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Get schooled

The first Halifax Free Art School kicks off tonight

There are a lot of ways to learn about art in this city. Home to the oldest art school in Canada, dozens of galleries large and small, art battles, art festivals, art camps, and a myriad of helpful Kijiji ads offering painting lessons, now Halifax is home to one more forum for layperson learning about the often-puzzling and ever-“am I getting this right?”-inspiring Art.

The first Halifax Free Art School will be hosted at the Bloomfield Centre (6pm, multi-purpose room) Thursday, June 20. Touted as a non-hierarchical forum open to anybody over 18, the aim of the first assembly is to “identify and probe broad issues within contemporary art and the issues facing Halifax and vicinity in particular.”

The event will be hosted by Craig Leonard, NSCAD assistant professor and visual artist, but from the description of the event online, it’s clear that the forum hopes to challenge our traditional notions of learning. “The assembly will be run as a talking-circle with no hierarchical structure…The structure of the ‘assembly’ and the role of the ‘facilitator’ will also be open for debate.” Leonard declined to comment until after the event, other than to express his enthusiasm. “I’m optimistic about this. Really looking forward to it.”

Valentyna Onisko is a recent NSCAD graduate who had Leonard as a professor. “This event exemplifies the spirit which is unique to the Halifax art community,” she says. “It’s inspiring to see like-minded people want to get together, putting in their own time and resources to teach and learn from others.”

Halifax’s distinctive visual arts culture has been at risk, however, since the province asked NSCAD to prove its worth and come up with a sustainability plan last year. With NSCAD at real risk of closing, it would dramatically eliminate resources, funding and the community necessary for spurring creative growth.

Onisko, who has relocated to Toronto since graduating, says this has been a very real concern. “Since NSCAD has been struggling financially in recent years there has been a lot of uncertainty about the future of art education. There is anxiety about the possibility of NSCAD losing its independence as an institution and the impact this will have on the cultural landscape of Halifax,” she says.

The free art school is calling itself “an alternative to the conventional pedagogical top-down structure.” While it remains unthinkable to seek out substitutes for the wide breadth of learning NSCAD covers, it can’t hurt to call in reinforcements.

Onisko agrees. “This give me hope that even if funding for institutions such as NSCAD run dry, there are those who believe in the necessity of such learning and will act on a grassroots level to make sure it continues.”

The first Halifax Free Art School will be hosted in the multi-purpose room of the Bloomfield Centre on June 20 at 6pm.

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