Student Life

Campus art for the busy student

Across McGill’s three campuses, there are roughly 2,000 pieces of artwork scattered throughout hallways, grassy areas, and lecture halls. The work held in the university’s collection ranges from the iconic The Three Bares, by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, to hidden gems that students overlook. Luckily, the McGill Visual Arts Collection (MVAC) has been offering weekly tours of the art on the downtown campus since 2013.

While McGill has a world-renowned collection of art, most students have never noticed even the most acclaimed pieces on campus. The MVAC tours allow students to take breaks from their busy schedules and appreciate the settings they often overlook, such as the James Sculpture Garden outside McConnell Engineering, the Lichtenstein Tapestry in the Arts Building, and the Visual Storage Gallery on McLennan library’s fourth floor. Curator of the MVAC Vanessa Di Francesco believes the tours serve as a form of self-care.

McGill students are unbelievably busy with hectic day-to-day and on-campus schedules, and there is often little time to visit a museum or gallery,” Di Francesco said. “By placing art all over the campus, and especially by offering weekly tours on a walk-in basis, we hope to offer students and the University community an opportunity to access and experience art more easily.

The tour conveniently departs from Service Point every Wednesday at noon. Typically, they operate on a first-come-first-serve basis, but tours can also be organized beforehand to accommodate any specific needs, including large groups or students with disabilities.

Beyond becoming more familiar with McGill’s campus, students may also find that taking time out of their day to interact with art will improve their mental wellbeing. Art therapy is considered to be an effective coping mechanism for students in need of a break. MVAC director Gwendolyn Owens encourages students to take advantage of this easily accessible opportunity.   

“Our tours and visits are free, and [there is] no prescription needed.” Owens said. “We like to promote the idea that, in so many places on the McGill campus, now, you can take a break and look at art.”

When faced with a busy schedule, students’ mental health is often the first thing they overlook, whether that means not getting enough sleep to forgetting to enjoy their free time. While the stereotypical practice of art therapy usually consists of creating art, many contemporary art therapists believe that simply appreciating another artist’s creative choices can be therapeutic in itself.  

“Students may often walk right past some of the art on campus and not notice it, but the tours compel us to take these works in and appreciate the work,” Di Francesco said.

After the tour, with students aware of the extraordinary art on campus, they may be more inclined to take time to observe the spectacular pieces on campus. Rosalind Sweeney-McCabe, U1 Arts and MVAC intern, explained that these tours can help students escape from their daily routine.

“By taking a tour and learning about the McGill art collection, it gives students the chance to reorient themselves in their monotonous schedule,” Sweeney-McCabe said. “I think it is important for students’ perspectives to remind ourselves that there are other things going on and [that there are] other facets of our lives at McGill and the space that we are in.”

McGill students often find themselves stuck in a continual battle between paying attention to their mental health and achieving the grades that they desire. Attending a visual arts tour can be a convenient and stimulating experience that help break students out of their daily ruts and introduce them to a new form of self-care.

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