Thank you DHX Media!

It’s such a proud day at NSCAD University! We are pleased and grateful to have received a $600,000 donation from DHX Media, the world’s leading independent, pure-play children’s content company.

The donation was announced by David Regan, Executive Vice President, Strategy and Corporate Development for DHX Media at the Academy Campus today (Friday, Nov. 25). The donation, to be received over six years, is substantial and means a great deal to us. NSCAD’s Academic Plan: Toward 2020 (2016-20) speaks to the need to increase formal experiential learning opportunities “beyond the classroom” through internships, practica, work-study and exchanges. This support allows NSCAD to do just that.

We are also appreciative of the Province of Nova Scotia’s recent funding support for experiential learning that will complement this industry investment by DHX Media. We were honored to have the Honourable Kelly Regan, Minister of Labour and Advanced Education, and Duff Montgomery, Deputy Minister of LAE, in attendance for the announcement.

We will be directing DHX Media’s donation in three ways to enhance the student experience at NSCAD.

  • First, this gift will be dedicated to expanding experiential learning opportunities for NSCAD students in the Division of Media Arts. Funds will be used to develop internship opportunities for upper-year media arts students in film, animation and intermedia, allowing them to gain valuable work experience at the same time as earning course credit. On-the-job training is incredibly valuable and gives our students a definite advantage as they graduate.
  • Secondly, funds will be used to support the creation of thesis film projects of our senior undergraduate students, giving them the financial support they need to complete a film in their final year at NSCAD. As anyone who works in film knows, it’s an expensive art form and a lot for students to take on by themselves. It’s also a truly collaborative art form. As well as directing their own films, the students work on the films of other students to gain experience in other capacities, as cinematographers, art directors and production managers—just to name a few of the jobs—giving them a well-rounded, immersive experience in film making.
  • Thirdly, the DHX donation will go to the further development of the Animation Lab at NSCAD’s Academy Campus. We’ll be able to keep this facility updated with industry-relevant software and other equipment purchases. This is a constant concern at our school like ours, and we’ve been able to make a number of updates at the Academy Campus in recent years with the help of the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) and Nova Scotia Research and Innovation Trust. For example, this funding has outfitted our new sound studio, completed earlier this year, and supported the research of Professor Darrell Varga as Canada Research Chair in Contemporary Film and Media Studies.

We so appreciate this donation by DHX Media. It’s a vote of confidence in NSCAD by an industry leader now, and in 2004, when the company—or its predecessor—donated the building for our Academy Campus allowing our Media Arts program and the Cineflux research centre to grow and flourish.

Chelsea Innes, whose third-year student film Little Keys is racking up honors, spoke on behalf of students to thank DHX Media.

Chelsea Innes, whose third-year student film Little Keys is racking up honors at various film festivals, spoke on behalf of students to thank DHX Media. Chelsea will beginning work on her thesis film project next semester.

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Have you started your holiday shopping? I’m heading to the NSCAD Holiday Pop-Up today. It’s a wonderful opportunity to pick up unique, handmade gifts and support student artists at the same time. More than 70 students are taking part.

Because it’s so large, you’ll find the Pop-Up in a couple of different locations: in the retail space at 1869 Granville Street, Art Bar + Projects (both sides), the entrance to Granville Mall, the hallway behind the NSCAD Art Supply Store, and the Hollis Street entrance to Fountain Campus. There will be original prints, paintings, jewellery, ceramics, textiles, letterpress, and much more besides. See you there!

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To our students, we’re in the home stretch of the fall semester. Best of luck as you write essays and finish projects. I know you will be taking advantage of NSCAD’s 24/7 access!

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,

Dianne

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.

 

A fond farewell

As this is my last blog post before I take my leave, I thought it fitting to recount the many changes at NSCAD over the past couple of years as we collectively addressed our financial management and enrolment challenges. If I had to list in order of importance the accomplishments we have shared the list would look something like this:

1. Virtual elimination of operating deficit – This was made even more significant as our move toward gaining financial stability occurred during a time when provincial grants decreased by 10 per cent and tuition revenue decreased by an almost similar amount.
2. Debt Reduction – We were able to allay concerns over the size of our debt by demonstrating that by simply servicing our debt it reduces by $1 million per year. Simple tables projecting debt reduction for several years forward provided the Province with the evidence we were making progress.
3. Government relations – By demonstrating good stewardship in reducing our annual deficit; by meeting all report requirements (which incidentally were frequent and numerous); and by introducing strong management controls, we were able to gain the confidence of our provincial partners.
4. Media relations – The shift from negative to positive treatment by the media has been most apparent and most beneficial.
5. Internal governance Improvements – Our new board governance structure has resulted in greater operational clarity, focus and efficiency in board operations.
6. Major consultant-led studies – We have successfully completed two major consultant studies: Space and Affiliation. Both studies have great consequence to the future of NSCAD and provided the Board with evidence-based information on which we were able to chart our future with confidence.
7. Strategic Plan – While behind schedule (on track now), the ultimate outcome will prove very beneficial in informing future directions and priorities for NSCAD.
8. Labour relations – We have successfully negotiated collective agreements with all unionized employees without work disruption, and we continue to enjoy good relations.
9. Presidential and Academic Dean searches – We have concluded two national searches for these important positions with great success. The attraction of many fine candidates for these important leadership positions is yet another indication of our improved status within the university community.
10. Academic programs – We have completed external reviews of all academic programs. When processed, the review findings will be very helpful in the consideration of important program refinements.
11. Enhanced program collaboration – We have added or are in the process of adding many new programs in cooperation with Nova Scotia Community College, University of King’s College and other local universities.
12. Student recruitment improvements – With the assistance of specially earmarked donor funds, our registration and admissions personnel have introduced numerous robust strategies to augment our recruitment efforts.
13. Institute of Applied Creativity – IAC, while still experiencing growing challenges, has been successful in securing significant government grants, hosting significant events and forging important partnerships.
14. Groundbreaking capital donation – The recent generous donation from Margaret and David Fountain is significant for two reasons. First, the gift will allow NSCAD to make significant improvements to the Granville Block (now Fountain Campus). This solidifies our earlier decision to declare our intention to hold onto this historic site for the foreseeable future. Second, the donation conveys confidence in NSCAD’s future as Atlantic Canada’s only exclusive art and design University.

All in all, I believe NSCAD has its worst days behind it and can, with renewed and justly warranted confidence chart a future rich with potential and greatness.

Please allow me to close on a note of appreciation and thanks to all in our community – Board of Governors, faculty, staff, students, and alumni for their collective welcome and support to me, an outsider, during my stay. In particular, I wish to acknowledge the support and assistance provided my most immediate administrative team.

It has been a pleasure, frustrating and exhausting at times, but always rewarding.

King's

Here I am with Kelly Toughill, Director of King’s School of Journalism, and Dr. George Cooper, President of the University of King’s College, after signing a Memorandum of Understanding for a new collaboration. Eliot Wright Photo.

Announcement

A great day for NSCAD: Margaret and David Fountain pledge $3 million to NSCAD and our historic downtown campus is named “Fountain Campus” in appreciation. Eliot Wright Photo.

Here's a picture of myself and my wife Valerie with a painting by Professor Alex Livingston. This photo was taken the same day the Board of Governors considered the Affiliation Study and resolved to keep our autonomy.

A picture of myself and my wife Valerie with a painting by Professor Alex Livingston. This was the same day the Board of Governors considered the Affiliation Report and resolved to keep our autonomy. Eliot Wright Photo.

Making strides

As we reflect on the end of another academic year, we have much to be thankful for at NSCAD. Of course, I am aware of the many challenges we have faced, but the true test of our institutional resilience is not the number of challenges but the quality of our response.  In a nutshell, our collective response to our various challenges has, in my estimation, been nothing short of remarkable.

Artist for a Day

Artist for a Day, held May 11th at the Port Campus, was a wonderful event, showing NSCAD as an active community partner. The ceramics studio was just one of many busy spots. (Steve Farmer Photo)

Consider the list:

  • Board governance overhaul;
  • stellar 125 anniversary celebrations and special events;
  • receipt of government funding for the affiliation and space studies (and on our terms);
  • completion of two mandated reports to government – Institutional Outlook Report and a second sustainability report;
  • successful contract negotiations with our two teaching units;
  • harmonization of relations with the Province;
  • five highly successful events – launch of the I AM NSCAD campaign, Starfish Student Art Awards, Artist for a Day, the launch of the 2013 Graduation Catalogue and the Graduation ceremony;
  • increased positive community profile as evidenced by positive media reporting (see list below of stories in the media gathered in a two-week period);
  • launch of a strategic planning process;
  • and perhaps most important, over achievement of deficit reduction goals.
Anna Leonowens Gallery

The launch of the 2013 Graduation Catalogue at the Anna Leonowens Gallery on May 17 was a celebratory event. (Marilyn Smulders Photo)

I continue to believe that our ultimate strength as an institution (program excellence notwithstanding) depends on our ability to demonstrate financial sustainability – and we are well on our way to doing this. The fiscal environment in which we find ourselves, combined with an activist government funding partner makes financial sustainability a primary concern.

By way of future plans, we will need to invest greater effort in building internal consensus among our various stakeholder groups. A major first initiative in this regard is the strategic re-visioning process proposed by our Strategic Planning Committee. The process will be guided by engagement principles which are intended to mobilize participation by all in our school community.

Starfish Awards

Chatting with Teto Elsiddique, one of 10 finalists, at the Starfish Student Art Awards on May 2. (Luke Clarridge Photo)

Looking further, we can expect a busy summer as we receive the reports of our two consultant-led studies, which will trigger important decisions on our institutional future.  We also begin early work on the strategic planning initiative; firming up board governance change recommendations; and finally, initiate a university-wide campaign to meet our student enrolment objectives.

As I conclude, I am reminded that I had every belief that this would be my last blog post as president, but as you are aware, my departure plans have been delayed, so I will save reminisces and reflections for a later time.  In its place, I should like to close with a wish to all for a healthy, restful and safe summer.

Best wishes,

Dan

P.S. Here is only a sample of the media coverage NSCAD, alumni and students received over the past month. Highlights include the nationwide opening of NSCAD grad Jason Buxton’s feature film Blackbird (which has since won an award at Cannes Ecrans Junior), Artist for a Day and Open City, the Starfish Awards and a collaboration between NSCAD’s Design Division and the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission.

 

 

A report on reports

I want to bring you up to date on the status of the two Requests for Proposals (RFPs) which were a component of our Framework for Sustainability (PDF). As you will recall, the Province of Nova Scotia agreed to fund the studies late in November.

The RFPs were posted in early December and attracted eight submissions. Following careful vetting, the firms ATN Consulting Inc. and Educational Consulting Services were selected and both are in the early phases of their work.

To oversee their work, we have established a liaison committee. Representing NSCAD on the committee are: myself, Acting President; Sharon Johnson Legere, VP Finance & Administration; Kenn Honeychurch, VP Academic and Provost; Sarah Trower, President, SUNSCAD; Professor Glen Hougan; Board members Ian Austen and Ross Cantwell. Representing the province on the committee are: Ava Czapalay, Senior Executive Director Higher Education; and Nancy Vanstone, consultant to the Department of Labour and Advanced Education.

Here’s a bit more information on the studies. The Space Utilization Study being conducted by ECS will examine two sets of questions we need answered. First, how much space does NSCAD require given our existing program mix? Do our three campuses adequately serve our space requirements? Secondly, could either of our potential partner universities accommodate new construction on their campuses sufficient to satisfy NSCAD’s needs should affiliation occur and assuming the Granville Campus will no longer be used? I should mention that ECS is very familiar with our type of educational institution, having done most of the spatial studies for art and design universities in Canada.

The second study, A Feasibility Study to Explore an Affiliation Between NSCAD University and Dalhousie University or NSCAD University and Saint Mary’s University, will be done by ATN Consulting Inc., a local firm with solid credentials and familiarity with each of the universities with which we are exploring affiliation potential.

I know that even the mention of the word “affiliation” conjures up negative associations for many. However, I should remind you that we have been obligated by the Province through the Windsor Report (PDF) to be open to exploration of enhanced collaborations with local universities.

In signaling its openness to explore closer relationships, the Board of Governors placed numerous conditions on the type of relationship that could be explored. Specifically, the proposal identifies the strategic option to be explored is: “to fully investigate opportunities for affiliation with Dalhousie University or Saint Mary’s University which does not adversely affect NSCAD’s academic, financial and governance sovereignty.” Furthermore, this mandate is qualified by 18 conditions which must be adhered to in the investigation.

I know there has been much confusion around the terms “collaboration,” “merger,” “amalgamation,” and “affiliation.” These terms mean much different things. The only form of closer association between NSCAD and the other two universities being investigated in this study is affiliation. We believe that this is the only form of institutional realignment which will protect NSCAD’s autonomy and independence.

I invite you to look at the terms of both studies:

Please note that the heart of both proposals begins on page 22. The first 21 pages contain tender specifications.

I addition to the two RFPs, I am making another report mandated by the Province available for your reference. All of Nova Scotia’s universities were expected to prepare this report using a common template of seven overarching questions in which to describe its hopes and aspirations for the future.

The Bilateral Report: Institutional Outlook (PDF) was submitted to the Province on January 31, 2013 and represents the work of senior academic and administrative officers of the university who worked tirelessly to meet the tight deadline.

As always, your comments are invited.

Where we stand

Please receive this message as my best understanding of the current status of the university with its Framework for Sustainability. By way of background, all or most would know that we have been implementing Plan A of our sustainability plan which was submitted to the Province on March 28, 2012. While the implementation of the plan has not been without difficulty and sacrifice, the results have produced predicted and significant reductions in our operating deficit for the current fiscal year. We have been able to half the deficit projected from where we would be, had we done nothing. You will also know that we have been awaiting a decision by the Province to proceed with the implementation of Plan B. This plan is more ambitious and, if implemented, would have allowed the university to achieve almost immediate balanced budgets for the present and foreseeable future.

The principle component of this plan was dependent upon a provincially funded Early Retirement Incentive Plan (ERIP). The plan envisioned phased but manageable reductions in our employee complement by twinning early retirement with a non-replacement of vacated positions. The complement reduction to the plan was to be guided by a commitment to protect program integrity. There were other components in Plan B but this was the principle one.

Now fast forward to January 2013, the Province communicated formally its response to the outstanding requests contained in our sustainability plan. In that letter, it confirmed the following:

  1. Commitment to cover (up to $1.364 million) our 2012-2013 projected operating budget deficit;
  2. By an earlier decision (November 21, 2012), the province agreed to fund the two studies proposed in our sustainability plan—namely, a Space Utilization Study and an Affiliation Feasibility Study. The first study’s aim is to determine the efficiency with which we use our current space and ascertain what our spatial needs would be if we were to leave the Granville Campus. This study would also assess the capability of Dalhousie and Saint Mary’s to accommodate new construction on their respective campuses should we decide to affiliate.

The second study is intended to conduct a thorough, cost/benefit, risk assessment of a potential partnership/affiliation with either Dalhousie University or Saint Mary’s University. Please keep in mind that these studies will not be exploring merger options, a much mentioned fear. Rather, the studies will be conducted in such a manner as to ensure that affiliation options will not adversely affect NSCAD’s academic, financial and governance sovereignty. In other words, any affiliation must ensure that NSCAD retains control over its academic programs and regulations, including the appointment and promotion of faculty, control of its finances, and control over its management through an independent Board of Governors.

New information conveyed in the letter (dated January 10, 2013) stipulates that NSCAD needs to submit a new three-to-five year sustainability plan by March 15, 2013 that includes the following:

  • a financial plan to eliminate the current unsustainable level of debt servicing costs;
  • a detailed plan for how the university will meet current and future needs for office, classroom and workshop facilities on an sustainable basis;
  • a plan to take full and effective advantage of opportunities provided by one or more universities and identified and elaborated through the upcoming affiliation study and facilities review; and
  • a formal commitment by NSCAD Board of Governors to fully implement these elements of the sustainability plan.

The letter also states that decisions regarding new student fees rest with NSCAD, subject to review by the Province to ensure proper student consultations have occurred. Finally, the letter states that increases in tuition fees above the approved three per cent level will be addressed through the MOU process underway with the Province’s universities.

Notable by its absence is the central plank our 2012 Framework for Sustainability – a measured contraction of our employee footprint to be financed through a provincially funded Early Retirement Incentive Program (ERIP). It is important to note that the Province has not officially refused to fund this part of our sustainability plan, but its omission suggests that it is highly unlikely that we will be able to proceed with this part of our plan. However, I have been advised informally that while the government is not interested in direct funding (grant) of an ERIP, they have still not ruled out the possibility of introducing a SOFI loan program, which we would be eligible to apply for to support an ERIP. The savings to our budget with such a plan would be less than if we received a grant but would still be considerable. Please note the Province has not made a decision as yet on the reintroduction of a SOFI Plan. Therefore, while our position is subject to change, until instructed otherwise, this part of our 2012 sustainability plan is on hold.

I also wish to inform you that I have written to the Province to convey my surprise with the apparent shift of focus from the removal of operating deficits to the elimination of our debt. In the same letter, I have asked for further clarification of the conditions they have made for the payment of our 2012-13 operating deficit. As it now stands, the time lines they have set presuppose consultant study results, which are not likely to be available until May.

Essentially, this is my best read of the situation as I understand it. Unfortunately, the situation is still very fluid and subject to change as we receive more clarification from the Province. I will endeavor to keep you informed as I receive clarification. In the meantime, we will continue to “stay the course” with Plan A, which has allowed us to meet budget targets for this year. The executive committee of the board will meet at the end of this week to formalize its response to the aforementioned letter from the Province. As well, we will consult the community as best we can as we develop a debt reduction plan as requested by the Province by March 15, 2013 – a daunting task.

Yours truly,
Dan

P.S. I intend to outline for you details surrounding how NSCAD is currently funded, including the grants we receive from the Province. I know it is part of popular belief at NSCAD that we are under-funded by the Province and all we need to do to remove our deficit is to demand larger grants from the Province. I hope to share with you some facts that will dispel that belief.

Best wishes for the holidays and end of term

As the first semester comes to a close I thought it timely to take the opportunity in this blog to extend to all readers, faculty, staff, students, board members and alumni good wishes for peace, happiness and relaxation with family and friends over the holiday season.

I know this has been a trying year for all in the NSCAD community.  We have experienced more than our fair share of uncertainty and unwelcomed and sometimes critical public scrutiny. Despite all this, we have managed to continue to attract top-notch students and deliver the high-quality, unique programs for which NSCAD has gained its enviable reputation. Moreover, given our small size, we have a disproportionate share of students, faculty and alumni winning prestigious awards and recognitions compared to other universities in the Atlantic provinces.

On the planning front, we are making progress, albeit painfully slow progress, in winning government support for our Framework for Sustainability.  Two components of the plan, namely a thorough cost/benefit analysis of affiliation and a detailed space utilization study, have been funded and consultants are actively being sought.  I am in the process of establishing oversight/liaison committees to work with the consultants. These committees will be composed in such a fashion as to have representation from all our significant internal stakeholders groups. In the meantime, we are still awaiting government approval of the other components of the Framework for Sustainability’s Plan B.

I recognize that important sectors of our internal community are not supportive of the framework, but frankly, the Board of Governors and I have not as yet received a single alternate proposal which would allow NSCAD to return to fiscal balance. The government, our principle funder, has made it abundantly clear that they do not intend to fund our operating deficit indefinitely.  Nor do we win friends in the public arena for systematically failing to operate within our means. To achieve savings, we must change current expenditure patterns. The status quo is not an option, nor are proposals which would result in increased expenditures. The Board believes that changes can be made without fundamentally damaging our ability to offer high-quality core programs. NSCAD Administration and the Board of Governors are committed to implementing the plan in a fashion which ensures such protection.  The Board and I also recognize that we will need to invest more time in attempting to explain the imperatives of the plan and to be open to compelling options; that’s our work for the next semester.

I realize I have strayed into heavy subject matter when my original intent was simply to extend holiday wishes. But I know these important matters are on everyone’s minds, so I thought it disingenuous not to address them.

Best wishes to all,
Dan