasn’t always an acclaimed filmmaker.

Like other Nova Scotia directors, Nasr got his start at the Halifax not-for-profit film organization the Centre for Art Tapes after being accepted into the program’s Media Arts Scholarship in 2005.

Ten other lucky recipients will have their chance to step into the limelight during the centre’s Out of the Centre media arts gala on Jan. 31 at the Spatz Theatre.

CFAT’s beginnings

CFAT’s extensive electronics storage system. (Photo: Matthew Ritchie)

Formed in 1979, the centre was the brainchild of Eyelevel Gallery alumni to increase the accessibility of media art in the city.

Media art — known for its combination of film, sound, photography and web media, among others — was relatively unknown in Canada at the time, as well as the mainstream art world. But as electronic production equipment became more affordable, so too did local artists’ interests in creating new media.

Scholarship program

In 1989, the centre created the Media Arts Scholarship to give first-time media artists free access to resources such as workshops, mentorship and modern production facilities.

“Producing a short film has so many aspects, so if people haven’t done that before it can seem rather daunting,” says Daniel Higham, the centre’s communications and scholarship program co-ordinator.

“I think that a really valuable part of the program is to focus on people who haven’t produced media art and give them that opportunity to see what they can do,” says Higham.

For 24 weeks, students take part in workshops with advisers who guide them all the way from pre-production to post-production of a short film or art installation.

But you don’t have to be a graduate of NSCAD to be accepted into the program.

Mireille Bourgeois, the centre’s director, says applicants are chosen by a peer-reviewed committee based on:

  • creative approach to the medium
  • feasibility of the project
  • if it is their first attempt at creating media art

After the six-month period, students receive a $400 honorarium for their effort, as well as the skills necessary to take their expertise in new media to a professional level.

How local artists benefit

One of CFAT’s numerous editing suites.

“It’s a really great opportunity for emerging artists or creative people who want to get started with a conceptual new media project,” says William Robinson, a local artist and past scholarship recipient.

He describes the program as a “rite of passage” for many Halifax artists and credits his experiences at the centre for giving him the necessary skills to host exhibits from urban night art festival Nuit Blanche to his current residency at the Killam Library.

Jonathan Røtsztäjn, a recipient of the 2013 Media Arts Scholarship, says the program offers specialized training and expertise that would otherwise prove inaccessible due to the growing cost of secondary education.

“I’d always wanted to learn film and video and animation, but never had an organic opportunity to do so,” says the freelance graphic and web designer, and art director of the Dalhousie Gazette.

As a first-time media artist, Røtsztäjn says the skills learned through the scholarship program will have a direct correlation to his artistic ability in further endeavours.

“In the future I’m going to continue to experiment with the new skills I’ve learned and try to create more artwork in the same vein,” he says. “But I think it will also aid me professionally because I’m a graphic designer and being creative is part of my business practice.”

“The scholarship program is a way for helping people who may not feel comfortable starting a project without any support,” says Higham. “It gives them the support they need to really get going and grow the community.”