Welcome home

When I arrived at NSCAD for the beginning of the 2014-15 academic year, I felt like I had come home.

Having moved from Calgary, Alberta, the first thing I noticed was the salty sea air, so fresh and invigorating. The new sights and smells of the east coast mixed with excitement and apprehension of commencing a new academic year at art school. But these feelings were familiar to me too and somehow it all felt right: the right place and the right time.

As the 2017-18 academic year commences those same emotions rush back. I am delighted to welcome all our new students, faculty and staff and all those returning from travels near and far. A sincere thank you to all those who have been here summer long: taking classes, putting on exhibitions, leading summer camps, and planning and preparing for fall.

I predict NSCAD will have a stellar 130th anniversary year as we continue to cherish our special, inclusive, respectful creative community that was the vision of our founders in 1887 and is realized at NSCAD today.

The new white pages of the sketchbooks and journals are ready to be turned and covered in creativity – there are upcoming events and exhibitions, places to go and people to meet. Please know you are welcome at NSCAD University and I hope you feel as I do, that you’ve come home.

About the header image: NSCAD students get a different view of George’s Island from the drawing studios at the Port Campus. This aerial view is by Lenn Wagg, courtesy of Destination Halifax.

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Here are some of the highlights of the first week of September at NSCAD:

  • New Undergraduate Student Orientation Day takes place on Tuesday, Sept. 5. Join us at 8:30 am in Room 202 at the Port Campus for breakfast. After the welcoming session, faculty members and senior students will lead new students on tours of our three NSCAD campuses.
  • The first day of classes for the fall semester is Wednesday, Sept. 6.
  • The launch of Free Coffee, a publication of student artwork, takes place on Thursday, Sept. 7. You can pick up Free Coffee, free coffee and a donut in the student lounge, Fountain Campus, starting at 11 am.
  • The International Student Orientation Session takes place on Friday, Sept. 8, at 12 noon in P203, Port Campus.
  • On Saturday, Sept. 9, orientation activities include a community scavenger hunt, the Mayor’s reception for international students (2 pm at Halifax Central Library) and a party in the Granville courtyard beginning at 5 pm.

For more details, check out the event page by SUNSCAD on Facebook.

courtyard

Picture yourself walking through this leafy courtyard on the way to class at our historic Fountain Campus. Make sure to drop by Art Bar +Projects and the Anna Leonowens Gallery too!

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September also signals the changing of the guard at our NSCAD Community Studio Residencies, when NSCAD alumni who’ve worked for a year on their artistic practices give up their prized studio spaces to make way for the new cohort.

We have four residency sites across the province. The Town of Lunenburg was the first to come on board with the program more than a decade ago, followed by the Town of New Glasgow, the Centre for Craft and Design in Sydney, Cape Breton, and the MacPhee Centre for Creative Learning across the harbor in Dartmouth.

Lunenburg artistic residents

The 2016-17 NSCAD Lunenburg Community Studio Residents: Norma Jean MacLean, Selina Latour, and Deniree Isabel Mendoza.

In Lunenburg, Selina Latour (BFA 2016), Norma Jean MacLean (BFA 2011), and Denirée Isabel Mendoza (BFA 2016) wrapped their final show, C U L8R, and are getting ready to move on. From Prince Edward Island, Norma Jean is preparing for a major solo exhibition at the Confederation Centre in Charlottetown in January 2018; Denirée, originally from Venezuela, has a residency lined up at Harbourfront Centre in Toronto; and Selina, from Ottawa, ON, is bound for a residency in Iceland.

“You learn a lot about yourself just coming out of art school and then living in a small town,” said Selina, whose artistic practice includes fashion, photography and painting. “You’re finally independent and that can be scary, but it’s good.”

Selina Latour

Selina Latour with paintings from her series, i love yous.

Soon to take over the studio space—situated in the firetruck bays of the town’s former fire hall–are NSCAD alumni Merle Harley (BFA 2014), Helah Cooper (BFA 2017) and Gillian Maradyn Jowsey (BFA 2017). We are appreciative for the help of Doug Bamford, recently retired as NSCAD’s ceramic technician, in providing accommodations in September while the roof on the fire hall is repaired.

spinning bowl

Deniree Isabel Mendoza marries animation with ceramics in a series of bowls she created over the winter. The bowls can be spun to animate a twig that quickly grows into a tree.

In Dartmouth at the MacPhee Centre for Creative Learning, residents Jessica Lynn Wiebe (BFA 2015), Cinthia Auz Arias (BFA 2016) from Ecuador and Luis Figueroa (BFA 2016) from Venezuela staged their final show, Before the End, in mid August.

For Jessica, having a base at the MacPhee Centre allowed her to push herself artistically in the studio while gaining experience as a teacher by leading workshops for children and youth.

Jessica Lynn Wiebe

Jessica Lynn Wiebe challenged herself during her residency by creating a series of abstracted figurative paintings.

“I gave myself permission to play and experiment. I feel like I am constantly learning,” says Jessica, who served as a soldier in Afghanistan before coming to NSCAD. Her artwork in painting and performance has a focus on war and conflict, and a work exploring the physical experience of war at the Acadia War Memorial in Wolfville (created for UnCommon Common Art in the Annapolis Valley) has been getting national media coverage.

The three artists enjoyed sharing the studio space. Away from NSCAD, they became each other’s sounding boards, cheerleaders and supports.

“We really feel they’re part of our family and we’d love to have them return as facilitators,” said Heather MacDonald, executive director of the MacPhee Centre.

bus passes

Cinthia Auz Arias saved the bus passes she collected throughout her year in residence at the MacPhee Centre.

Incoming residents to the MacPhee Centre are Jenny Yujia Shi (BFA, BA 2015), a painter and printmaker originally from Beijing, China, and Emily Lawrence, an interdisciplinary artist and designer. Headed for the Town of New Glasgow are Curtis Botham (BFA 2017) and Géneviève Brideau (BFA 2017). Tamsin Sloots (BFA 2017) and Trevor Novak (BFA 2017) are bound for Sydney’s Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design.

TD Bank generously supports NSCAD University’s residency program and community initiatives.

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.