Red Deer Polytechnic has gone through a lot of changes over the past 50 years, but a constant at the institution during this span has been one dedicated Visual Art instructor.
“Since Ian Cook started working at the institution on August 15, 1972, he has contributed immensely to the establishment of our Visual Art Program and to the growth of artistic opportunities at Red Deer Polytechnic,” says Kylie Thomas, Vice President, Academic and Provost. “I sincerely thank Ian for his creative expertise, passion for teaching, and unwavering dedication in serving generations of learners and the entire Polytechnic community.”
After earning two bachelor’s degrees from the University of Calgary, Cook completed a Master of Visual Art in Sculpture at the University of Alberta in the spring of 1972 and then entered the workforce.
“Luckily, I had two job opportunities – one as a Visual Art Consultant for the Government of Alberta and the other as an instructor at Red Deer College,” says Cook. “Fortunately, I made the right choice and picked Red Deer College. I work in one of the best Visual Art Programs in Western Canada with the very best instructors, colleagues, and staff.’’
Over the years, Cook’s impact on learners and the institution, which was known as Red Deer College until June 2021, has been extensive. When Cook began his full-time role as an Art History and Visual Fundamentals instructor, there wasn’t an art program, but that soon changed with Cook’s initiative.
“After getting approval from administration to write a proposal for a new art program in the fall of 1972, I submitted a report in January 1973, proposing a new two-year Visual Art Program at Red Deer College,” explains Cook, who was the institution’s Art Program Chair for more than 22 years. “The program, with its strong studio focus, was designed to be intensive and unique in Alberta. The report outlined the program’s philosophy, structure, courses, staffing, space and equipment needs, and operational budget. At the time, the Deputy Minister of Advanced Education was the RDC Interim President, and about a month later, the program was approved.”
The two-year Art and Design Diploma Program started in September 1973, quickly filling to capacity and gaining a reputation of excellence.
Cook continually looked to increase learning opportunities for students. He played an integral role in the formation of a Permanent Art Collection at the institution in 1974, which allowed students and community members to experience original art of historical and contemporary value. With more than 1,000 artworks, Red Deer Polytechnic’s Permanent Art Collection is the second largest in Alberta, after the University of Lethbridge.
After a program review in 1983, Cook was instrumental in expanding on-site art programming throughout the entire year. This helped to form Series Summer Arts School.
“We heard that Alberta Culture was planning on disbanding the traveling Summer Series Art Program. In a white paper requested by Alberta Culture, I proposed that the Alberta Government locate the program permanently at Red Deer College and make use of our studio facilities for the program, and it was eventually approved,” says Cook. “During the first several years, the program grew from 180 students to 1,000 students and became the largest summer art program in Canada.”
Then in 1987, Cook helped Red Deer College achieve Class A Designation from the Government of Canada for its Permanent Art Collection. This special status has enhanced the art collection through donations, which have been certified as National Cultural Properties, by prominent art collectors.
As Visual Art opportunities increased at the institution, Cook’s family also contributed to creative learning experiences for students.
“My parents donated some artwork to the Permanent Art Collection and the appraised value of the work was matched by the Alberta Government, creating an endowment which funds the Ian and Hope Cook Travel Scholarship,” says Cook. “Two $2,500 travel scholarships are awarded annually to worthy Visual Art students to visit major art museums and experience original art.”
While Cook’s contributions to the arts and the entire institution have been significant, his focus has always been on students.
“My greatest reward is seeing the success of the Visual Art students who I have taught. Many have gone on to have successful careers as practicing artists, teachers, art professors, illustrators, designers, architects, and gallery owners,” says Cook. “I am also privileged and fortunate to work in the Visual Art Department with colleagues who were my former students.”
During the 2021/2022 academic year, there were 1,045 employees at Red Deer Polytechnic. While Cook will be retiring soon, he will be back teaching in Fall 2022 Term at the Polytechnic.
“For me, teaching is what I love to do and I’m looking forward to the Fall Term,” he says. “I will be teaching two courses. My position is continuous part-time, and retirement is on the horizon.”
When Cook officially retires, he plans to travel with his wife Michelle, to work on cars he has collected, to enjoy time with family, and to continue making art. Until then, students and the entire Red Deer Polytechnic community will benefit from Cook’s wealth of knowledge, contributions, and passion for art.