KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Neither alumnae, students, faculty or staff think firing popular NSCAD president Aoife Mac Namara was the right thing to do. However, members of the NSCAD Board of Governors, corporate types mostly, with no real connection to the arts community, fired her anyways, for reasons they never divulged.
“She was the first president to ever publicly acknowledge that there is an issue of white supremacy and structural racism at NSCAD,” says Brody Weaver, a NSCAD student, and member of Friends of NSCAD, the ad hoc organization fighting the firing of Dr. Mac Namara. Brody was at a letter writing event outside the Granville Street campus on Thursday, organized by the Friends of NSCAD.
“She also believed that there’s never been an inventory of structural racism at NSCAD. Even that very basic structural work that she was trying to initiate is now not occurring anymore,” Weaver says.
He also points to Mac Namara’s efforts to bring in Dr. Charmaine Nelson, formerly a professor of art history at McGill University, to establish the Institute for the Study of Canadian Slavery in Halifax. The institute is to serve as a hub for the study of art, visual cultures and histories of Canadian slavery and its legacies.
After MacNamara’s firing many members of the African Nova Scotian and Mi’kmaq communities have come forward, speaking about the genuine connections she was able to establish with them in the relatively short time she has been here.
“That was kind of her superpower. She was very, very good at that. When you talk to her, she really listens to you. And she also tended to meet with students who had concerns one on one, that’s pretty well unheard of for a university,” Weaver says.
The Friends of NSCAD are also concerned about how the close ties between the Armour Group and the Board of Directors can be perceived. The Armour Group is the developer interested in buying the Granville Street Campus, but many question whether selling the old campus is the right move at this point in time. The Board’s vice chair, Sean Kelly, is a lawyer with Stewart McKelvey, where he represents that same Armour Group. This raises the perception of a conflict of interest, says Weaver, and that’s not healthy.
The Friends of NSCAD is urging the provincial government to step in and mediate the conflict, and to encourage the board members to resign, or to actually remove the members that the province has appointed.
“We’re saying, well, you have appointed these people and they have caused harm to our institution. Now you need to step in,” Weaver says.
“We’re also writing to Louise Anne Comeau, who is the chair of the NSCAD board and the VP of customer development at Emera. We’re writing to her to demand transparency as to why Aoife Mac Namara was fired, and demand that they reinstate her if they cannot provide a just cause for her termination. And then we’re also asking that Comeau personally step down, because we want to see the board composition change. We want to have at least one third representatives from the local Black and Indigenous arts community, as a counter balance to a very white upper management at the school.”
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