Notes from the fourth floor


Welcome to my blog. I’ve never had one before but I thought this might be a good way to introduce myself and let you know what I’ve been up to since I arrived at NSCAD University about three weeks ago.

Did I say three weeks? The time has flown by as I’ve become more acquainted with ongoing issues at the university and met with stakeholders both on and off campus.

In saying hello, I must bid adieu to two important members of our NSCAD team: Laurelle LeVert, NSCAD’s Registrar and Director of Student Services, who is taking a position at the University of New Brunswick, and Tanja Harrison, University Librarian, who has already started at Mount Saint Vincent University. All the best to you both — you will be missed here at NSCAD!

There is, of course, one big file that is getting my attention and that is NSCAD’s Framework for Sustainability, which was prepared for the Department of Labour and Advanced Education at the end of March. In the coming days and weeks, I will be re-examining the plan in consultation with senior staff and the Board of Governors to decide how to proceed while we await the government’s official response. Some aspects, however, are already in play. You may notice that the university is getting some new tenants at the Granville campus; that is part of a plan to bring in new revenue by maximizing the campus’s rental potential.

I’ve arrived at a wonderful time for the university. NSCAD has been getting some terrific exposure in the media for two events in particular: Artist for a Day which happened on the Halifax waterfront on May 12 and the opening of Oh, Canada at MASS MoCA (the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) in North Adams, Mass., on May 26th weekend. I’ve heard nothing but raves for Artist for a Day, which turned into such a great family event for Halifax. No doubt some of the kids who had their hands in clay, hammed it up in front of the green screen or watched the steamroller press a print that day will be applying to become NSCAD students in a few years.

NSCAD should be justly proud of its representation in Oh, Canada, the largest exhibition of Canadian contemporary art north or south of the border in years. One-third of the artists and curators at the show have NSCAD connections—which speaks to the university’s incredible role in shaping generations of artists and critical thinkers.

“I remember when I was in college, in grad school, I remember hearing about this place called NSCAD,” said Oh, Canada curator Denise Markonish, in an interview with CBC Radio. “So when I started doing the show and I discovered it for myself, (I realized) what an amazing legacy this place has had. It’s unbelievable that a college like this exists that has bred generation after generation of phenomenal artists. I’m really proud of having all these NSCAD connections here.”

Linda Hutchison, director of University Relations, alumni & development, tells me it felt like old home week at MASS MoCA since there were so many familiar faces there, including alumni and faculty members past and present. I should mention that Linda was able to organize an alumni event during Oh, Canada’s opening weekend through the generosity of NSCAD board member Rob Dimitrieff (BFA 2003). A big thank you to Rob. I wasn’t able to make the opening myself, but the show will be up for almost a year so there’s plenty of time to make plans for a visit.

As for this blog, I hope to update it regularly and let you know what I’m up to. Throughout the summer, I hope to meet with faculty and staff in small groups to introduce myself and to find out more about the programs at NSCAD. I’ve got a lot to learn and I want to listen to what you say.

In the meantime, if you see me in the hall or in the elevator, please say hello. I’m the guy in the suit (at least until July). Or, come up to the fourth floor anytime. I’m looking forward to meeting you.

Until next time,


12 thoughts on “Notes from the fourth floor

  1. Hey Dan!
    Welcome, welcome.

    I think it would be really great if you were to be really involved with students on a personal level throughout your stay at NSCAD.
    A criticism of our previous president is that not many people knew him, and I think that is part of what led to a lot of speculation and rumour spreading. This blog you started already shows an interest in outreach, but I hope that it extends to honest conversations on a human scale.
    Walking through the lounge or hanging out outside are great things, and coming to art openings would be awesome too.

    • Welcome Dr. O’Brien! I completely agree with Nicole’s suggestions. It would be lovely to see you around campus for some friendly conversation once in a while!

  2. Hello, Dan.
    Welcome aboard.

    I hope you don’t mind me asking you about an issue that’s been on my mind.

    I’ve heard quite a bit of sentiment from various communities that the student body and faculty at NSCAD do not have a large enough roll in the running and goings on of the school. That is to say, it has been suggested that the school is structured in a very top-heavy fashion, and it’s often felt that it is run and governed by people who do not have much of an idea of what is going on between the walls of a class room.

    One of the symptoms of this situation is that the school is seemingly run as if it where a business, rather than a school – adopting a growth-centered approach by rapidly expanding in hopes of securing new income. This has left NSCAD in a perilous position, not just economically, but more importantly in terms of the quality of education that it offers and it’s integrity as a school. I think it is fair to suggest that if the people inside the classroom walls had more say in the running of the school, the priorities would never of been confused in favour of financial expansion over the quality of education and long-term integrity of the school.

    I’d like to know how you plan to address these issues – the who’s and how’s of the school’s running – because I believe they really are of paramount importance. It is, after all, the ethos of a school which makes it what it is.

    • Hi Dan,

      I agree with Owen. Something that immediately pops to mind is how great it is that you are deciding to blog to be available to the student body. But is your blog a viable source of discussion and will students (and strangers) input be taken into account with your future actions? Or is this merely for show? I suppose we’ll find out with how your react with your responses.

      Also, I’ve chosen to write to you because I have some qualms presently with what you’ve already done with the school, that is specifically add near 400$ to each students education through auxiliary fees. I must say I stand by our student council president, especially because she represents an opinion I agree with and she is the representative of the student body. You seem to have completely ignored her and SUNSCADs contentions (or considerations!) for the raising of fees. This disappoints me greatly as there was great promise that our new president with his many awards would be more successful in not maiming the school when nursing it back to heath. My understanding of business (as it seems we are treating the school more and more like one) is that there are cutbacks so that there are not fee hikes, but it seems we have now done both! I’ll say it again, I’m disappointed that you have failed so far in not putting the burden further on the student body, and at creatively raising money for our debt by reassessing the upper echelons of senior administration. What is becoming of our fundraising department, other than an alumni donation campaign? Why is Seeds being threatened with obscene demands of higher profit yield which go against Seeds 5 year plan? Why are there rumors of 24 hr access being cut?

      I look forward to your answers and responses in the coming new year, and hope that they will allow me to maintain my pride in this educational institution.

      -Ashley Bedet

      • Ashley, I appreciate you taking the time to comment and express your views. You raise a number of questions about a complicated plan and I am happy to discuss them with you in detail. Please call 494-8114 to set up a time to meet, either in my office or at a location of your choice. I look forward to meeting you. Dan O’Brien

        • Hi Dan,

          It might be nice to meet in person but I am not in town at present, and also those who read your blog won’t have the benefit of your answers.

          We can arrange a time to meet when I return to Halifax mid-August, but in the mean time I look forward to any interim responses you’d like to give.

          Until then.


  3. NSCAD certainly is quite the accomplished institution and I’m so proud to be a student here. That being said, we should keep it that way and not get rid of the portfolio requirement! :)

    • I double that! I think the quality of students coming here is very important to the school’s well being as a whole, and on all levels. And a portfolio is the only way to assess an applicant’s true potential as an art student and a future artist. A reputed art school without a portfolio requirement is…not an art school, it becomes a joke. I really hope you consider taking this point off the new Framework of Sustainability.

      I’m very glad that you, sir, have started this blog, and this post is quite promising. Cheers to you and to the NSCAD community!

  4. Welcome Dr. O’Brien! Many thanks for keeping a blog to keep the NSCAD community updated.

  5. Welcome Dr. O’Brien. Great idea to start up a Blog. I graduated in 1991 in Communication Design; I feel so fortunate and proud to have studied at NSCAD. I live & work in Riverview, NB and whenever I have the chance to praise NSCAD, I do. The best of luck with your new position; how wonderful to be part of a school where students have such a passion for what they are studying.

  6. Welcome Dr. O’Brien – Dan! I am so happy that you have decided to keep us informed through this blog. Here in Admissions we love to have people drop by and talk to us about NSCAD and there is often a buzz of excitement for so many and their new beginnings. We welcome you to drop in to chat anytime you are at the Port Campus.

    Despite a tumultuous past year for us all at NSCAD, I have seen some of the best applications and portfolios of my 15 years in this office and in fact, applications to first year are up 5% over last year. In looking at this year’s exceptional portfolios and in reading the heartfelt admissions essays, I see such hope for the future. NSCAD is challenging and students and alumni are so proud of their accomplishments. The community has responded well to the great things that have been done here for 125 years. The Oh, Canada exhibition is testament to our legacy and our current work. I think for many, the press about NSCAD this year served as a reminder of what a huge contributor NSCAD has been to the world and they want to see that continue and many want to be a part of that. Our job collectively, as i see it, is to ensure that we keep the quality in the classroom whatever the size of our school.

  7. Portfolio requirement is essential! Please, maintain this crucial element to NSCAD. It should never be considered as something that can be cut. Otherwise, why even have an art school? If students cannot prove their abilities as to what they will be doing at the school, the quality will go down and reputation will be gone.