They were young, adventurous artists in a Nelson learning community set up for collaboration and exploration.
But those students and teachers at the former David Thompson University Centre (DTUC) are not so young any more. On May 19 about 60 of them gathered for the 4oth anniversary of the provincial government’s closure of the arts university that provided an experience like no other.
Writer Angela Hryniuk came from her current home in Australia for the reunion because her time at DTUC was “the foundation of my entire artistic life. I was 20 when I came here, and it blew my mind.”
DTUC was not just a music school, not just a writing school, not just about visual arts or theatre. Students could earn diplomas or degrees in any of those disciplines as well as certificates in photography, graphic design, and woodworking.
“Everyone knew one another,” said Fred Wah, who taught writing. “Visual artists would come to poetry readings, writers would go to art shows. Some of the students were doing cross-over studies, maybe English, theatre, music.”
Many people at the reunion said this cross-pollination was what made the place exciting.
“The inspiration was off the charts,” said Hryniuk. “Every day we were talking and eating and sleeping and smelling art for the sake of it. The year I spent there was like five years in one. It was exploding with artistic stuff and political stuff. Every student was on fire.”
Don Thompson studied writing, visual arts and theatre.
“It is a lost beautiful dream,” he said. “It brought this town to life. Those were some of the best times of my life.”
Jeremy Addington taught photography at DTUC.
“For the first time in my life I had a job earning money at something I loved,” he said.
Addington said the darkrooms were often open all night — an indicator of the level of round-the-clock creativity at the school.
In response to DTUC’s closure, Addington created several dozen portraits of students and faculty, each portrait accompanied by a short written statement from the subject of the photo, expressing their response to the closure. Many of those statements are intensely emotional, expressing a mix of anger, indignation, disappointment, and disbelief.
The photos were on display at the reunion.
Addington said the exhibit is poignant now because some of the people pictured have died.
“I recognize many of these people and some them are now gone,” said Margaret Parker, who ran the student pub and took writing classes at DTUC.
”It’s very moving,” she said of the photos and the reunion. “The transitions are so moving, being so closely involved with something and then dispersing and coming back and seeing what they bring back. They all have stories, and the stories are wonderful.”
The school ran for 4.5 years before B.C.’s Social Credit government closed it in 1984, citing low enrollment and high costs.
The rage and indignation this caused not only on campus but in the community is described in Donna Macdonald’s column about the reunion.
Tom Wayman taught writing and English at DTUC.
“When I came to DTUC I was astonished at the do-it-yourself nature of it. I had come from the regular academic system with great amounts of support, like secretarial and so on. Here, if you wanted something done, like getting a letter typed, you had to do it yourself.”
He said this do-it-yourself attitude extended to curriculum development, resulting in innovative methods of teaching and learning.
Participants in the reunion spent the weekend attending panel discussions, art exhibits, author readings, and social events.