UGRA Fall Forum Speaker Summary - Dr. Samantha Brennan

Posted on Wednesday, December 8th, 2021

Alan Filewod introduced feminist philosopher and ethicist Dr. Samantha Brennan, Dean of the College of Arts, who provided an update on happenings in the COA. Dr. Brennan also kindly incorporated the information prepared by Music Professor Kimberly Francis, who had been unavoidably called away at the last moment.

Guelph’s COA is undergoing the most ambitious renewal since its founding in the 1960’s. This includes an extensive $23 million renovation of the north wing of the MacKinnon Building, intended to create a hub for performance arts and a cultural destination for the entire campus and surrounding community. Fronting onto Winegard Walk, the project pays homage to the original (1967) brutalist architecture of Josep Lluís Sert, while incorporating cutting edge technology, updated mechanics, and versatile, accessible design. The facility includes a 140-seat black-box theatre, with flexible performance space and moveable seats; a 152-seat music recital hall; and a new 160-seat laboratory for research in improvisation. The latter will be home to the multi-award-winning International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation, comprising 58 researchers from 20 institutions around the world (

This Arts Research Centre, “the ARC” (, also includes courtyard space, an inviting entryway and main lobby and ample student study space. Its location makes it the natural “Heart of the University,” as well as home to the College’s 2000 Arts students and 85 faculty and staff. Numerous arts and entertainment groups and festivals, nearby and globally, are enthusiastic and supportive partners. Despite, and because of, the challenges posed by COVID-19, the role of the arts in providing social and emotional inspiration is crucially relevant.

Arts programs within COA foster compassion, creativity and critical engagement with the world through transformative engagement. Always evolving in response to societal needs, programs new to COA this Fall include Culture and Technology Studies, exploring what it means to live in a digital world; Sexuality, Genders and Social Change, examining human identity, embodiment and self-expression; and Black Canadian Studies, studying the historical, cultural, social and political concerns of Black people in Canada. These interdisciplinary programs cross department and college boundaries, affirming the role of the Arts in all aspects of life.

The philanthropist-funded Guelph Arts Apprenticeship Program (GAAP), launched in January 2020, is modelled on the Rottenberg program at Queens. A collaboration among the City of Guelph, local businesses and the donor, the program offers one year paid professional experience to 10 graduating COA students who are ready to enter the workforce, bridging the gap between study and employer relevant experience. The perception that Arts grads cannot find meaningful employment is not borne out over time, but the first few years can be daunting. Eventually, the diverse range of skills and knowledge Arts grads bring to their work leads to a wide range of careers and good salaries.

Clearly, the College of Arts has not been stagnant during the pandemic. New buildings, programs and initiatives notwithstanding, the greatest change Dean Brennan has observed with the return of students this Fall is their high level of engagement, and the appreciation of students and faculty alike for the privilege of one-on-one contact.

Scribe: Pat Shewen

Added Notes from the Dean: The ARC will open, we anticipate, in Fall September 2022. Legacy opportunities are available now to name rooms. Contact Mary Walsh, Senior Development Manager at the College of Arts, to discuss these opportunities in more depth by cellphone at 519-827-7856 or email at To make a gift or financial contribution of any amount go to and receive a charitable tax receipt. in the textbox labelled “Search for your cause” type “Arts Research Centre (ARC) Transformation Project,” or the “Improv Lab Capital Campain.”

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