Concordia plays key role in a platform to support war-affected Ukrainian art students and institutions
Canada is home to the second largest Ukrainian diaspora in the world. The first? Russia — the very country that in February launched an invasion of Ukraine that continues to take a harsh toll. While governments around the world rally to support Ukraine, Concordia is firmly behind an international initiative to recognize the country’s artists.
The university is a longstanding member of the European League of Institutes of the Arts (ELIA) and one of only a handful outside Europe. It has joined its network partners in planning the most significant platform of support for arts universities and their students ever to be launched in a war-affected country.
The platform, called UAx, is built upon establishing three main pillars over the next three years: membership for Ukrainian institutions within the powerful ELIA network; the establishment of sister schools exchanging expertise and mentorship; and a slate of emergency bursaries given directly to struggling students in Ukraine.
Rebecca Duclos, Concordia professor of art history and currently a visiting professor at the Estonia Academy of Arts, is an ELIA representative board member and leader in the platform’s development.
“It’s all happened very fast,” she says. “The spark for the UAx Platform began in Estonia — but actually reached back to earlier conversations I’d had in Montreal.”
In June of this year, Duclos invited Andrew Woodall, Concordia dean of students, to join her in Tallinn, Estonia, for an ELIA leadership symposium. “At the opening event, Inna Kocharian and Liubov Morozova, leaders in Kyiv’s active cultural sphere, shared their stories from the war,” she recalls.
“There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Andrew and I were devastated. We all knew someone had to act — and that art schools had a role to play.”
Less than two weeks later, the idea found a potential funder and the summer was spent with a team from ELIA writing up a full proposal. The UAx Platform is now funded internationally through a sizeable gift from the Abakanowicz Arts and Culture Charitable Foundation and locally supported through ELIA sister schools. The gift was the foundation’s largest to date.
UAx was officially launched on November 15 at the Tate Modern in London to coincide with a major retrospective of Magdalena Abakanowicz’s monumental works.
“ELIA’s efforts, paired with this generous gift, make it clear how important students, their work, and their institutions are to the survival and future of Ukrainian identity,” Duclos notes. “We’re here to tell them that they’re not alone, and that we know how important their work is, and will continue to be, within their country’s resistance and resilience.”
Connection and shared knowledge
Since last spring, numerous Ukrainian art schools and other cultural institutions have suffered incalculable loss.
“It’s no accident that targeting major arts institutions and artists — this purposeful destruction of museums, theatres, public monuments, art schools and cultural workers — is an effort to erase a people’s identity,” Duclos says. “We’ve seen these tactics within the history of colonial, political and military action across time and across the globe.”
Initially, a pilot phase will pair five schools in Ukraine with others in Estonia, Germany, Poland, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic. In three years, ELIA hopes to have nearly 30 participating educational institutions. This would multiply the platform’s benefit to 10,000 students and create an ecosystem fostering educational continuity, solidarity and resilience.
“Arts academies are intense places — all that creative power under one roof flowing like a current,” says ELIA president Andrea Braidt. “We understand each other and feel this connection. No matter where in the world, if one school suffers, others feel it.”
The UAx Platform acts like a switch for ELIA, Braidt adds. “It connects us directly to counterparts in Ukraine. Together, we strengthen the force, integrity and intensity of these young artists.”
Supporting artistic production through chaos
Being in close proximity to Ukraine, Duclos has heard stories of hope about Ukraine’s artistic community coming together in unexpected ways during the war. When schools were bombed, others received their students from across the country with open arms.
“With cultural practitioners, art educators and higher education administrators, the UAx Platform shows how art schools across the world take care of each other. We want to tell this story,” she says.
A film produced by ELIA, Creating in Conflict, features art students in Lviv and depicts the great upheavals and hardships they have faced.
“Before the full-scale invasion, I didn’t really get the responsibility of being an artist,” says Vitaliia Chuprovska, a 22-year-old student featured in the film.
“We are defending being ourselves. We are defending our cultural heritage. And that’s why its extremely important to keep making our work.”
Learn more about the UAx Platform by visiting the European League of Institutes of the Arts website.
Find out more about Concordia’s support services for community members impacted by the war in Ukraine.