"NSCAD is not just a brand and is not a business. We are a community not a corporation. We require our board and administration to have the skill and the fervour to not only adequately represent NSCAD, but also to fight for it."
These are some of the strong words laid out in the Manifesto for a Vibrant, Strong and Independent NSCAD, which was presented to the board of governors on January 24. More than 100 students interrupted a board meeting, holding placards with manifesto excerpts and reading it in full.
This action was an expression of the rising frustrations felt by students, faculty and staff at the school's continued instability. NSCAD has been heading into the red since 2007, when it opened the port campus.
"We have been incurring operating deficits," says acting president Dr. Dan O'Brien, "and the only way we were able to continue to operate is the government has essentially come forward at the end of the year and has covered our operating deficit. They've indicated in no uncertain terms over a year ago that they were no longer prepared to do that and they instructed the board...to prepare a plan which would outline how we could return to sustainable operations."
This will be the second sustainability plan the board will have produced. The first was called the Framework for Sustainability and it was circulated by the Board of Governors in March of 2012. O'Brien explains that the Sustainability Plan, as it is known, has two parts---the first looked at ways the school could reduce its deficit through increased student fees, cutting classes and reducing its "employee footprint" (number of employees).
The second part asked the Province to fund two more studies: a spacialization study, to see if the school needs all the space it has, and an affiliation feasibility study, that would look at the possibility of merging with other universities.
The first part of the first plan is already in motion. But now the province would like the school to focus on its debt as opposed to its deficit. Sarah Trower, president of the NSCAD student union (SUNSCAD) says students, staff and faculty have been bearing the brunt of the first plan. The manifesto, which will also be presented to the Dexter government, is intended to send a clear message that the NSCAD community will not abide attrition. "I recognize that the board, of which I am a part of as well, is between a rock and a hard place," Trower says. "The government is demanding certain things and the students, faculty and staff feel that those things are wrong but the board needs to do everything that it can to be transparent and it needs to do a better job of explaining to the government why NSCAD is important."
The manifesto demands that NSCAD remain independent, accessible and affordable deriding all cuts and layoffs. It declares the need to maintain all workshops, galleries and facilities as well as mandating a university librarian.
Dr. O'Brien referred to the manifesto as a "wish list" which doesn't take into account "fiscal realities," but Trower maintains that the manifesto is not about wishing so much as it is about preserving: "There are a couple of things in there that we're striving for but for the most part these are things that NSCAD has been for a very long time."
At this point the only way towards a vibrant, strong and independent NSCAD is an increase in support from the province. Trower is hoping the manifesto will help government officials realign their funding priorities. Until then, the manifesto is being screenprinted in red ink.
"I don't know if this one action is going to change the government's mind but it's going to be a sustained effort," she says. "I mean we're an art school, right? The creativity is going to really start flowing."