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Art of survival 

As development plans for the new NSCAD campus evolve, some current students are feeling neglected. Christopher Vaughan reports.

In the four years Paul Greenhalgh has been president at NSCAD, the school has seen some major changes. Student enrollment has increased from about 600 to 1,000 students. It has begun development of a new campus along the Halifax waterfront, which will house programs such as sculpture, ceramics and glass. And the new fashion and film departments will take up space in the previously cramped Historic Properties location.

Now, as Greenhalgh announces he’s leaving to become director and president of the Corcoran Gallery of Art and College of Art and Design in Washington, DC, many of his students are left behind trying to complete their final assignments.

In the ceramics department, many students are having trouble with their projects. It’s not their fault. Rather, it’s because four of the eight kilns are not working and budget cutbacks are preventing the department from getting new ones.

In its efforts to expand the university, student union president Lyndall Musselman says, NSCAD’s administration is ignoring the interests of current students.

“Their technician is working really hard to keep them working,” says Musselman of the ceramics department resources. “But it’s a matter of deteriorating equipment and having no money to buy new kilns.”

She says while money is being spent on a new campus facility alongside Pier 21, many current students are working with outdated equipment and the possibility many final projects won’t get finished by the end of the semester.

“It’s building a sense of distrust and disenchantment with administration because there’s these big plans for expanding the university,” says Musselman. “And we’re concerned that some areas of the campus and current facilities might be neglected.”

She says in the textiles department, machinery is broken and students are forced to send their projects elsewhere to be completed.

Musselman also says in the printmaking department, it is technically impossible for some students to finish their assignments because there are too few resources.

“Professors are having to consider lowering the standards so people can get their work done,” she says.

Deborah Carver, NSCAD’s executive director of development and special projects, says the university is aware of faltering equipment and its effects on the academic life of students.

“Part of what we’re doing is finding money for the new campus,” says Carver. “But in addition we recognize that there’s lots of other things that need to be upgraded as well.”

Musselman says students tried to raise their concerns to the administration in a November forum, but she wonders if it will do much good.

“A lot of these complaints get lost in the bureaucracy with the department heads,” says Musselman. “It’s a rather high-stressed environment these days.”

Carver says the administration listens to the students’ issues. “The student concerns when presented to the university are always taken very seriously,” says Carver. “They are part of the decision-making of the university.”

Musselman says even with these problems, there is a need for the school to expand. She says that some classes are crowded and there is not enough space for all students to complete their work. She says the new departments, such as film and fashion design, are especially struggling right now with limited space.

The new campus will expand to Shed 21, a two-story building alongside Pier 21, and will accommodate around 50,000 square feet of classroom and studio space. It is expected to be ready by February 2007. Carver says the budget for construction alone is around $7 million and will be raised from private and public sources.

When the university moved to the downtown Historic Properties buildings in the 1970s, there were fewer than 400 students. Today there are nearly 1,000 people studying there.

“For the most part, we are moving departments that already exist into new spaces,” says Carver. She says that newer departments, such as fashion design, will also find a permanent home within the university. She also says some of the money raised during the expansion will go into improving already-existing departments.

Musselman says this is of little comfort to current students trying to finish their assignments right now.

“Maybe younger brothers and sisters who attend NSCAD will get to enjoy this lovely new facility,” she says. “But in the meantime, students just have to do the best with what they have.”

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