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NSCAD University: Learning with our hands 

How art school prepares us for the future economy

In order to achieve lasting change, we must embrace alternative ways of learning. - DEVON BERQUIST
  • In order to achieve lasting change, we must embrace alternative ways of learning.
  • Devon Berquist

As we learn more about the quiet crisis of unemployability resulting from the shift in the workforce, we must ensure our students are equipped with the necessary skills that lead to long- lasting careers. It is forecasted that Canadians can prepare for the future economy by developing skills that cannot easily be automated, such as critical and creative thinking, coordination, collaboration, social perceptiveness and judgement. The very nature of art school champions the development of these skills, but it also goes a step further. The creative flexibility encouraged in the art school environment allows students to build their skillset while creating real, tangible responses to identified problems.

Collaborating and developing new knowledge
Artists are adaptable, responsive and understand the various technological and material needs required to resolve any given problem. This diverse expertise is indispensable when brought to the table in partnerships. During a recent collaboration between Dalhousie School of Medicine and NSCAD University students, a design-intensive think-tank was facilitated to evaluate the functionality and comfort of hospital gowns. The workshop, led by NSCAD Associate Professor Gary Markle and Dalhousie medical student Saif Syed, resulted in three working prototypes of reimagined hospital gowns that improved the satisfaction and utility of the garment. The viewpoints of medicine and design shaped the decision-making, and these interests intersected with improved ergonomics, patient-focused design and economic viability.

Using material to create change
Throughout NSCAD University, students learn about the makeup of different materials—how materials respond to duress, different temperatures and treatments. With their hands students mold, sculpt, paint, sew, dye, stretch and scratch. This immersion into design and creation helps students and faculty identify appropriate responses to issues that at times can be very complicated.

For instance, mass consumption and fast fashion present incredible burdens on the planet, mostly due to high levels of pollutants and waste that result from these habits. While experimenting with latex, NSCAD Professor Kim Morgan and Markle realized the need for a more sustainable and eco-friendly material as an alternative. This led to the exploration of SCOBY fibre, a mixed culture of yeast and bacteria commonly found in beverages like kombucha. This biodegradable material presented a gateway into thinking differently with different materials. The result is a wider overall examination of bioplastics.

Art school–preparing students for the future
At NSCAD, first-year students must complete foundation courses to expand their understanding of different art and design methodologies. As a result of this holistic approach to learning, students are exposed to expansive options in technology, resources, materials and practice. They learn to think critically, to build and how to be relevant players in the economy. They are makers, connecting communities and strengthening partnerships.

In order to achieve lasting change, we must embrace alternative ways of learning and challenge old ways of knowing.

Investing in and encouraging attendance to art education makes for emboldened graduates who find their place in the workforce. And if the right opportunity doesn't exist, they will create it.

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Vol 27, No 34
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