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Contemporary Art at ESA

ESA Contemporary  Art and ESA Contemporary Photography are dedicated communities of outstanding people, investigating meaningful opportunities for personal and collective development through the mechanisms of a conceptually based contemporary art practice.

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SKIP to Course Descriptions | Frequently Asked Questions
Link to Feature Article in Canadian Art Magazine

Link to article in the Toronto Star about us here
Click here to go to our YouTube Channel: ESA Contemporary Art
Link to CBC mini-documentary about 2018 graduate Rachel Burns click here.
Click here to read front page story in the Globe and Mail
Click here to watch a mini CBC Documentary about graduate Callen Schaub
Interview with Graduate Kendra Yee click here

Check out this three year run of our Exhibitions

A note about Anime – with no university or college pathway for young anime artists, we are suggesting that all of you who are focused on anime and fan art drawings pursue a high school film or digital arts program as your next step, rather than our Contemporary Art Program at ESA. The Contemporary Art Program focuses on contemporary art gallery specific practices, not anime or animation. We have limited time and funds and resources, and our focusing on what we know how to do well reflects how we run our classes, with out students being able to focus on what they do well. We love anime, but strongly recommend that if anime and cartoons and cartoon drawings and character development for animation make up most or all of your work, please consider a different program so that you will be happy with your choice and get the support you require. If you are unsure of what contemporary art is, or if you would get the support you desire in our program, please email before applying at and we can chat about your specific interests and needs.

For clarification on what sorts of things we do in the Contemporary Art Department, I recommend watching our Art Talks which you can find here

In the Contemporary Art Department, we work together as artists. We make art, not teach school. We do not teach you how to draw.  We do not teach our classes art techniques.

More than half of the applicants to ESACA each year assume that what we do within ESA Contemporary Art is what they like to do with their spare time.  Usually this is a lovely but undeveloped and very early association with drawing of some form.  ESACA is not a program for those who have recently discovered they like to draw.  We want to be very clear as the very specific expectations, work load, and demands of this program are absolutely not for everyone.  We love drawing, most of us draw, but that is not what we focus on here.

If you are considering applying to the Contemporary Art program, it is expected that you have already committed to a relationship with contemporary artistic practice and are engaged in making connections with the art world.  We will expect you to read extensively, research continuously, problem solve, community build, explore personal experience and issues in order to learn about yourself and others, share your findings, speak openly about you work with your class and at events like our Art Talks, take difficult risks, and look everyday for ways to assist the program and others. 

If you are someone who has found us because you like to draw, we are so appreciative of your time, but do not want to mislead you into thinking that our program bares any resemblance to grade K-8 art class, or any private art class you may have experienced.  We do not encourage applicants to ESACA to take private art classes, as they may in fact work against you.  Please think of us more as a third, or fourth-year university independent studio course, and for some of our students, an MFA program with similar expectations of engagement and commitment.  The grade 10-12 ESACA classes have been continuously adjusted by its participants over the past fifteen years to provide hyper-effectively preparation for world class conceptually based intellectual research-based programs and beyond.  If you are looking for a place to learn art techniques or technical skills, please refer to the other art schools within the TDSB.  We will not be spending time learning techniques, art history as it is normally considered, giving many assignments like you find in school, etc.

Grades 10-12 at ESACA are very intense, with world class portfolios expected to be finished by the beginning of November of grade 12.  This means we have 26 months from the beginning of grade 10 to have 20-40 world class art works completed and documented, and have professional statements written and practice speaking about the conceptual framework within a practice.  This is a stressful and intense life experience, and not at all like a usual high school class where there are units and tests and a repetition of procedure.  ESACA students must be proficient in reading and writing at a high level in order to accurately determine and convey their understanding of their work.  Some of our students apply to several dozen post-secondary programs during the grade 12 year, a process which really begins in grade 10 or 11.

Given the change in application process and structure to our program made by the TDSB, it is crucial that you understand who we actually are so that you do not involve yourself in a disappointing outcome.  If you have any questions or concerns, the best course of action is to contact me at and I can provide specific feedback and information for you. 

If you are interested in a life-changing and intense experience, know that we have accumulated more than $130 million CDN in scholarship offers in the past 12 years, and our students have access to post-secondary schools around the world, given their participation in local, national, and international exhibitions while there are within ESACA, their world class and developed understanding of their work and a practiced ability to speak and write about what they are doing and why they are doing it.  This highly academic process mirrors what is expected of professional artist or students in a master’s level program.  We do this because every year, for more than fifteen years, our students have proven that they are capable of doing what most feel only adults can do.  Our students have reshaped what high schools and universities in Europe and North America believe is possible by people in their teens, and we are proud of our community members where ever they are in the world today.  

Grades 9 + 10 in ESACA allow us to practice becoming increasingly proficient with the language of contemporary art in your becoming an expert in what you are good at.  Grade 11 students work as artists within a supportive community with no assigned projects. We create individually focused, dynamic, hyper-connected, research based and conceptually driven work based on what matters to us. Grade 12 students participate in Portfolio Day and preparing university applications and exhibitions. Portfolio Day at ESACA became the largest event of its kind on the planet, and in history! Portfolio Day 10 in November of 2019 was attended by 145 postsecondary representatives from 90 schools and programs from five countries. Portfolio Day 11 resulted in more than $30 million dollars in scholarship offers to our grade 12’s. We now have individual students receiving close to $3 million in scholarship offers. In the 12 years of Portfolio Day at ESA our students have been offered more than $130 million dollars in scholarships to universities around the world.

We attain these incredible results by allowing our students to specialize in the materials and approach of their own choosing. If you come to ESACA and want only to paint, we will help you become the best painter you can be. The same is true if you love film, sculpture, installation, audio work, fashion, etc. Our students have been offered spots in second and third year at university, as we focus our attention on what really matters to us while being supported by the most empathetic, vulnerable and caring community we know.

Through your time in ESACA we will participate in local, national, and international opportunities.  We work to make most of our deadlines real-world events, rather than school assignments. In 2019 our grades 12’s exhibited in Canada, Germany and the USA. Our Etobicoke Fashion Show in 2019 sold out with 750 guests and featured all clothing and models by ESA students, while the event was produced, directed, and DJ’d by ESA students.

Click here to view our Etobicoke Fashion Show 2022 video

We help you develop your own curriculum so that you achieve your goals. We each discover what we are good at and our community supports your personal and artistic development.  By building the program together every year, we all share in the responsibility and the opportunity for meaningful support and growth, resulting in confidence and experience as we move through all aspects of our lives.

Approximately 50 per cent of Contemporary Art graduates pursue interests outside the arts – primarily math and science, but also participate in new programs that combine several disciplines.  We become leaders and creative innovators through becoming comfortable with ambiguity and risk taking, while practicing our critical thinking skills, flexibility, resiliency, a penchant for problem finding, and the courage to fail.  Our process builds a foundation to encourage continued support after graduation.  Communities of graduates exist in urban centers in Canada, the US, and Europe, to help acclimatize new arrivals to the next stage of their lives.

ESA Contemporary Art and Photography are ranked among the most significant high school programs in the world by post-secondary representatives.  Our graduating students receive a high percentage of the most prestigious scholarships from universities and colleges around the world, with total scholarship offers in the tens of millions.

ESA Contemporary Art and Photography engage in life changing opportunities throughout the year.  Our Art Talks are honest conversations between our students and an audience of 350 people in the main lecture hall at OCADU. ESACA Art Talks can be viewed on our YouTube channel.  We exhibit annually across Toronto, Canada, the US and Europe.  We have even had our own exhibition space in downtown Toronto in which we showed as many as twenty exhibitions a year.

Graduating students have been accepted into a wide range of post-secondary programs including: Engineering, Science, Space Engineering, Photography, History, Aerospace Engineering, Science and Aviation, Creative Writing, Pre-Law, Molecular Biology, Life Science, Cognitive Science, Laboratory Medicine, Digital Photography,  Bio Medical Engineering, Accounting, Nursing, Bio Medical Science, Environmental Science, Studio Art, Painting and Drawing, Fashion Design, Physics, Chemistry, Fashion Marketing, Illustration, Graphic Design, Industrial Design, Sculpture, Medical Illustration, Arts and Science, Vic One, the Schulich School of Business, the Rotman School of Business, Humanities, Animation, Knowledge Integration, Global Business and Digital Art, and General Science.

For the most up to date information, follow us on Instagram at esa_contemporary_art and esa_contemporary_photography.

Course Descriptions

We are a conceptually based, research driven program designed to produce world leading thinkers and makers.  We are a growing community of powerful and unique minds in the world’s cultural centers.  Through individuated instruction and contemporary art practice students develop an understanding and facility with unique approaches while developing problem finding, problem solving, risk taking, analytical and processing skills through active, meaningful communication.


Grade 9 provides a foundation for making the transition towards contemporary artistic practice.  Grade 9’s are given a great deal of freedom with their time, are invited to stay after school with the grade 10-12 students for several hours every day while working through specific problem solving exercises using a range of materials, processes, and techniques.  Critiques are central to the process in learning and using methods of analysis and criticism when discussing your own works and the works of practicing artists from around the world.  This course provides an opportunity for students to try thinking, researching and making while considering current art forms such as installation, performance and time-based media.  The emphasis will be on selecting processes, media and techniques that will effectively communicate an idea.  Grade 9’s will be invited to participate in our Etobicoke Fashion Show, held in the spring of every year.

These courses emphasize learning through practice, and introducing students to concepts, materials, and processes for artistic thinking and experimentation.  Students will spend time examining the relationship between works of art and themselves.  Grade 10 is an intensive exploration of the thinking skills and approaches required for understanding, creating, making, and discussing contemporary art.  Time is spent in critiques, conversation and analysis which assist in the understanding that art is a communal activity.  Projects will assist students in determining authentic starting points for interaction with art making. The emphasis will be on selecting processes, media and techniques to effectively communicate a concept derived from intensive and intellectually rigorous development.  Themes in art and culture will be investigated in a sequence of projects designed to assist students in building facility with creating strong ideas quickly and learning to fabricate works of art. The grade 10’s are offered several dozen opportunities a year for participating in exhibitions and the annual Etobicoke Fashion Show.

Grade 11 is opportunity to further a studio practice and tackle specific approaches to contemporary themes and issues. The majority of the classes will take the form of studio time – working to develop personal methodologies to communicate through art works.  There is room for continued experimentation with material, scale, and theme to clearly define an artistic language.  Portfolio preparations begin and projects are tailored to individual scholastic and professional goals.  Students may focus on a particular branch of the visual arts, including fashion, photography, sculpture, installation, painting, illustration, design, audio, architecture, etc.  We continue to analyze art work and begin to participate more frequently in local, national, and international competitions and exhibitions.  Students accept a greater responsibility for their engagement and may develop their early professional approach. For those unsure of specific focus, grade 11 offers the working time necessary to increase self-knowledge and acquire necessary confidence and resources.  Classes are spent engaged with individually focused activities designed to promote a development of personal style and the creation of documents that reveal a mature development of ideas and thorough research into art, artists, and artistic practice. Grade 11 students are expected to begin relationships with post-secondary institutions and participate in many of the dozens of exhibition opportunities we offer every year.

Students explore personally chosen conceptual frameworks to further individual and community development.  Grade 12 is structured around key dates in our calendar, the first of which is ESA’s International Portfolio Day in November – the largest event of its kind in the world.  Students move on from Portfolio Day to participate in a series of local, national, and international exhibitions and competitions.  The year culminates in exhibitions in Buffalo, New York and here at ESA. 

PHOTOGRAPHY I | Grade 10 AWQ 201
This course examines the role that art and photography have in the contemporary world. While students will develop skills in digital camera use, as well as scanning, lighting and exhibiting work – emphasis will be on exploring ideas and finding ones own voice in photography . Experimenting with creative options will be encouraged. Students will analyze photographs, study aspects of 21st century art photography as they relate to contemporary contexts.

This course aims to prepare students to develop a direction and aesthetic that is unique to their own interests. By researching, discussing and deconstructing their role in contemporary art photography, students will equip themselves with the knowledge and skills to create a portfolio designed for post-secondary programs in Visual Arts, Fashion, Design, Photography, Film, Animation, Advertising or Architecture. Students will be encouraged and supported in finding exhibition and contest opportunities that will both mark their achievement and prepare them for the art world and university applications.

Prerequisite AWQ2O1

An advanced photography program for students who are serious about developing their artistic practice and building a portfolio for post-secondary institutions. Students will crate and nurture thoughtful, independent work for the contemporary world. Along with the research, skills development and critiquing, students in this course will learn how to apply to portfolio based post-secondary programs and the will have the option of participating in ESA’s Portfolio Day.
Prerequisite AWQ 3M1.

If you have any questions please contact Matthew Varey, ACL of Visual Art, at