Mass Exodus producer Daniel Drak. Photo: Mohamed Omar

Students take arts industries by storm

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April, in Ryerson’s arts programs, is dominated by year-end art shows in almost every discipline. But what sort of impact do they actually have on their respective industries? Arts & Life Editor Sean Wetselaar reports

The frenzied click of cameras and faint murmur of the audience as a model struts down the runway. The soft footfalls, and the quiet conversation as artists and admirers take in a photo gallery. And behind it all, the silent speculation of industry professionals as they get their first look at some of Canada’s freshest talent.

This is the world of Ryerson’s end-of-year art shows. Ryerson is known widely for its ability to land graduates with jobs in their chosen professions, and its approach to arts-related programs is no different.

But, how much impact do the university’s much-touted shows actually have on their respective industries? When it comes to fashion and image arts — a lot.

Two of Ryerson’s biggest yearend spectacles are Mass Exodus, the largest student-run fashion show in North America, and Maximum Exposure, the annual showcase for image arts students, spread throughout galleries in the downtown core.

“[Mass Exodus] is one of the few events from Ryerson, or the school in general, which actually has the attention of the industry here in Toronto,” said Daniel Drak, the producer of Mass Exodus. “The industry does look to Ryerson and Mass Exodus to see what ideas are being portrayed by [students].”

Mass Exodus has been running for over 60 years and, through alumni scattered throughout the industry, has generated a lot of attention, Drak said.

“I think that Canada has a lot of talent,” said Amanda Lew Kee, a Toronto-based Ryerson fashion alumni and owner of the Amandalewkee fashion line. “Mass Exodus is a good platform for students to showcase their development.”

Also making waves in the local arts scene is the work of photography, film and new media students at Maximum Exposure.

“Maximum Exposure has really garnered an excellent position in the industry,” said fourth-year photography student Lindsay Voegelin. “We have a broad reputation and people are very excited to have us back.”

Both shows will feature industry- specific events geared towards giving students an opportunity to make contacts with industry professionals.

One of the five Mass Exodus shows being held this year will be exclusively reserved for members of the Toronto fashion community.

“Those people are industry people who have a vested interest in the Ryerson school of fashion,” Drak said. “If they see something awesome, they will contact [the designer]. Every year, there are stories of people being picked up because of their talent.”

For the first time ever, Maximum Exposure will also feature an industry night which will allow students to mix with image arts professionals from the Toronto area on April 26.

“In the past there has been an industry preview, but generally it takes place prior to the opening, which isn’t the best environment,” said Voegelin. “So we really wanted to isolate that, [and] give the industry professionals a full preview of the show, as well as a time for the artists to focus on specific networking.”

Maximum Exposure will also include a showcase of the work of six highlighted photographers at the Outliers gallery — which will occupy the third and fourth floors of the Gladstone Hotel, near Dufferin Street and Queen Street West.

The show, curated by Alice Dixon and Persilia Caton, will include some of the best work produced by the graduating class. It is the hope of a number of the show’s coordinators that much of the work will sell, given the unique clientele of the Gladstone and the high quality of the work.

“Really, part of our aspiration is to have some of the work sell,” Voegelin said. “We think that those [pieces] have a very high likelihood of selling.”

Both Voegelin and Drak said, despite the stress, the shows have been very much a labour of love.

“[Maximum Exposure] has been fantastic,” Voegelin said. “I have the privilege of working with three fantastic students who are also my good friends — they’re all driven, creative, intelligent people.” “So, just spending all the time I have to spend with them to make this happen has just been a pleasure.”

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