Jennifer Vallis 

“I would have never been able to build a company and have a career as I do now without ACAD.”

Pondering the reasons for her success as a new media designer, interdisciplinary visual and performance artist, and business owner, Jennifer Vallis cites the “tough love” of her instructors at the Alberta College of Art + Design. “If there was something you didn’t know how to do, they’d say, ‘Go figure it out,’” recalls the 20-year-old. “It would be frustrating. I’d be, I’ve paid a lot of tuition and now I’m being told to figure it out myself?”

But Vallis soon realized the “huge rewards” of guided self-discovery: “In the real world, there’s not always somebody you can call to ask how to solve a problem. Learning to do this yourself is a really important skillset.”

In the Media Arts and Digital Technologies program she also learned to weave together the different strands of her interests, often exploring the complex relationships between technology and performers. She used technologies such as motion tracking, wearable electronics and tangible digital interfaces to enhance the performances of dancers and musicians.

She provides a lot of the credit to the artist and entrepreneur she has become to today to former Interaction Design instructor and head of MADT Adam Tindale. “Jennie is fearless, generous and very social,” says Tindale. “What impressed me most was her dedication to craft and her ability to move the work forward and acquire skills. She would approach me with an idea and identify a few things she could not do. I would make suggestions and give her some basics, and the next time I saw her she would have found a community where she could cultivate that skill and find new collaborators.”

In 2011, Vallis graduated with a BFA and was recognized as an ACAD Board of Governors Recipient for her outstanding achievements in class and out. She strode into her professional life confidently, armed with the tough love learning and strong conceptual skills cultivated at ACAD.

Her work included becoming a production coordinator for the Quickdraw Animation Society and artistic producer for La Caravan Dance Theatre. She also saw the all-female urban arts collective she founded in ACAD, Big Kitty, grow into “the largest group of its kind,” with members across the country collaborating on murals, exhibitions, live performances, workshops and community projects. The collective is due to bring out a line of clothing in 2014.

As she worked for others, Vallis realized in a flash of inspiration that she could be her own boss. In 2012 she founded Studio Cartel, in Calgary, a production studio and art collective with five resident artists and a visiting artist program. The studio designs and builds large-scale art installations, interactive works and stage designs, while offering independent creative services such as photography and metalwork.

“I would have never been able to build a company and have a career as I do now without ACAD,” says Vallis. “The last couple of years have been amazing and crazy. I love everything from making music to creating projections to building things. And I am open and ready for whatever happens next.”