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Starving for change: NSCAD students and faculty rally in support of fired president

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KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Students don’t tend to care a whole lot when university presidents retire or move on. But they got angry when the NSCAD Board of Governors (BOG) abruptly fired president Dr. Aoife Mac Namara, widely considered the first NSCAD president to take the occurrence of systemic racism at the school seriously.

Students, staff and faculty cared deeply and organized letter writing campaigns, a very successful petition, and an overwhelming vote of non-confidence in the BOG by faculty, culminating in a well attended rally at the old campus on Granville Street earlier today.

“For the first time we had a president who actually cared,” former student Jade Byard Peek told the crowd, speaking remotely from Ontario. “I saw Mac Namara posting on Instagram, and messaging students, saying, I hear you, I’m hearing it from Black people, I’m hearing it from faculty that there is systemic racism here, and we’re going to do something about it, we’re going to change how this institution is run.” 

The rally, organized by Friends of NSCAD, is calling for the removal of NSCAD Board of Governors members and the reinstatement of Dr. Aoife Mac Namara. 

Further demands include that at least one third of members of the NSCAD Board of Governors be BIPOC; tuition waivers for Black Canadian and Indigenous students from now until 2025; increased efforts to hire Black and Indigenous tenured faculty; and the establishment of concrete supports for BIPOC students and faculty on campus.

See also: Friends of NSCAD: Fire the Board of Governors, and reinstate president who tackled structural racism

The Friends of NSCAD are also concerned about how the close ties between the Armour Group and the Board of Directors are being 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, many say. 

For Peek the Granville Campus story illustrates how the Board is interested in making money at any cost, contributing to the gentrification of the North End by allowing development of the nearby Granville Campus in alignment with the development of the nearby Cogswell Interchange.

“We’re making the school only available to the exact same people who are buying all those new condos that are all being propped up. All of these new condos across the city that only white affluent boomers from Ontario can actually afford, and pushing out all the rest of the community and especially the artists who have been continuously practicing art in Halifax for generations,” said Peek.

“I didn’t know what it meant to be a starving artist until I went to NSCAD. Let me tell you, everybody here is starving for change,” Peek said. 

For musician Glenn Turpie, member of the Friends of NSCAD, only the firing or resignation of the entire Board of Governors will clear the air.  

“History tells us that it’s a slippery slope when political or corporate interests have undue influence over the creative processes in art and art institutions. The stifling of art is almost inevitable at that point. While the board continues to operate under a toxic veil of secrecy, there can be no confidence from students and alumni and faculty and the broader arts community. That relationship between the Board and those stakeholders has become an abusive one,” Turpie told the Nova Scotia Advocate.

Continue the pressure, continue to write letters to the provincial government, vote at the coming elections, Turpie suggests when asked what people can do to support the NSCAD students and faculty. Stay tuned, and continue to support the arts community in any way you can, Turpie adds.   

See also: The letter the Chronicle Herald took down: Crisis of confidence in NSCAD Board deepens

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