Helping students follow their creative passions

"Music is the essence of my soul," says Maya Owen. That's why she and her mother, Seka, want to support students studying music, art and design

Sarah Pratt - 19 December 2018

Photo credit: f8photography

A passion for the arts connects Seka Owen, '77 BFA, and her daughter, Maya Owen, '84 BSc(ChemEng). Art also helps them connect to themselves. "Music is the essence of my soul," says Maya, a classically trained pianist.

For Seka, an acclaimed painter, her connection with the arts came later in life. She loved art as a child, but her parents wouldn't allow her to study it in university so she studied microbiology in her native Zagreb, Croatia. Shortly after moving to Canada in 1955, though, she felt something was missing. That something was art.

So, at age 40, she set out to earn a bachelor of fine arts degree from the University of Alberta. When people asked her why she wanted another degree, Seka would reply, "Life begins at 40, and I have to fulfill my passion."

Seka's daughter faced a similar choice. As Maya was deciding on a major in university, she saw two paths in front of her: music and engineering. She had been playing the piano since the age of five, so she decided to tackle engineering as a new challenge, knowing she would always have her music.

Photo credit: Byron Robb

It turns out that her musical background helped her develop a successful engineering career.

"As a musician you are trying to connect with your audience, so I learned how to connect and collaborate with people," says Maya, who also credits music with helping her learn and develop discipline, focus, determination, patience and memory.

"It's so important to have a passion and a creative outlet," says Maya. "I want to give students the opportunity to pursue their dreams and not be limited. It's unfortunate when people say they can't afford to go to university. The university gave my mom and me such educational opportunities, and we want to pay it forward."

As a way to show their gratitude and encourage students to fulfill their passions and creativity, Maya and Seka have left gifts to the University of Alberta in their wills. The charitable bequests have been planned for a long time, Seka says, and will be given to the Department of Art & Design and the Department of Music for student support, scholarships and bursaries.

"Art is such an important part of culture," says Seka. "We want to set an example for younger generations and give them an opportunity to make a difference in society.

"Living is a process of learning, and no matter what happens in life, no one can take away what's in your head or your heart."