Meet Tristan Parfect
Tristan Parfect holds a Bachelor of Arts Honours in Art History, having recently graduated from the University of Guelph in 2020. Through various experiential learning courses and an Undergraduate Research Assistantship on campus, Tristan handled and managed a massive collection of famous historic artworks housed in the Bachinski/Chu Print Study Collection in the School of Fine Art and Music, curated an exhibition both on campus and at the Art Gallery of Guelph (AGG), and purchased Indigenous artwork for the AGG’s permanent collection. These experiences led him to his current position as a recent alumnus, as a research assistant at the Art Gallery of Guelph. As someone who has participated in both Experiential Learning courses and a URA, Tristan has gained the hands-on skills and industry knowledge required in his field, ultimately preparing him for his chosen career.
Can you briefly describe the experiential learning opportunities you completed during your Undergrad?
“I participated in both an experiential learning course and held an Undergrad Research Assistant position during my time at the University of Guelph. Through the Art Gallery of Guelph (AGG) and run by Shauna McCabe, Director of the AGG, I was able to participate in a course in Indigenous art history which brought me my first taste of the workings of an art institution. This experiential learning course culminated in an exhibition of Indigenous artwork curated by fellow students and gave us the opportunity to purchase works by contemporary Indigenous artists living in what is now Canada for the gallery's permanent collection.”
“I was lucky enough to get hired for the Summer of 2019 as research assistant to Professor Christina Smylitopoulos at the Bachinski/Chu Print Study Collection. The Summer of 2019 was a time of drastic change for Bachinski/Chu because the entire collection had to be moved and temporarily stored in another room due to the renovation of the space. My co-worker (Emily) and I had the task of moving over twenty-four hundred fine art prints and creating a system to store them safely in a temporary location. Through this mountain of a job we were able to tidy up the collections' master catalogue, expand upon the website's online exhibitions, and gain an intimate knowledge of the work in the collection. After all of the work was stored, we were given the opportunity from the School of Computer Sciences to curate a show for their newly renovated lobby space. Using works from the Bachinski/Chu Print Study Collection that linked technology and visual art, Interplay gave us the opportunity to showcase the collection to students and faculty who otherwise might not know of its existence.”
How did your experiential learning courses differ from other courses that you’ve taken?
“Experiential Learning courses in Art History offer students a chance to learn practical skills in the art world that are different than some of the skills learned in conventional lectures. The course I took through the AGG taught me the inner workings of an art institution; from how a show gets put on to how a museum builds its collection. It also gave us opportunities to interact with working artists and curators. This specific course had a component to it where local Indigenous artists and curators would come to the AGG and talk to us about their work, much of it in the context of the exhibition that we were building. Shauna McCabe gave us the opportunity to hear from people like Shelley Niro and Don Russell about their practices while learning from those with first-hand experience in the art world.”
What has been your favourite moment in this experience?
“During my time at the Bachinski/Chu there were many, many memorable moments but undoubtedly handling the artwork was my favourite task. On my very first day of work in the Print Study Collection Dr. Smylitopoulos showed me the proper steps to take so as to not damage the work (or myself) in the handling of the prints. After she had explained what to do and gave me a visual example of how to do it, she turned to the oldest print in the collection and had me try it out. The print itself was made in 1509 by Albrecht Durer, an artist who had come up many times in various art history courses I'd taken, and after having successfully not damaged it I put it back and thought I could handle anything the job could throw at me.”
How do you feel like your participation in EL helps you stand out in your field? Has it helped you already?
“Due to my participation in both experiential learning as well as my research assistantship, I was able to learn practical skills relevant to my major and add some nice lines to my resume. I was able to gain experience within the field I wish to pursue, which has probably given me a leg-up, since I had worked within the context of an art institution before I had even graduated.”
“With the connections I made through my experiential learning course, I got a part-time summer research job at the Art Gallery of Guelph with Shauna McCabe. Starting off with some collections management work experience I got in my URA position at Bachinski/Chu, I am now assisting Shauna McCabe in building a new history course that she will be teaching at the school in the Fall.”
What clubs or extra-curricular activities were you involved in?
“For my last two years at the University of Guelph I was happily involved with the Fine Arts Network (FAN). As Art History Representative, Chairperson, and Co-coordinator of the Juried Art Show, FAN was an integral part of my art history degree. FAN is a student-run group on campus that really helps to create a community in the art programs of the University. I couldn't recommend FAN enough.”
What advice would you give to current students?
”The biggest piece of advice I have would be to continuously participate in the culture of the campus. Work study positions or experiential learning courses are such a great and easy way to do this because they encourage you to care just a little bit more about what is going on at your school. These avenues allow for the practical application of your knowledge which will bring more confidence in your abilities and can act as a great networking tool in the future.”