Old schools

Dal­housie and NSCAD cel­e­brate his­toric birth­days, and look to the past to fig­ure out their fu­tures.



the wall in NSCAD pres­i­dent Dianne Tay­lor-Gear­ing’s of­fice, a scrawled font with steep pitches and val­leys re­peats, “I will not make bor­ing art.” As the school’s 130th an­niver­sary looms closer than the over­sized text, the scene feels rife with ac­ci­den­tal sym­bol­ism: How can such a ven­er­a­ble in­sti­tu­tion en­sure it doesn’t lose its edge?

“We’re very pos­i­tive about the fu­ture and we’re in a very strong po­si­tion for a long, sus­tain­able fu­ture,” Tay­lor-Gear­ing says.

Buoyed by the suc­cess­ful weath­er­ing of NSCAD’s re­cent storms of fi­nan­cial and en­roll­ment worry, she says the school has plans to build a new, fully-ac­ces­si­ble cam­pus sur­round­ing the ex­ist­ing Port cam­pus. The tran­si­tion from the cur­rent, his­tor­i­cally rich Fountain cam­pus on Granville Street has al­ready be­gun. “We put a date: 2019. As charm­ing as the his­toric prop­er­ties are, they’re just not ac­ces­si­ble,” Tay­lor-Gear­ing adds.

Ad­di­tional talk of an Indige­nous gallery space open­ing on the Port cam­pus this Oc­to­ber show an eye on the hori­zon—and that maybe, fi­nally, one of Canada’s last art schools can fi­nally ex­hale.

But of course, NSCAD isn’t the only school in Hal­i­fax blow­ing out can­dles on the cake this year. Dal­housie Univer­sity is cel­e­brat­ing its 200th an­niver­sary in 2017.

And, as NSCAD looks for­ward, Dal­housie seems ea­ger to re­con­sider the prob­lem­atic points of its past. The school is look­ing to re­place its cer­e­mo­nial mace (a sym­bol used in its grad­u­a­tion cer­e­monies, but also as­so­ci­ated with colo­nial­ism)—though as of yet it hasn’t re­ceived an up-to-par sub­mis­sion, de­spite two open calls.

As well, the legacy of founder Ge­orge Ram­say, the ninth Earl Dal­housie, re­mains com­pli­cated. While he pro­claimed Dal­housie was to be a “col­lege for all,” it didn’t ac­cept women un­til 1881, and doc­u­ments record­ing his racist thoughts on Black peo­ple have caused the school to do some much-needed re­flect­ing. A panel formed in 2016 on how to bal­ance such a legacy will share its find­ings at the end of De­cem­ber.

“All uni­ver­si­ties face ques­tions like chang­ing de­mo­graph­ics and en­roll­ment. With these changes, we have to be ex­tra thought­ful about how the univer­sity can ac­com­mo­date change with­out de­stroy­ing its riches and strengths,” says doc­tor Roberta Parker, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at the univer­sity’s School of Per­form­ing Arts.

To her, the fu­ture of Dal in­cludes more pro­gram op­tions al­low­ing stu­dents to col­lect cred­its across univer­sity lines—like in the case of the school’s film mi­nor, which al­lows cour­ses from NSCAD, Saint Mary’s and King’s.

You have to bal­ance hon­our­ing a legacy with mov­ing for­ward, Tay­lor-Gear­ing says, speak­ing of the move to NSCAD’s Port cam­pus. But the thought holds for both in­sti­tu­tions. She adds stu­dents aren’t con­cerned about the Fountain cam­pus’ shut­ter­ing be­ing a loss to the school’s iden­tity.

Through­out the years, NSCAD has “evolved and changed,” she says, “but there’s a real cre­ative com­mu­nity here and when you’re in it, you feel it.”

Parker mir­rors the same thought. “Ev­ery stu­dent of Dal has mem­o­ries of pro­fes­sors and such. For me, Dal­housie’s legacy is about the many gen­er­a­tions of stu­dents.”


Stu­dents walk­ing in the Dal­housie quad in the 1920s.


The Vic­to­ria School of Art and De­sign opened at its first lo­ca­tion in the Union Bank Build­ing, at the cor­ner of Hol­lis and Prince Streets. Anna Leonowen’s son-in-law Thomas Fyshe was the gen­eral manager there.

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