Alumni Art Exhibition: Sara McDonald

Survey by Sara McDonald

Survey, installation shot

We are pleased to host Survey, a retrospective exhibition by alumni artist, Sara McDonald. Hosted by the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies as part of Homecoming UBCO.

Originally from the Greater Vancouver area, Sara McDonald has lived in Kelowna since 1990. She has a Bachelor of Fine Arts (2000) and Master of Arts (2011) from UBCO. She has worked on the UBCO campus, most recently for the College of Graduate Studies.

During her BFA, Sara discovered printmaking and took off with the etching press – printing collagraphs, etchings and monoprinting with objects. Printmaking allows her to work in layers and play with found objects, and she often incorporate prints into her collage and mixed media pieces. Themes in her work lean towards the ideas of sanctuary, quiet places, spirituality and implied narrative.

“I naturally work in layers, so this method of artmaking was a perfect fit for me.” Sara explains. “Since then I have continued to print using my own press, but rather than produce limited edition works I have often experimented and used my prints in mixed media pieces.”

In 2003, Sara founded Cool Arts Society, a local charity dedicated to providing Fine Arts opportunities to local teens and adults living with developmental disabilities. Her young adult son wanted to take art lessons in the community and available classes not accessible for an individual with diverse abilities. She worked hard to gather artist and art teacher friends and started holding Saturday workshops.

“I really didn’t know what I was doing, but it all worked out”, She jokes.

Cool Arts has now expanded to offer weekly programming and exhibition opportunities for their participants, and will soon be celebrating their 20th anniversary.

“I consider this this to be an important component of my art practice. My commitment to Cool Arts caused me to wrestle with issues concerning who can lay claim to be an artist and the inequities of access that exist in the art world.”

In 2009, Sara started the newly formed Masters of Arts program here at UBC Okanagan. After she started Cool Arts, she says she began researching other disability art centres and discovered that disability arts was an international movement.

“I had so many questions concerning how artists with intellectual disabilities fit into the contemporary art world (or didn’t!) and this led to larger questions concerning identity and access.” She says, “I wanted to do a deep dive into this area of study because it seemed really important on many levels.”

She completed the program in 2011, with on her thesis, entitled, “Adults with Intellectual Disabilities and the Visual Arts: “It’s NOT Art Therapy!’”  (published with author name Sara Lige)

Sara has maintained a visual arts practice since 2000, although life has sometimes gotten in the way of regular studio production. In January of 2020, Sara was diagnosed with ALS.

“I am now not able to speak, eat or drink. I use a walker or wheelchair and have lost the use of my left hand, so art- making is difficult, but not impossible.”

She has always been an advocate calling for much needed attention to a number of issues, including what she accomplished with Cool Arts Society. She has now become involved in ‘ALS Action Canada‘, a patient led organization advocating for access to clinical studies and drugs. Recently Sara has written about the need for legislation to make psilocybin available for end-of-life care.

Over the last year she has written about her experience on an online blog,

“Many people know very little about ALS – this is my way of creating awareness about this horrific disease.” Sara continues to add to her blog to keep my friends and family updated about her journey.

The exhibition runs from September 16-29, and is open from 9 am to 4 pm weekdays (closed weekends and holidays).

View the exhibition