OCAD University mourns the loss of Associate Professor Wendy Coburn: Inspiring artist, compassionate teacher, fierce advocate for social change

Wendy Coburn
Friday, June 19, 2015 - 1:00pm

The OCAD University community, colleagues and friends, mourns the death of Wendy Coburn, tireless champion of students and faculty and a fierce advocate for social change and thoughtful action. Wendy was an accomplished and celebrated artist and devoted arts educator.

Her multi-disciplinary work in photography, sculpture, installation and video engages a range of concerns such as popular culture, mental health, gender, whiteness, nationhood and the role of images in mediating cultural difference. This extensive body of work has exhibited at international and national galleries and festivals.

As a professor at OCAD University Wendy mentored faculty and students alike and was deeply loved and respected. Wendy supported and taught all of us how to navigate the world of teaching and administration with beauty, grace, humour, integrity and intelligence. She left the office every day thanking her colleagues for their good work.

Wendy knew OCAD U inside out; her history with the institution has been a long one.

She entered OCA in 1984 as a third year advanced standing student with a foundation diploma from the Dundas Valley School of Art. Her nascent ability to merge hand, heart and mind were already evident and won her fans. At OCA she entered a cohort of peers who would go on to found the art collective Spontaneous Combustion. She embraced the mentorship and life long friendships of key faculty such Liz Magor, Colette Whiten and Ian Carr Harris. The qualities that led to Wendy’s student success and subsequent recognition through the Governor General’s Medal at graduation were deeply embedded in her character. She was inquisitive, fearless and believed deeply in an art practice that equally engaged materials, process, research, ideas and social values.

Graduate studies at Concordia University in Montreal and her evolving art practice in Toronto led to work at OCA, first in 1997 as a temporary office worker and the following year as a contractually limited teacher.  It was quickly evident that her organizational abilities, keen intelligence and dedicated work ethic gave her the skills to contribute uniquely and consistently as an administrator.  From 1998- 2007 Wendy fulfilled duties as the Assistant Dean in the Faculty of Art, first in an acting capacity and then in consecutive contracts. Throughout those years she combined complex administrative duties with teaching at all levels while maintaining an active studio practice.

Wendy’s early years as Assistant Dean are linked to a period of transition from the era of diploma to university degree granting. She worked on initial documents for degree granting status and went on to fine tune curriculum through program reviews and course development. She helped lead the Faculty of Art through the campus redevelopment SuperBuild and the impact of a double cohort during a period of dwindling resources and administrative restructure. Throughout her steady belief in the compatibility of theory, ethics, history and social justice alongside intuition, experimentation and creative voice set the bar and inspired her colleagues. Wendy’s deep commitment to her role as an Assistant Dean was also evident in her engagement with the development and oversight of much-needed student policies and support structures as well as a deep understanding of the management of human resources and its impact on the long-term health of the institution. In other words, Wendy cared deeply about people. She realized that people were OCAD U’s greatest resource as well as its legacy.

In 2007 she was appointed Associate Professor and awarded tenure. Even though Wendy stepped away from administration to give teaching and her practice her full attention, the school continued to tap Wendy’s expertise, leadership and vision to lead program reviews and participate in curriculum planning.

Working with Partners in Art, Wendy played a role in the early development of the Faculty of Art’s Nomadic Residency. Launched in 2007, the residency and lecture series brought innovative and diverse artists to work directly with students.

As a key participant in the creation of OCAD U’s Art and Social Change minor, Wendy developed the groundbreaking course “Making Gender: LBGTQ Studio” which seeks to foster a greater awareness and understanding of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer cultures and subcultures. Visitors to OCAD U can witness her impact upon students by visiting the “Yellow Staircase Project” at 100 McCaul.

In 2013, Wendy was named the first recipient of the BLG Faculty Equity Award for her outstanding contribution to promoting an inclusive work and learning environment at OCAD U. In addition, she was recently appointed as a Fellow of the Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies at the University of Toronto.

Wendy will be greatly missed. A scholarship has been created to honour her life as an artist, activist, teacher, mentor and friend.

— b.h. Yael, Simone Jones and Katherine Knight, with contributions from Michèle White and Caroline Seck Langill


Services will take place on Tuesday, June 23, 2015 at the Turner and Porter Funeral Home

2180 Hurontario St., Mississauga (QEW & Highway 10)

Visitation - 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.  

Memorial - 7:30 p.m.









Wendy Coburn

Submitted by Andrew James Pa... on June 19, 2015 - 12:05pm

Wendy Coburn was a rare combination of compassionate and analytical. She was an activist with a wicked sense of constructive humour. She will be missed as she has passed far too early.

This came to me as a shock! I

Submitted by Charlotte Lung on June 19, 2015 - 12:52pm

This came to me as a shock! I admired her as an artist, and a professor. She taught me in second year and gave a lot of advice that really helped guide me. Even when I didn't have classes with her, I managed to see her around the school and catch up with the work that I am producing. She will be greatly missed -- Rest in peace.

She is missed

Submitted by Brent Everett James on June 19, 2015 - 1:09pm

Decidedly a veil of mourning over the OCAD U campus this week as we learned of the sudden passing of a dear colleague over the weekend. I was not the only one who had to stop and catch my breath after reading the news.

Professor Wendy Coburn was one of the first people I met when I came to work at Ontario College of Art & Design in 1997. Over the years, she always went out of her way to stop and say hello and ask how I was doing--with a smile and sparkling wink.

When I moved over into the new Campus Life department in 2006, and as the OCAD campus grew, we would run into each other less and less, but when we did, she never ceased to amaze me with the knowledge, inquiries, acknowledgement and incredible support of the programming we were working to create. In my experience, Wendy WAS the the epitome of charm and respect. She is missed.

Brent Everett James, Campus Life Coordinator

What we can take away from the best of a bitter truth

Submitted by Michele White on June 19, 2015 - 3:04pm

Referencing the thoughtful and caring tribute above:

"Wendy cared deeply about people. She realized that people were OCAD U’s greatest resource as well as its legacy." May we all strive to achieve this and be remembered in this way. What greater legacy?

May we all be led by Wendy's wisdom and beauty and this guiding principal.

I have shared with some of you words from the poet Adrienne Rich I'd also like to post here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z4lFSddTaj8

Poetry can provide wisdom and solace. Wendy loved words. And we loved Wendy and her words. Her art and her heart.

She will be missed

Submitted by Sarah Mulholland on June 19, 2015 - 3:46pm

I was so shocked and saddened to hear of Wendy's passing. She is a treasure to the OCAD community and she will be deeply missed. My heart goes out to all those she impacted with her compassion and commitment. There is another star in the night sky.

I can't believe it

Submitted by Christina Halliday on June 19, 2015 - 4:36pm

I'm so sorry this has happened. What a wonderful, inspiring, strong woman. I feel grateful to have met and worked with her. Christina

Wendy's spirit lives on in so many of us.

Submitted by Lauretta Webb on June 19, 2015 - 5:21pm

As a womyn going back to school in my 50's it was such a challenge to fit in and not feel it was late in my life to do something with art. Wendy took the time to help me see what OCAD U was about as far as no age lines, that many artists came later to learn from OCAD U..etc. I loved her energy, very inclusive, inviting and empowering. Wow, I am sorry to hear that she is no longer here physically, but by these posts, her spirit will live on as those she touched will pass on a bit of her teaching, her fierceness in her art to be honest, and her positive energy

She was unforgetable

Submitted by Lori Clermont on June 19, 2015 - 5:47pm

She was so kind.

Gone Too Soon

Submitted by Pam Carriere on June 19, 2015 - 11:39pm

Wendy was my Form and Structure professor in first year. My scariest year (besides thesis)
She always pushed all of her students to make work that meant something, and taught always with a smile. Seeing her around the school and having her always smile and to see her say hello to almost everyone she saw, was such a powerful and positive experience.

Gone too soon.

Rest in Peace Wendy.
You will be greatly missed.

-Pam Carriere-

There are those of us who did

Submitted by Lois Andison on June 21, 2015 - 4:12pm

There are those of us who did not know Wendy as well as many others, and who never had to opportunity to teach with her, but are nevertheless inconsolable. She was a true gem.

so sad

Submitted by Francine Périnet on June 21, 2015 - 8:33pm

how sad to hear of the passing of such a strong and giving person. Wendy will be deeply missed by all who have had contact with her. I am thinking of all her friends and pass on my deepest condolences

so sad

Submitted by Francine Périnet on June 21, 2015 - 8:33pm

how sad to hear of the passing of such a strong and giving person. Wendy will be deeply missed by all who have had contact with her. I am thinking of all her friends and pass on my deepest condolences

I am shocked and saddened to hear this news...

Submitted by Annika (Sandy) ... on June 22, 2015 - 7:49am

I am just reading this this morning... and can't find any information on what happened to Wendy. She was definitely too young to leave this world. I am in shock. Annika

Wendy's Funeral location - Visitation - 6:00 & Memorial 7:30 pm

Submitted by Leslie Aston Hurst on June 23, 2015 - 9:53am

2180 Hurontario Street
Mississauga ON, L5B 1M8
Telephone 905-279-7663
There will be Visitation - 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm and a Memorial - 7:30 pm


Submitted by Blake Fitzpatrick on June 23, 2015 - 12:54pm

What a sad shock, to look back to OCAD and not see Wendy there. Always true to her true self, ethically in touch, a more trusted colleague could not be found.

Wendy's dynamism will be missed well beyond Toronto

Submitted by Carol Williams on June 23, 2015 - 1:35pm

Greatly saddened to hear of the loss of Wendy, a dynamic artist, vibrant intellect and activist. Wendy was a visitor here at UofL in Art Now not too long ago, she gave a great talk and her work including video Anatomy of a Protest was shown in the smaller gallery on campus, engaging all those who took time to view her work. She was a great colleague and clearly, an innovator as a mentor and teacher.

Free John and Tarek

Free John and Tarek
Saturday, October 5, 2013 - 10:30pm to Sunday, October 6, 2013 - 11:00am

In conjunction with Scotiabank Nuit Blanche

An installation with projected images of John Greyson and Tarek Loubani superimposed on work by OCAD U Associate Professor, Wendy Coburn.

Coordinated by Associate Professors, Paula Gardner and Wendy Coburn.




Venue & Address: 
OCAD University 51 McCaul St. Toronto, Ontario