Feeling thankful and proud

Autumn seems to have arrived suddenly this year. Sometimes it’s dark by the time I leave the campus and the salt air is cool and fresh. Thanksgiving is here already—a perfect time to reflect and express gratitude.

NSCAD University is in a good place and for that I am thankful. As I like to say, it seems we’ve been sprinkled with pixie dust with all the good news coming our way. But of course, it’s not magic at all but evidence of the excellent education provided at NSCAD and the alumni whose achievements reflect so well on the university.

To give a few examples:

unknown-1While on Canadian tour, the Duchess of Cambridge was spotted wearing earrings made by Shelley MacDonald, a 2011 Jewellery and Metalsmithing grad now based in the Yukon. Shelley had recently struck out on her own as an independent jewellery designer and goldsmith, balancing her business with her passion for teaching. In the wake of the “Kate Effect,” she’s been deluged with orders—validation for taking the risk as an entrepreneur. As she basked in the spotlight, Shelley wanted to share the light with NSCAD. She says NSCAD’s advantages are its emphasis on fine craftsmanship and the emphasis on handmade, the support of the professors—“they have so much to give”—and NSCAD’s 24 hour access. Shelley’s good fortune was covered extensively. Here are a few of the stories:

> CBC – “Nova Scotia jeweller sees orders spike after Kate Middleton wears her earrings”
> LocalXPress – “Antigonish jeweller shocked to see her earrings on Kate Middleton”
> New York Times – “Kate Middleton’s Tour of Canada: a Designer Scorecard”

photowally_sparksThe Canadian fashion label Beaufille has been getting a lot of attention since its debut at New York Fashion Week in the spring. And now that excitement has spilled over to fall when sisters Parris and Chloe Gordon returned to New York to present their spring 2017 line. Canadian fashion icon Jeanne Beker profiled the NSCAD alumni in a full page spread in The Globe and Mail on Saturday.
> Here’s the story: “Meet the Canadian sisters behind Beaufille, fall’s hottest fashion label”

Groundwood Logos SpineNSCAD alumnus Sydney Smith (BFA 2006) is a finalist for a Governor General’s Award for Young People’s Literature – Illustrated Books, this time for the book The White Cat and the Monk, written by Jo Ellen Bogart. Sydney won this prestigious award last year for Sidewalk Flowers, an exquisite wordless book about a little girl who notices what others don’t see, like flowers growing in the cracks of sidewalks. In a story posted to the NSCAD website shortly after his win, I was struck by how moved Sydney was by a casual encounter with one of his teachers, printmaker Dan O’Neill, in the NSCAD cafeteria. Dan handed him a pamphlet of Governor General Award-nominated books with the remark “that could be you one day.” Sydney says that moment challenged him to think big and have confidence in his abilities. “That kind of support makes such a difference and means a great deal. It says: ‘I think you’re good enough this’ and it shaped my direction.”
> The story: “Wordless book speaks volumes” 

Besides these stories about amazing alumni, there are other reasons for optimism. New first year students to NSCAD have increased by 12 per cent this year. I’ve already seen many of them out with cameras as they commence their Foundation studies! An exciting time.

Lots of action at the Pecha Kucha event on NSCAD research. Erica Flake Photo.

Lots of action at the Pecha Kucha event on NSCAD research. Erica Flake Photo.

The academic year kicked off strongly at the Anna Leonowens Gallery, with some outstanding shows including the Lunenburg Community Studio Residency 10th Anniversary Exhibition, Commons Threads: the Textiles/Fashion Department Survey Show, and The Starfish Student Art Awards Exhibition. I’m looking forward to experiencing Alan Syliboy’s upcoming exhibition The Thundermaker, which will be featured at the gallery for Nocturne, along with Jaime Black’s REDress Project and Becka Barker’s Place Holder III. Alan, a NSCAD alumnus, presented a public lecture to a full house at the Halifax Central Library, talking about how he draws on his Mi’kmaq culture for his art practice. The lecture was absorbing and well attended.

We had a great turnout for the opening of the NSCAD Lunenburg Community Studio Residency 10th Anniversary Exhibition and Common Threads, the Textiles/Fashion Department show.

We had a great turnout for the opening of the NSCAD Lunenburg Community Studio Residency 10th Anniversary Exhibition and Common Threads, the Textiles/Fashion Department show. Erica Flake Photo.

Things have been hopping at NSCAD’s Art Bar + Projects too, with a good crowd for NSCAD Research Day and the Pecha Kucha 21: Research Showcase. Several of our professors have been successful in securing research funds through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for projects ranging from Indigenous media and performance art, art and money, and a symposium on the Halifax Explosion.

Yes, indeed, there’s a lot to be grateful for. I wish everyone a happy and restful Thanksgiving break!


September’s new beginnings

Fall brings a sense of new beginnings: a brand new sketchbook, a page full of possibilities, an eagerness to splash some color on the white!

There is an exciting vibe around NSCAD as new students from all parts of the globe arrive and many others return, embracing friends with inquiries about their summer adventures. We exchange our experiences of travel far and wide, of NSCAD acquaintances encountered in unexpected places.

For those of us in academia, fall is the true start of a new year. Although NSCAD has two sessions of classes throughout the summer, it’s quieter than rest of the school year and so it’s wonderful to see the hallways and classrooms full again. The schedule of events at the Anna Leonowens Gallery and the Art Bar are set; the Atlantic Film Festival and Nocturne are around the corner; and my calendar is full to bursting with openings and special events. There is so much to do here at NSCAD. I personally invite you to participate.

Link: This fall at the Anna

The fall schedule at the Anna Leonowens Gallery opens on Monday, Sept. 12 with the Lunenburg Residency 10th Anniversary Exhibition. I’ll get a sneak peek of that exhibition tonight (Tuesday, Sept. 6) when it opens first at the Lunenburg studio with Senator Wilfred Moore, Lunenburg Mayor Rachel Bailey and alumni of the program in attendance. The exhibition is comprised of artworks from Senator Moore’s personal collection, including a work from each and every Lunenburg resident over those 10 years.

NSCAD alumni aboard tall ship

Some alumni of the NSCAD-Lunenburg Community Studio Residency Program: Andrew Maize, Nadia Gemeinhardt, Lynette de Montreuil, Kat Frick Miller, Jason Skinner and Rebecca Roher. Marilyn Smulders Photo.

Link: Celebrating 10 years in Lunenburg

September marks the changing of the guard at our residency programs. In Lunenburg, Julie Wagner, Lux Habrich and Marley Johnson have moved out of the three-bay studio of the former Lunenburg fire hall, while Selina LaTour, Denirée Isabel Mendoza and Norma Jean MacLean are moving in. At the MacPhee Centre for Creative Learning in Dartmouth, Caitlin McGuire and Kelsey Pearson have finished their residencies, while Cinthia Arias Auz, Jessica Lynn Wiebe and Luis Figero are just starting.

With new beginnings, there are always endings. I’d like to extend my heartfelt thanks to Professors Frances Dorsey, Robin Muller and Alvin Comiter, who’ve retired from teaching after many, many years at NSCAD. At the same time, we welcome our newest faculty members: art educator April Mandrona in Art History and Critical Studies, professors Elena Brebenel and Jennifer Green in Textiles/Fashion, and Marcia Connolly in Film. As well, Dr. James Barmby is our new Associate Vice President, Student Experience and Registrar, and Paul Maher, is our new Director of Teaching and Learning.

Frances Dorsey Robin Muller

Retired professors Frances Dorsey and Robin Muller pose in front of their work at a retrospective exhibition held earlier in the summer at the Anna Leonowens Gallery. Photo courtesy of Tim Krochak, Local XPress


Speaking of Paul, he and NSCAD librarian Rebecca Young have helped facilitate in the creation of NSCAD’s Learning Commons, which you can find on the second floor of the Fountain Campus (third floor of the NSCAD Library). This airy, bright space promises to be a new gathering space at NSCAD. Take a moment to stop by and check it out.

nscad learning commons

NSCAD’s new Learning Commons – a comfortable “collision space.” Marilyn Smulders Photo.

To everyone at NSCAD – faculty, staff, students, alumni – I propose a toast (let’s make it apple cider). Cheers to fall and new beginnings!


P.S. The quintessentially summery picture at the top of this blog is by Erica Flake, one of the students who camped at Kejimkujik National Park in August as part of the class, Parks Canada: Keji, taught by Anna Sprague.

From school to success

On June 21, the Transition Task Force released From School to Success: Clearing the Path.  The report contains 15 recommendations to help youth get the training and education they need to find meaningful employment in Nova Scotia.

Appointed by Education and Early Childhood Education Minister Karen Casey and Labour and Advanced Education Minister Kelly Regan last fall, the Transition Task Force is made up of educators, business and youth representatives—myself included. (See the photo of task force members in the header above.)

Recommendations from the task force include:

  • providing relevant career information to youth earlier
  • creating an entrepreneurial culture within schools, colleges and universities
  • helping more apprentices, college and university students complete their education and training, and to do so more quickly

I was honored to serve on the Transition Task Force that addressed some key issues in education that I am passionately committed to. Through the task force, I found a table of like-minded people engaged in discussing challenges and making recommendations of what can be done to provide enhanced opportunities for Nova Scotian youth.

I know first-hand how NSCAD, as a world renowned art school, can be accessible to young people coming from high school or transferring from other universities and the Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) (through our innovative 2 + 2 programs). Sometimes debt adverseness can prevent some very talented students from considering a degree in art or design, but there is financial support available. NSCAD awards more than $311,000 in student support annually through bursaries and scholarships and also offers diverse employment opportunities for students on campus.

I believe one of the most important task force recommendations is to reach parents and students with financial planning information earlier so that they understand post-secondary education is worth the investment and remains the clearest path to a rewarding and good paying job. For example, the Nova Scotia government provides bursaries of approximately $1,200 a year for university students from Nova Scotia—although this significant direct tuition deduction is generally not well known.The task force also called for a review of current sources of financial assistance to students (from governments, universities, colleges, families and students themselves) and an assessment of what changes could be made to close the gap between costs and available resources.

Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Karen Casey and Labour and Advanced Education Minister Kelly Regan accepted the report and thanked the task force members for our work.

“Our government is committed to seeing more young people find meaningful work here at home,” said Minister Regan. “Our budget this year is investing more than $12 million in programs that provide the skills, training and experience needed to connect young people to a career here in Nova Scotia.”

The province will report on progress throughout the year, as action is undertaken. The ministers also agreed to reconvene task force members in fall 2017 for a round table session to review and discuss progress.

The Transition Task Force was established as part of Nova Scotia’s Action Plan for Education. Ensuring youth have the best possible chance for a successful future in Nova Scotia is supported by the ONE Nova Scotia Coalition.

To close, I would like to share some profiles from the  Class of 2016. Read what NSCAD grads say about their art school experience and how it changed their lives.

NSCAD Pride and Kudos!


Celebrating in style

These past few weeks NSCAD celebrated student achievement in style and tradition with outstanding exhibitions, a pop-up shop, well attended events, the 2016 graduation show and catalogue launch and convocation ceremony.

For me, the highlight of the Spring had to be the 2016 Graduation Ceremony, held on April 29 at the Cunard Centre. Members of the Class of 2016 successfully graduated and were welcomed to the NSCAD alumni family. It was a time of pride in all that we believe in and collectively accomplish, a time of celebration with family, friends and supporters from near and far. I heard nothing but accolades and joy at every event.

photo booth

2016 Graduates load into the Photo Booth after the ceremony. Did you notice the image of NSCAD founder Anna Leonowens in the background?

We were pleased to welcome internationally acclaimed architect Todd Saunders (BDes 1992) back to his alma mater as our 2016 Honorary Degree recipient. Commissioned by the Shorefast Foundation and the Fogo Island Arts Corporation to design the iconic Fogo Island Inn and artists’ studios, Todd’s work is featured in the documentary film, Strange & Familiar: Architecture on Fogo Island. His overall message to the Graduating Class of 2016 was “Don’t be complacent.”

NSCAD grads are everywhere

I’m pleased to be invited as a presenter at the upcoming conference, Cape Breton Partnership: Growing a Creative Economy, on May 19 and 20 in Sydney. I will be speaking as part of the panel “Keeping Them Here – The NextGen Creative Workforce” (facilitated by Mary Elizabeth Luka (BFA 1997), alumni rep on the NSCAD Board of Governors).

If your ears are burning, it may be because I’m talking about you. My presentation will be filled with examples of young NSCAD alumni who’ve built a career and made a viable home in Nova Scotia following their graduation. Kat Frick Miller, Andrew Maize, Kara Highfield, and Erin Robison, for example, stayed in the Lunenburg area after doing the NSCAD-Lunenburg Community Studio Residency. Jimy Sloan and Brianne Williams, both of whom did the residency program in New Glasgow, have robust artistic practices. Jimy just had a solo exhibition at Studio 21 Fine Art Gallery and Brianne along with Joan Bruneau are the featured artists in a Nova Scotia tourism video for Destination Canada.

Speaking of NSCAD alumni, let’s have a round of applause—oh, let’s make it a standing ovation—for these alumni and their accomplishments:

  • Evan Rensch (MFA 2015) was the recipient of the 2016 Gold Academic Medal. It was accepted on his behalf at graduation by Prof. Robert Bean, who presented the award to Evan a week later at the Scotiabank Photography Award in Toronto.
  • Katherine Nakaska (BFA 2015) was awarded the 2016 Silver Academic Medal for top achievement at the undergraduate level at NSCAD.
gov general medal

Prof. Robert Bean presents Evan Rensch with the Governor General’s Gold Medal at the 2016 Scotiabank Prize. Also in the photo: Ann Thomas, Curator of Photography, National Gallery of Canada; Angela Grauerholz, winner of 2015 Scotiabank Photography Award; and photographer Ed Burtynsky.

  • Stephen Reynolds (BFA 1984) won a daytime Emmy Award for direction on the children’s series, Odd Squad.
  • Chloe and Parris Gordon’s Fall 2016 Ready to Wear collection for Beaufille got the notice of Vogue Magazine.

From Beaufille’s 2016 Ready-to-Wear collection, as shown on Vogue’s website.

  • Ambera Wellman (BFA 2011) is 2016 winner of the $25,000 Joseph Plaskett Award. Ambera is now completing her MFA at the University of Guelph.
  • M.E. Sparks (BFA 2013) was awarded the Nancy Petry Prize, administered through the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts and the Joseph Plaskett Foundation. M.E. (BFA 2013) is completing her Master of Applied Art at Emily Carr University of Art + Design.
  • Students in Andrea Ward’s (MFA 1991) art classes at Highfield Junior School in Etobicoke were recognized by the National Film Board no less for the stop-motion animation shorts they made.
  • Yalitsa Riden’s (BFA 2016) film Shoreline was a big winner at the 49th Houston International Film Festival, claiming the Gold Remi Award in the student film and video category.
  • NSCAD students Laura Admussen, Jennifer Kobler and Tamara Oake were named 2016 finalists for the Waxman Textile Prize, competing against students at the Tokyo Zokei University School of Art & Design, LUCA School of Arts, Ghent, Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Antwerp, among others.
  • SCALE 1:1, founded by designer David Winston (BFA 1994), has won the Architizer A+ Award for best product design for two products: the Nomad sport conference table (a three-in-one product that works as a conference table, a ping pong table and a mobile marker board) and Tete-a-Tete, a double desk for colleagues working collaboratively.

Congratulations all!

NSCAD is small and mighty, nimble and fleet-of-foot

By working together the NSCAD community celebrated many events over these past weeks at the same time as dealing with competing priorities. Nevertheless, something quite remarkable happened: the complete alignment of NSCAD’s planning documents and tools, including the Strategic Framework, Academic Plan and Strategic Research Plan. Over the past year of working together we not only achieved a balanced operating budget but have developed robust and ambitious plans for the future.

Thank you to all in our community for contributing to this remarkable accomplishment.


Bursting with NSCAD pride

The projects are finished, the essays and exams are written and the final marks are in. It’s time for all of us at NSCAD to take a collective breath as the 2016 Graduation Ceremony approaches.

This is a wonderful time of the year and I have never been more proud. Those of us who work at NSCAD know how amazing our students are, so when their accomplishments reach a more public stage, we are thrilled that members of our community can witness this too. Such was the case during EPOCH, the runway show which featured the work of 14 student fashion designers, and the Starfish Student Art Awards, a showcase for the artwork of 10 student finalists. Speaking of Starfish, congratulations to 2016 winner Sydney McKenna. I’m delighted that her exquisite print, Play, has found a home in the President’s Office, alongside View from Chebucto Head by Arthur Lismer, the principal of NSCAD a century ago, and John Baldessari’s iconic print I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art.

relief print by Sydney McKenna

Sydney McKenna, Play, 2015. Relief print, 116.84 x 81.28 cm.

On Thursday, there are two special events to mention. The first is the screening of Strange & Familiar: the Architecture of Fogo Island, which will take place at 2 pm in Paul O’Regan Hall of Halifax Central Library. This stunning film, which I had a chance to see during the Atlantic Film Festival last September, documents a bold architecture project on remote Fogo Island that embraces contemporary design and the excitement of living on the edge in relation to nature. The filmmakers of Strange & Familiar are all NSCAD alumni—Marcia Connolly, Katherine Knight and David Craig. Marcia, the co-director and cinematographer, will be at the screening for the Q&A which follows, along with architect Todd Saunders, also a NSCAD alumnus. We are delighted to welcome Todd from Norway for the screening and graduation on Friday when Todd will be awarded NSCAD’s highest honour, an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Art.

artist studio fogo

One of the artist studios designed by Todd Saunders on Fogo Island, Newfoundland. The image in the header shows the iconic Fogo Island Inn.

After the screening, it’s off to the Anna Leonowens Gallery for the opening of the 2016 Graduation Exhibition and the launch of the 2016 Graduation Catalogue. This is always such a fantastic event with so many family and friends in attendance. It’s a chance to recognize the two student interns – this year curator Brea McAllister and designer Grace Laemmler – who pour heart and soul into presenting the work of their peers. Thanks to the donation by Margaret and David Fountain, the gallery is newly renovated and a fitting showcase for the exhibition of more than 100 artworks.

Later in the evening, there will be a party at NSCAD’s very own Art Bar, just a few doors down from the gallery on Granville Street.

The next day, Friday, April 29, it’s graduation. The ceremony takes place at 2 pm at the Cunard Centre, 961 Marginal Road—just a short walk from our Port Campus. NSCAD’s Graduation Ceremony is like none other and I’m very much looking forward to celebrating the achievements of the Graduating Class of 2016.

In closing, I’d like to tell you about another highlight of the last two weeks: the signing of the collective agreement for FUNSCAD Unit I representing faculty members and FUNSCAD Unit II representing technicians. This is a huge accomplishment that was made possible with a wholehearted commitment to NSCAD on the part of everyone involved. FUNSCAD President, Professor Alvin Comiter, who has been involved with 12 collective agreements over his 42 years at NSCAD, said an agreement reached without having to go to the bargaining table has never happened at NSCAD before. The process was amicable and without rancor, achieved through dialogue and mutual respect. Thank you to all those who worked so hard to make the agreement happen and to the NSCAD Board of Governors for its ratification.

group shot

Members of FUNSCAD and the NSCAD administration shared the pen to make the collective agreement official. In photo: Melanie Colosimo, director of the Anna Leonowens Gallery, Dr. Ann-Barbara Graff, Vice President Academic & Research, NSCAD President Dianne Taylor-Gearing, Dr. Jayne Wark, Professor of Art History, Alvin Comiter, Professor, Photography, and Sharon Johnson-Legere, Vice President Finance and Administration.

The end-of-semester adrenaline rush

As an art school graduate who has a degree specializing in Fashion and Textiles (from Middlesex University, London), I find my thoughts turning to the senior students as they prepare to show their work on the runway at Epoch, the NSCAD 2016 fashion show.

It seems like yesterday when I worked 24/7 in the studio, designing, creating, sewing and hand finishing with beads and embroidery. It was as exciting as it was nerve wracking: all the dreams, ideas and fabric swatches that were pinned bulletin boards and filled sketchbook pages were coming to life.

In the art school tradition, students learn much more than how to draft patterns, drape and sew. Through classes offered in Textiles/Fashion, students acquire the skills not only to create designs, but to weave the cloth, dye the fabric, print it and adorn it. They learn how to manipulate fabric into three-dimensional sculptural forms.

To contextualize the development of creative designs, classes in art, craft and design history complement skills learned in the studio and give students knowledge of trends and art movements over time. That knowledge can then become inspiration for mood boards (the header image provides a glimpse of Elisha Huntley’s mood board) and help to shape individual expression.

Epoch, the NSCAD student fashion show, takes place Saturday, April 16, 7 pm at the Port Campus. We are thrilled to welcome Canadian fashion icon Jeanne Beker as our special guest for this sold-out show.

Congratulations to the participating students Cai Ripley, Chelsie Coles, Elisha Huntley, Emily Bjornson, Johana Cordero, Jodie Fox, Kaleigh Woodard, Kelly MacGillivrary, Leanne Hansen, Maggie MacCormick, Matthew Brown, Myfanwy Gover, Toban Ralston and Victoria Kristofic. And a big heartfelt thank you to Gary Markle, Leesa Hamilton and Adam MacKinnon for sharing the students’ work with the wider fashion-loving community. See you there!


As NSCAD students prepare for their final assessments and shows, I look forward to taking part in the celebrations of their achievements.

Celebrate with me! I have one VIP ticket for Epoch on Saturday evening on hold for the first person to get in touch. Simply send an email to the address universityrelations@nscad.ca with the subject line, “Epoch will be epic.”

Update: April 13, 10:30 am – That was fast! The ticket has been claimed.

Bumping into Dante and Virgil at NSCAD

You may know that I’m a big believer in “collision spaces,” those informal physical gathering places, corridors and hubs on campus where people bump into each other and interact. Well, let me share with you an experience I had the other day…

I was on my way from the President’s Office to the business office, and along the way caught a glimpse of Professor David Howard’s lecture taking place in the Bell Auditorium. He was talking so passionately about Barque of Dante, the first major painting by the French artist Delacroix. The scene shows Dante on a “poetic visit” to hell, guided by Virgil.

For a moment, I was taken right back to when I was an art student, thirsty for knowledge. How incredible it was to discover myself as an artist at the same time as I gained an understanding of the progression of art, craft and design over the centuries. Today, I can’t see a red scarf without thinking about Dante’s fiery red cowl.

Barque of Dante

Delacroix’s 1822 painting, Barque of Dante, is part of the collection at the Louvre.

That’s what makes art school such a remarkable place to be: students get to contextualize their own artistic practice as informed by critical and historical studies.

It reminds me of the old motto for this school: Head and Heart and Hand. One of my predecessors, Elizabeth Styring Nutt, came up with the motto and it appeared on the school crest in 1928. It certainly articulates how intellect, talent and passion come together at NSCAD.

historic crest

NSCAD’s crest in 1928, back when the school was known as the Nova Scotia College of Art.

We’re in the midst of exciting times at NSCAD! If you know of someone who would enjoy the amazing experiences we can offer or who is interested in learning more, encourage them to attend Portfolio Day on Saturday, February 20th, 9:30 am to 4 pm. It’s the prospective student’s ultimate chance to learn about our programs, tour facilities and see the work that students do here. It’s also a chance for prospective students to get feedback on their work and tips on how to prepare a portfolio for admission.

Please join us. I’d love to meet you and share my passion for this university—look for me, I’ll be wearing red. You can register online and, if you have any questions, please email Ken Rice in the Office of Admissions at krice@nscad.ca.

A man in a blue kayak

It’s that time of year when we catch up with news from family, friends, former colleagues, students and acquaintances, some of whom come out of the blue like the story of a man in a kayak.

Well, it’s been quite a year! As December comes to a close. It’s hard to comprehend how much was truly accomplished in 2015.

Perhaps the most major accomplishment of the year is achieving collective agreements with our faculty and technician unions. These agreements were negotiated before the expiration of current agreements on Dec. 31, 2015, and herald a new spirit of cooperation at NSCAD. And that is good, because there is still much to discuss as we head into 2016, specifically as we prepare for our departure from the Fountain Campus in a few years’ time and reflect on the new academic plan now in development.

Another major accomplishment of 2015 is the approval of NSCAD’s Strategic Framework: 2015-2020. Much of the hard work on this document happened before I arrived at NSCAD in the summer of 2014. All that back story gives this plan and its pillars—Connect, Nurture, Curiosity and Steward—such richness and vitality. Moving forward, these words will continue to guide and inform our decision-making. I am so pleased with how the Strategic Framework was reflected in our 2014-15 Annual Report, truly a beautiful reflection of an art school on the rise and already receiving external recognition for positive change.

NSCAD is in a good place. As a community, we have overcome so much together that as we prepare to turn the page on 2015, we are resilient. Every day I gain strength from the amazing accomplishments of alumni, faculty, staff and students, who recognize NSCAD for inspiring, challenging and nurturing them. I think of Kyle Alden Martens’ address during our Donor Appreciation Reception at the end of November, and how, in his entertaining, round-about way, talked about how a NSCAD education opened doors, one after another, but that it’s up to each of us to take advantage of the gaps and fling open those opportunities ever wider. I think of Sydney Smith (Wordless book speaks volumes in the latest edition of VIVID) and how his professor’s support and belief in him made all the difference and was what he was thinking of the day he won a Governor General’s Literary Award.

Kyle Alden Martens

Kyle Alden Martens addressing a full house for NSCAD’s Donor Appreciation Reception on Nov. 26. (Photo by Steve Farmer)

We had a full house for NSCAD's Donor Appreciation Reception on Nov. 26, attended by donors and student scholarship recipients.

We had a full house for NSCAD’s Donor Appreciation Reception on Nov. 26, attended by donors and student scholarship recipients. (Photo by Steve Farmer)

design studio

An important part of the Donor Appreciation Reception was the chance to visit studios and meet faculty and students. Here, our guests meet professor Glen Hougan. (Photo by Steve Farmer)

Oh, about the man in the kayak … a former colleague and distinguished professor wrote in her holiday card message that she was on vacation in Florida staying at a friend’s lakeside home. A man in a blue kayak paddled by and was invited to join the party. He did just that and in conversation it was revealed he is a graphic designer – his favourite professor being my husband Colin Gearing from the 1990s. It just shows how our actions make a difference and will be recounted and cherished many years later.

Thank you to everyone for making NSCAD an adventure, a challenge, a delight. I extend my best wishes for the holiday season and look forward to seeing you back at NSCAD in 2016.

Happiest of holidays to you,


A note about the image in the header: This exquisite artwork was woven from strips of second-hand clothing by interdisciplinary artist John Monteith in Intro to Weaving, taught by Lesley Armstrong. It was used as the main image in NSCAD’s holiday card.



These are exciting days for NSCAD University! This week we are rejoicing in some wonderful news:

  • Alumnus Sydney Smith  (BFA 2006) and Jon Arno Lawson won a Governor General’s Literary Award for Children’s Literature (Illustrated Books), for the book Sidewalk Flowers. (The image at the top of this blog post is from the cover of Sidewalk Flowers.)
  • Sandra Meigs (BFA 1975) won the $50,000 Gershon Iskowitz Prize – and that’s in addition to her Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts received earlier this year.
  • M.E. Sparks (BFA 2013) won the Juror’s Choice Award, worth $1,000 at the inaugural Salt Spring National Art Prize, an initiative of the Salt Springs Arts Council.
  • Lisa Lipton (BFA 2003) was named one of the four finalists for the Sobey Art Award, receiving a $10,000 prize. Her work is on display in the Sobey Art Award Shortlist Exhibition at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia to January 3.

And, we have yet to hear about NSCAD faculty member and alumna Sara Hartland-Rowe (BFA 1990) who is nominated for a 2015 Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia Masterworks Arts Award for her work, Travellers. The award will be announced at a gala on Saturday, Nov. 7, at Halifax Central Library. Also being recognized at the gala are retired NSCAD professor Suzanne Gauthier and NSCAD alumna Susan Tooke (BFA 1980), both of whom will receive 2015 Established Artists Recognition Awards.

What can I say but I am proud to serve as NSCAD’s 21st President for such a distinguished institution and proud to host the 2015 Conference of the Universities Art Association of Canada (UAAC-AAUC).  I know it will be an incredible conference, full of discussion and debate on a wide range of topics.

The conference officially opens on Thursday afternoon. The conference welcome reception and registration takes place from 5 to 7 pm. in the Port Loggia Gallery. The reception will serve as the opening of the Curating Parallels, a group exhibition featuring NSCAD faculty (Sarah Maloney, Bruce Barber, Sara Hartland Rowe, Craig Leonard and Ericka Walker) organized by students in Carla Taunton’s Museums and Curatorial Studies seminar class. There will also be two book launches: Shooting from the East: Filmmaking on the Canadian Atlantic (McGill-Queen’s University Press) a major work of film scholarship by Darrell Varga, chair of the Art History and Critical Studies Department at NSCAD; and What We’re Doing to Stay Afloat, a book of poetry by Karin Cope, a professor also in Art History and Critical Studies.

With six sessions going on concurrently throughout the day on Friday, Nov. 6 and Saturday, Nov. 7, the only difficulty will be in deciding what to attend: “Craft and Architecture: Creating Critical Spaces” or “Art/Work: Labour in Modern and Contemporary Art”? “Stitching the Self: Exploring the Power of the Needle” or “Art Publishing in Canada”? So many decisions!

Many of our professors are involved as facilitators and presenters, including: Sandra Alfoldy, Rudi Meyer, Michael LeBlanc, Christopher Kaltenbach, Robert Bean, Barbara Lounder, Robin Muller, Karin Cope, Bruce Barber, Craig Leonard, Carla Taunton, Paul Mahar, Anna Sprague, Ericka Walker, Mathew Reichertz, Sara Hartland-Rowe, David Clark, Jayne Wark, and Susan Surette, postdoctoral fellow.  I am delighted to see the return of so many of our alumni, who are involved as presenting academics from other institutions. Welcome back to NSCAD!

On Friday evening, Jeff Thomas, an artist and curator, will give the keynote address, “Our Future: From Residential Schools to Reconciliation.” It takes place from 7 to 8:30 pm at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, which is a short walk down the Halifax waterfront from our Port Campus.

Just a note: The conference’s sessions are open to all NSCAD students, but the keynote and other conference events are restricted to registrants and volunteers. I hope NSCAD students will take advantage of having this conference in our own backyard by attending.

In other news, I’d like to share the story, NSCAD: The Inside Scoop at Canada’s East Coast Visual Arts University, written by Mollie Cronin and published in Maclean’s Magazine. She really captures how close-knit and engaged our students are–and I’m definitely very proud of that!

Enjoy the conference!


A brand new sketchbook

It’s the start of another academic year, and once again, I have a brand new sketchbook.

Those pristine pages are awaiting the first marks. What I love about my sketchbooks and journals is that I can leaf back and find new inspiration from research, ideas and marks that I explored and then moved on to a clean page.

This summer, I discovered some sketchbooks from my art school days. They were filled with research notes and drawings from exhibitions as I developed ideas, worked to problem solve and create designs. Some pages were covered in messy conté crayon scribbles that developed, page by page, into drawings with simple and clean lines, painted with watercolours and supplemented with richly textured fabric swatches.

Reflecting upon those art school days, my thoughts turned to my role as NSCAD’s 21st president. The challenges and difficult decisions we made over my first year at NSCAD have been made with our students in mind.

Over the summer, the Board of Governors dedicated a weekend in August to meet and discuss our facilities challenges: namely the Fountain Campus. Since the $3 million Fountain donation last year, the NSCAD community has been meeting to discuss how to best use the significant gift to enhance the student experience. All that consultation fed into the Board’s “Blue Sky retreat,” with SUNSCAD President Gabriel Soligo and SUNSCAD Vice President Finance Julie Hall making a significant contribution. We heard a lot about community, the need to come together to learn and socialize, and interdisciplinary opportunities for students at NSCAD.

Like marks in a sketchbook, that prep work and problem solving led to the Board of Governors’ meeting on Thursday, Sept. 17, in which the resolution, “Be it resolved that NSCAD management proceed with the planning of an exit strategy from the Fountain Campus facility on or before the year end 2019” was passed. (See: Making a Plan) This, in turn, will lead to more discussion and planning on the best way to proceed, and many more on-campus consultations, with students, faculty and staff, and alumni will be held. Dr. Ann-Barbara Graff, Vice-President Academic and Research, will lead the academic plan developments that will inform NSCAD’s facilities discussions and planning.

NSCAD’s 2014-15 Annual Report was presented at the September 17 Board of Governors Annual General Meeting. The Annual Report presents an incredibly full year, with so many accomplishments to be shared and recognized. I’m happy to share the Annual Report with you in this PDF version.

There have been some changes on the Board. Jeff Somerville is the new Board Chair, taking over from Grant Machum. I want to thank Grant for all he’s invested in NSCAD over the past two years as chair. At the same time, I look forward to working with Jeff, whose dedication and commitment to NSCAD has been evident in his first two years of service to the Board. I also want to recognize long-serving Board governor Margaret Fountain, who remains on the Board as a Life Governor, recognizing her commitment and generosity to the university.  (Please see: News from the Board of Governors)

In other news, I traveled to Ottawa recently by invitation of the US Ambassador Bruce Heyman and his wife Vicki Heyman to attend Contemporary Conversations, a speaking series created in partnership with the National Gallery of Canada and the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa. I was eager to meet internationally acclaimed American painter and sculptor Eric Fischl.

Here I am with former NSCAD faculty member Eric Fischl in Ottawa. Eric spoke as part of the Contemporary Conversations Lecture Series.

Here I am with former NSCAD faculty member Eric Fischl in Ottawa. Eric spoke as part of the Contemporary Conversations Lecture Series.

NSCAD received a number of ‘shout outs’ as Eric, a 2002 NSCAD honorary degree recipient, talked about his introduction to Canada through a teaching opportunity at NSCAD. It’s here in Halifax where he had his first solo exhibition, taking place in 1975.

I’ve also been busy attending films and receptions associated with the Atlantic Film Festival. Our NSCAD faculty, students and alumni were shining stars at the festival! The documentary, Strange and Familiar: Architecture on Fogo Island, by Marcia Connolly (BFA 1995) and Katherine Knight (BFA 1980), was a big winner, taking the awards for best Atlantic documentary and best Atlantic cinematographer (Marcia Connolly). The film is about the striking architecture on Fogo designed by NSCAD alumnus Todd Saunders (BFA 1992), the equally dramatic East Coast landscape, and the vision of Zita Cobb, the Island born social entrepreneur.

Lukas Pearse (BFA 1994), NSCAD regular part-time faculty, and Mike Ritchie won Best Atlantic Original Score for North Mountain, a film by Bretten Hannam (BFA 2008). Congratulations to all the winners, and to those who served on the jury, including Becka Barker (BFA 2000), regular part-time faculty, and Ruby Boutilier (BFA 1999), recruitment coordinator.

Todd Saunders architecture

The documentary Strange & Familiar: Architecture on Fogo Island uses a visual narrative of the construction of the Fogo Island Inn, inviting us to discover the portrait of a small island trying to assert itself by choosing bold contemporary architecture. Congratulations to Marcia Connolly and Katherine Knight, winners at the Atlantic Film Festival for Best Atlantic Documentary.

Other NSCADers who showed their work during the festival include: NSCAD students Nathan Boone and Raghed Charabaty, Corinne Dunphy (BFA 2008), Bretten Hannam (BFA 2008), Jenna Marks (BFA 2013), Rhonda Buckley (BFA 1989), Andrea Dorfman (BFA 1995), Heather Young (BFA 2009), Joel MacKenzie (BFA 2008), Lisa Heyden (BFA 2007), Jarrett Shaw (BFA 2014) … Shout out if I missed anyone!

A look ahead:

  • I AM NSCAD: the Alumni Exhibition runs Tuesday, Sept. 29 to Friday, Oct. 9 at the Anna Leonowens Gallery. Filling all three galleries, this show is not to be missed! And a note: many of the artworks are for sale, with proceeds going to the NSCAD Alumni Association Scholarship benefiting Foundation students. I’ve already got my eye on some works …
  • Sculptor Vasilis Vasili will present an artist’s talk about his work in the Sculpture Nova Scotia symposium, making a sculpture in honor of NSCAD University founder Anna Leonowens. The talk takes place Wednesday, Sept. 29 at 12 noon at the Anna Leonowens Gallery.
  • Dine By Design East opens this week at the Olympic Community Hall. It’s a wonderful, four-day event full of great design, art and food and it’s all in support of a scholarship at NSCAD, the Amber Harkins Memorial Scholarship. For tickets and information, please see Eventbrite.

Very best wishes,