Just a short while ago, I was fortunate to teach my two-day course Exploring an Aesthetic at MISSA. Summer school for artists sounds divine under any circumstances, but the Metchosin International Summer School of the Arts is quite different from what I had expected. Almost every practicing artist I know in this region has either taught or taken a course there. I was slow to join the party. And it did seem to be quite a party with all the stories of late nights in the studios and dorm living with a bunch of strangers. But MISSA was a lot more than that.
The summer school is a guest program at the Pearson College campus at the very southernmost tip of Vancouver Island. Dormitory buildings are perched at intervals all across the rocky bluffs that constitute the campus grounds. Classrooms and the school cafeteria look out over the Pacific ocean with a view disrupted only by the many towering stands of Garry oaks and Arbutus trees. It is an absolutely ideal campus for a summer art program right at the ocean’s edge. Students come from all over Canada and the United States. I also met students from Hong Kong and from many places in Europe. MISSA is a destination.
What surprised me the most about the school was the vibe. Most students are older – as in my age – over 50, let’s just say. They have typically taken a week or two off work and are at art camp for adults. Conversation at any table was filled with excitement for life, curiosity across fields of study, and a thirst for learning. A few of the students I met were full-time practising artists working in all sorts of media. Some supported their art careers with employment at odds with their creativity while others were life-long creative practitioners with professional careers that they loved. The common thread was a willingness to open into creative process, to listen to unfamiliar and unknown new perspectives, and to readily take in connections with strangers. A kindness permeated the air and with it a type of settled confidence and calm that generally comes only after a certain amount of living has sunk into one’s bones.
School with generally older students is an entirely different experience from school as a young person with other young people. MISSA is a bit of a wisdom school, which fits so well within the Pearson College mandate promoting tolerance and respect. Apart from diving into days (and nights) of printmaking, potting, painting, weaving, photography, writing, and philosophizing, a whole other dimension of internal work gets done at MISSA. I came away from this experience feeling elated from having shared common ground with kindred folk who understand what creative exploration does for the soul. We have a real treasure in this summer school and if you’ve never experienced it, I would highly recommend signing up for a course next year. The countdown is on!