Wilson School of Design at KPU hosts first academic conference

Thu, Feb 23, 2023

Artwork is increasingly appearing in unexpected places in Metro Vancouver – on unsold advertising billboards, in transit stations, on walls of commercial buildings – as part of a growing movement to add art to public spaces.

"It's these moments of encountering imagery in unexpected places — this is exciting in Vancouver. It asks you to experience this young city as a site of possibility, of creative potential,” says Carley Hodgkinson, program chair of graphic design for marketing at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU).

Metamorphosis, a 2021 mural created Tristesse Seeliger and Karen Yurkovich

Hodgkinson and fellow graphic design instructor Erin Ashenhurst are lead organizers of a new academic conference taking place at the Wilson School of Design (WSD) at KPU May 5 to 7. Big Pictures: Murals, Billboards, and Urban Interventions, will bring together art and design experts from both academia and industry to discuss the role of imagery in the built environment.

With keynote speakers, presentation panels, digital projects and walking tours, the Big Pictures conference is the first of its kind for WSD, KPU’s interdisciplinary design school that offers seven programs, including four bachelor of design degrees.

“There’s been a cumulative effect of more and more imagery in the public space. As a pedestrian, how does that visual evidence of individual agency influence our experience of the built environment, a space that would otherwise seem to exist beyond our control?” says Ashenhurst. “The conference is a way for students to discover more about the urban landscape outside of the classroom, and for the Wilson School of Design to embrace its growing role in research and interdisciplinary academic study.” 

Big Pictures will examine the development of imagery in the landscape – and how designers are actually contributing to making culture, adds Hodgkinson.

“This idea of murals, billboards and urban interventions, I think our students sometimes think that they are other to that process, but in fact they are engaged with it and can create that community-based culture.”

Keynote presentations from a pair of dynamic Vancouver-based visual artists are in store for the conference’s opening day. Elizabeth Zvonar, who works with mixed-media collage and sculpture, and Sandeep Johal, whose practice includes large-scale murals, will speak at an evening event that will appeal to a wide audience of students and anyone with an interest in art and design. 


Day two of the conference will feature several panel discussions, in which attendees from a wide range of creative and academic focuses, as well as industry representatives, are invited to share their work.

On day three, conference participants will have the opportunity to take part in two custom-curated guided walking tours in Vancouver that will showcase examples of murals, public art and architecture in the West End and Downtown Vancouver.

WSD graphic design students are also involved in the design of Big Pictures, having been challenged to create mini mural festival themes as a response to their walking tours of Vancouver Mural Fest. Their work is featured on the Big Pictures conference website

The conference builds on the design school’s growing capacity for research and industry partnerships. In October 2022, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) announced a $1-million grant to assist the Wilson School of Design to establish an applied design research centre to meet the innovation needs of industry partners. 

Tickets to Big Pictures can be purchased for one or more days, and range from $35 to $125. For a full schedule and ticket information, visit the Big Pictures Eventbrite page. For information about presenting at the conference or submitting a video for projection, visit the Big Pictures website.