Photos by SPAO alumni L-R: Joyce Crago, Richard Robesco, Danni-Rae Mistaken Chief

Photos by SPAO alumni L-R: Joyce Crago, Richard Robesco, Danni-Rae Mistaken Chief


SPAO is an independent, charitable, not-for-profit photographic visual arts institution and a registered private career college. Our mandate is to provide an intensive and collaborative learning experience and to enrich the photographic and visual arts culture of Ottawa and beyond. SPAO’s activities include classes and workshops, community collaborations as well as exhibitions and outreach. We aim to offer our community the knowledge, resources, and environment necessary for the advancement of photographic artistry, visual literacy, and personal vision.

In our full-time diploma program and our part-time studies stream, SPAO draws on traditional and contemporary photographic technologies and ideas. Educational opportunities are available to novice and advanced students alike. We place special emphasis on advancing individual style, on conceptual development, and on the acquisition of knowledge about photographic theory and history.

Our objective is to advance the school’s motto: Vision, Content, Craft. 

SPAO’S VISION: To be an internationally recognized photographic school of thought.

SPAO’S MISSION: SPAO cultivates a community of distinct artistic vision, critical dialogue and technical expertise in the photographic arts through exhibition, partnerships and education.

WHAT MAKES SPAO UNIQUE: SPAO is one of Canada’s only photographic arts centres. It houses the only two year photographic arts diploma in Canada, the Ottawa region’s only critical and independent photographic art gallery, a unique 6-month International Artist Residency, and a broad range of educational and recreational photographic opportunities utilizing both contemporary and historic processes.

SPAO's original facility at 168 Dalhousie St.

SPAO's original facility at 168 Dalhousie St.


The School of the Photographic Arts: Ottawa was established in 2005 as an alternative for study in the photographic visual arts.

After several years of part-time instruction at a local college, Michael Tardioli and a group of dedicated students began to pursue the idea of building a school that would expand upon Tardioli’s teaching methodology. Khalia Scott joined Tardioli as founding Co-Director of SPAO (2005-2012) and 43 days after signing a lease, the team of students and instructors had designed, built and equipped an entire photography school. For 12 years, we were located at 168 Dalhousie Street in the Byward Market, offering programming in our studio, darkroom and computer lab.

Today, we offer a diverse photographic visual arts experience to hundreds of full-time and part-time students every year. Encouraging individual exploration in photographic arts remains central to SPAO’s mandate. 


SPAO is excited to have relocated to the heart of Little Italy after 12 years in the Byward Market. Little Italy is a exciting urban village, located nearby Ottawa's new Light Rail Transit system, Dow's Lake, and the beautiful Arboretum. SPAO is a short walk from other arts hubs, small businesses, museums, restaurants, nightlife and entertainment.

Our facility includes a multi-station, multi-format darkroom for both silver gelatin and alternative printmaking. Our media lab is equipped with inkjet printmaking capabilities including large format printers, a drum scanner and flatbed scanners. Our ground level and wheelchair-accessible space is comprised of a large studio/lecture space and gallery, perfect for hosting events of many types; our studio is equipped with industry standard lighting, camera and support equipment for shooting in a large studio and a selection of 35mm, medium and large format cameras available to full-time students.

The SPAO Centre is also home to the Ottawa region's only independent and critical gallery space dedicated to photographic and video art.