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Department history

Collage of Nancy-Lou Patterson's office, Art Green teaching, department in 1992

Creating a department

In 1966, seven years after the founding of the University of Waterloo, Nancy-Lou Patterson began what was to become the Fine Arts Department by offering introductory courses in art history and studio art. These courses proved both popular and successful, and Professor Patterson was able to expand her offerings by hiring more faculty members. In 1968 the Fine Arts Group was formed and six years later the Fine Arts Department was created within the Faculty of Arts. It offered both general and honours degrees in studio art, art history, and film studies. In 1993 a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program was added with the unique feature of the Keith and Win Shantz International Research Scholarship.

Over the years, the programs have kept pace with contemporary art practices, career opportunities and evolving pedagogy. At the undergraduate level, the addition of several studio specializations greatly enriched the studio major programs.  The study of art history and film has been consolidated under the umbrella of Visual Culture, a reflection of these disciplines' changing nature, encompassing a more holistic study of how we see the world.  The MFA program has likewise evolved, equipping emerging artists with practical and teaching experiences to move into the professional world of art.

Assembling a faculty

Professor Patterson's highly eclectic interests led her to find faculty members who shared her appreciation for individualistic and diverse artistic expression. A good deal of Nancy-Lou's spirit remains at the core of our program, providing students with experiences across a wide range of media and honing skills in visual analysis in order to develop individual approaches to their work.

The work of both current faculty and our retired faculty is showcased in Our People.

The space

Initially, courses were taught in classrooms in five buildings across campus so, when an unoccupied factory building on the eastern edge of the campus became available in 1986, Fine Arts seized the opportunity and consolidated all of its activities together under one roof. The newly renovated “East Campus Hall” was opened in 1987 with over 30,000 square feet of studios, lecture theatres, workshops, galleries, and offices dedicated to the Fine Arts department. Over the years the department has acquired an impressive array of equipment and resources, consistent with evolutions in contemporary art practices. As student enrollment increased so did the pressure on existing space and in 2009, and then again in 2016, the department expanded into other areas of East Campus Hall, adding two large studios and a series of break-out spaces. Come and visit us.