Nancy Holmes

ABOUT

Name
Nancy Holmes

Role
Associate Professor

Program
Creative Writing

Faculty
Creative and Critical Studies

Campus
Okanagan (Kelowna, BC)

Education

Master of Arts (English and Creative Writing), University of Calgary

Bachelor of Arts (English Honours), University of Calgary

Hometown
Edmonton, Alberta


“What keeps me excited in my eco art work is talking to scientists about the marvels of nature. What keeps me excited about writing and art is the endless inspiration of human nature — it’s so frequently awful but often astonishingly beautiful.”




Nancy’s Story


Poet, fiction writer, essayist and collaborator Nancy Holmes uses the arts to bring awareness to ecological issues

NANCY HOLMES HAS ALWAYS WANTED TO BE A WRITER, especially a poet.

“My first poems at the age of 10 or 11 were odes to crocuses and horses,” she explains with a smile. “There’s something about the sheer love of beauty and nature that made me want to write poems. But, as a teenager my poems became more angsty and focused on anti-nuclear war and anti-hypocritical religion.” Why Creative Writing?

Now an associate professor in UBC Okanagan’s Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies, Holmes credits her love of poetry to high school teachers who encouraged her to write. Moreover, Holmes was fortunate that a poet friend of her mother’s not only read her poems and gave her gentle advice, but also gave her books of poetry to read that made a lasting impression.

“The books that Harry, my mom’s poet friend, gave were foundational for me. When I was about 15 he gave me a book of Imagist poems and a book by the poet Anne Sexton.”

She explains that these two collections wrenched her out of her “very old-fashioned Victorian notions of poetry” and opened her eyes to the world of contemporary poetry.

As a poet, fiction writer, essayist and collaborator on community-based eco art projects, Holmes now explores issues surrounding love and loss, nature and reading, spirituality and home, and children and women’s lives.

Initially she balanced her desire to write with a teaching position at the post-secondary level at Okanagan College, but after four or five years, she realized that educating others had become a classroom of sorts for herself.

“I realized that being a professor is about more than making a living — it’s also a way of being a writer and a life-long learner. That made me pretty happy and I’ve never looked back.”

This theme of life-long learning is probably the most challenging part of Holmes’ job. As each year passes and society continues to evolve from new knowledge, technologies and global events, the literary and academic worlds have continued to expand and open up to diverse cultures and identities.

“I remember as an undergraduate student that almost all my white male professors struggled — some more successfully than others — to include women in their curriculum and classroom; over the past few decades artists and professors have been provoked and inspired to question more and more of these existing worldviews.”

Although Holmes recognizes that ‘shaking up your thinking’ is often difficult, for her the result is always amazing and gratifying.

GROWING ART IN THE OKANAGAN

Art is an essential way human beings learn about, explore and express their understanding of the world, with its final form only limited by the extent of human creativity. From paintings, sculptures and mosaics to literature, theatrical performances and architecture, art has helped humanity learn about ourselves and our relationship to other people and the universe.

Not only does Holmes write about the natural world around her, but she also organizes and facilitates many events and projects in the community using art to help bring awareness to ecological issues.

“What keeps me excited in my eco art work is talking to scientists about the marvels of nature. What keeps me excited about writing and art is the endless inspiration of human nature — it’s so frequently awful but often astonishingly beautiful.”

Holmes is particularly passionate about bringing artistic ways of knowing into the discussion around development and conservation in the Okanagan Valley, a region under environmental pressure.

“I keep that belief in art’s social function at the forefront of what I do when I look at environmental issues. For instance, if we don’t learn to love — and I mean truly love — bees and other insects, our species is doomed; who’s going to help us learn to get over our revulsion of these creatures? I suspect art and education shaped by artistic ways of knowing are key.”

A major project that has been a focus for Holmes for a number of years is Border Free Bees. The international public art initiative focuses on native bees, raising awareness about pollinating insects and engaging communities to preserve and collectively create new habitats for pollinating allies.

Holmes has been able to weave her love of art, literature and the natural world in both her teaching and research. As a member of UBCO’s Department of Creative Studies, Holmes is immersed in a multidisciplinary arts unit that also collaborates with performers and visual artists — which isn’t common in many Creative Writing programs.

“Being able to work with people in other disciplines opened me up to the possibilities of exploring notions of place, nature and home,” she says. “I’ve been able to access research grants to take on big community projects with my colleagues.”

Within the department, Holmes found a great collaborator just down the hall from her office: interdisciplinary performance Associate Professor Denise Kenney. Together, Holmes and Kenney created the Eco Art Incubator, a research-focussed umbrella that supports students and artists in creating community-based art projects. From 2012 to 2017 the Eco Art Incubator supported over 40 place-based, eco art projects in the Okanagan.

Over the past several years, Holmes has facilitated many such community art projects involving hundreds of students. With topics typically focused on a certain place or ecology, Holmes says that students learn a great deal once they have to do something real in the world.

Take the ‘Dig Your Neighbourhood’ program, in which students research specific neighbourhoods in Kelowna, engage in community consultation and then publish magazines, booklets and pamphlets that are delivered to newcomers in the neighbourhood. At the ‘Public Art Pollinator Pasture,’ students work with community members to develop planted areas that help pollinators move through urban landscapes while also helping to facilitate workshops to educate the public about creating their own pollinator gardens.

While Holmes recognizes that arts and fine arts students don’t often get a sense of the value and efficacy of what they are learning, she knows these students have numerous skills to offer.

“These projects are excellent because students can not only present evidence of skills on their resumes, but also the work we do builds connections for and amongst the students and with UBCO’s community. These projects are great learning experiences and are great for UBCO.”