The 10 Best Art Schools in Canada

By now, it’s an old joke that parents recoil in horror when they learn that their kid wants to go to art school. The terrified parents always want to know how their child will earn a living and make money with a fine arts degree.

While there’s some humor to the joke, the fact of the matter is that stereotypes about starving artists and maniacal loners wearing paint-smeared smocks are a thing of the past. 

Today, artists make a healthy living doing everything from illustrations for magazines to fashion designs to creating video games.

But while much has changed about the art industry, one thing remains the same: you still need a good education.

For some, a great art school experience brings to mind the cosmopolitan hustle of New York City or the outrageous lifestyles in Los Angeles, California. But actually, one can find excellent art schools in any part of the world, especially in Canada.

Whether you want to perfect your craft in the frozen reaches of the Yukon or the bustling urban space of Vancouver, Canada has a wide range of excellent schools. These schools run the gamut from traditional arts, such as illustration and painting, to new media and performance art.

This list covers 10 of Canada’s best art schools. Each one features excellent resources, experienced teachers, and connections to the larger community, making it easy for you to find the right school and begin your profitable art career.

Yukon School of Visual Arts (Dawson City, YT)

If you want to study art in the northernmost part of the Great White North, the Yukon School of Visual Arts is the place for you.

Created in collaboration with Yukon University, the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation, and Dawson City Arts Society, YSVA uses an experimental curriculum, which combines studio practice with liberal arts instruction. 

Students who want to complete their degrees can transfer to YSVA’s partner schools, such as the Ontario College of Art and Design or the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design.

Artists at YSVA can benefit from an exchange program that connects them with established artists farther along in their careers. 

Through the Over the Wire program, established artists send to the school instructions, which students use to create their own works. The completed works are then displayed locally.

New Brunswick College of Craft & Design (Fredericton, NB)

The only Canadian school devoted solely to fine craft and design, the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design was founded in 1930. 

Located in downtown Fredericton, NBCCD offers diplomas and certificates in subjects such as fashion design, Wabanaki visual arts, and jewelry/metal arts.

Beyond classes, NBCCD provides students with ample opportunity to display their work and engage with the community. With a range of museums on campus, the school regularly hosts guest lectures and exhibitions.

Many of these events occur at the George Fry Gallery. Students learn about the professional life of an artist by displaying and selling their work through the gallery. The gallery also allows them to engage with the larger community in Fredericton.

Every year, NBCCD students also get to participate in a fashion show. Bringing together returning alumni with the freshest looks from current students, the NBCCD fashion show is a popular community event.

Vancouver College of Art & Design (Vancouver, BC)

A career college owned by the Eminata Group, the Vancouver College of Art & Design trains students in a wide range of skills. Diploma programs range from classical subjects, such as architecture, interior design, and fashion, to more high-tech and cutting-edge fields, including game design and animation.

VCAD’s game design program combines traditional fine arts with digital arts, bringing together aesthetics and technology. 

Working with the latest in digital tools and with professionals in the industry, students learn how to create creative and challenging games for the 21st century.

Teachers in the program include Izmeth Siddeek, who has over a decade’s experience as a character artist and modeler. He has worked on popular video games such as Mass Effect, Dead Rising 2, and more.

Department head Wade Howie’s resume goes beyond video games to include his work at Industrial Light and Magic, where he worked on films such as Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park. He brings his knowledge of computer-generated effects and audience engagement to VCAD’s curriculum.

Simon Fraser University School for the Contemporary Arts (Vancouver, BC)

Added in 1975 to the already progressive Simon Fraser University, the School for the Contemporary Arts combines traditional classroom learning with studio practice. 

Although the school teaches time-honored subjects such as visual arts, it puts a special focus on contemporary issues.

For example, in the visual arts program, students create works designed to address social questions and functions. They become world citizens by not only examining the intersection between art and action but also by making connections with artists across the globe.

On campus, students can display their work in the Audain Gallary. The gallery also hosts works from local and visiting artists, creating a global community of artists.

To this end, SFU Arts enjoys a robust Audain Visual Artists in Residence program. In addition to bringing accomplished artists from around the world to campus, the program also creates mentorship and networking opportunities for Visual Arts students.

Ottawa School of Art (Ottawa, ON)

Located in downtown Ottawa, the Ottawa School of Art prides itself on being an active part of the community. In addition to a formal three-year diploma program, the OSA also offers one-year certificate programs and numerous art camps.

Additionally, OSA’s faculties and gallery spaces allow students to interact with citizens of Ottawa. 

Classes and camps take advantage of the school’s fully appointed ceramics and printmaking studios, while local and visiting artists can display their work at any one of OSA’s three main gallery spaces.

Perhaps the most essential form of community engagement comes during the Ottawa Nuit Blanche (white night). Local artists and OSA students display their work and hold workshops throughout the city, empowering people to make artistic production part of their daily life.

Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (Halifax, NS)

Nova Scotia College of Art & Design
Verne Equinox, NSCADU Seaport, CC BY 3.0

Founded in 1887 as the Victoria School of Art and Design, the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design is Canada’s first degree-granting art school.

Thanks to this rich history, NSCAD has developed a reputation for not only artistic achievement but also scholarly excellence. In fact, NSCAD is one of the few art schools in the world to feature a university press. The press has published dozens of monographs about artists, as well as collections of works by contemporary artists.

NSCAD’s commitment to scholarly pursuits is further demonstrated by its fully-featured university library. With over 50,000 books and 140,000 visual works, the library has everything needed for the study and practice of art.

Likewise, the school features several museums and gallery spaces, including the Anna Leonowens Gallery. Starting in 1968, the Leonowens Gallery displays work from faculty members, students, and visiting artists. In 2016, the gallery expanded to add the Art Bar + Projects space for performance art.

Concordia University Faculty of Fine Arts (Montreal, QC)

The Concordia University Faculty of Fine Arts is more than just an art school. Rather, the school celebrates every aspect of the fine arts, from creating new works to studying the classics. Concordia Arts prides itself on being a place where artists create alongside scholars and researchers.

Concordia Arts features 60 undergraduate and graduate programs, enrolling 3,700 students each year. These programs combine the best in new technologies and time-honored techniques.

The pride of Concordia Arts is the Engineering, Computer Science, and Visual Arts Complex, a 17-story tower that opened in 2005. 

In addition to galleries and museums, the Complex also featured numerous studios and tech centers, letting artists follow their muses with traditional tools and the latest technologies.

Alberta University of the Arts (Calgary, AB)

One of the country’s oldest art schools, the Alberta University of the Arts traces its roots to the Provincial Institute of Technology and Art, founded in 1916. With this over a century of history, Alberta Arts has established itself as the starting point for Canada’s finest artistic talents.

Alumni include Blackfoot and Cree artists Brittany and Richell Bear Hat. The sisters and 2011 Alberta Arts graduates have enjoyed exhibitions by the Ociciwan Contemporary Art Collective, the Audain Gallery at Simon Fraser University, and elsewhere.

After graduating from Alberta Arts, Thomas Kerr embarked on a career as one of the most recognizable illustrators. His work has been featured in the New York Times and other major publications.

As these few examples show, Alberta Arts is a great starting point for those who want to impact the larger art world.

Sheridan College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning (Oakville, ON)

One of the largest schools on this list, the Sheridan College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning features perhaps Canada’s finest animation program.

The highly selective program almost single-handedly created the Canadian animation scene, beginning with classical animation courses offered in 1968. 

In the decades that followed, Sheridan graduates went on to create Academy Award-winning works and hold important positions in studios such as Walt Disney Animation, Pixar Animation, and DreamWorks Animation. 

Sheridan graduate Domee Shi became the first woman to direct a Pixar film, with her highly-acclaimed Turning Red.

The bachelor’s of animation degree takes students on every step of the cartoon-making process, from pitch to projection. Taught by artists with decades of industry experience, the program focuses on combining the latest technology with classical fine-arts techniques.

With this focus, it’s no wonder that Sheridan has gained the reputation of being one of the world’s finest animation schools.

Emily Carr University of Art and Design (Vancouver, BC)

Founded in 1925 as the Vancouver School of Decorative and Applied Arts, the Emily Carr University of Art and Design changed its name in 1978 to honor the great Canadian artist.

In addition to standard courses, such as industrial design and visual arts, Carr also features forward-thinking programs, such as sustainable design, new media, and interactive media. These programs embrace current technology to create art that reflects our daily lives.

To that end, Carr has enjoyed partnerships with some of the most important institutions in the world. 

Kerner Studios, a spinoff of Lucasfilm, joined with Carr in 2009 to create a stereoscopic 3-D research studio

In 2014 and 2015, Carr added three Canada Research Chairs, the first art school in the country to do so.

Previous articleThe Best Writing Summer Programs for High School Students
Next articleThe Best Summer Musical Theatre Programs for High School Students