Too many questions hanging over cuts to Kootenay School of the Arts

I am writing this letter in response to an article in the Nelson Star last week

Re: Drastic program cuts to Kootenay School of Arts Studios in Nelson

I am writing this letter in response to an article in the Star last week that stated that two year studio diploma programs at Kootenay School of Arts will be reduced to one year certificate programs. I am presently a student in the second year of the jewelry and small object design diploma program.

I know that I represent the feelings of many other students at KSA, when I say that I am shocked at this announcement.

There was a meeting with a representative of the Selkirk College administration and students a few days earlier to make this announcement directly to the students. However I wonder about the notice and timing of this meeting as it was a one hour notice for some students of a meeting the same day. The most notice that any student received was one day. Many students were not able to attend on such short notice. I and other students would have wished for more notice for a meeting with such significance, so that we could have arranged to attend in person and ask questions.

Many questions are unanswered:

  1. How will students in a one year program transfer to other programs at other institutions. There are no other institutions with a comparable second year program to transfer into, and at any rate articulation agreements would have to be in place. There are articulation agreements presently for students graduating from the two year diploma program, but none that I am aware of for a one year certificate.
  2. How will the curriculum possibly hope to meet the basic skills and outcomes of the current program, which has already been condensed from a three year program which was in place before the partnership with Selkirk College. Even with a two year program, there are many skills, and tools that we do not have time to learn. It is frustrating to be told for example, that enamelling was deleted from the program because there was not enough time to include it.
  3. We have heard that the studio programs may be moved to other locations. This is particularly troubling. Unlike graduates of other academic programs, many of whom go on to work in groups and teams in government institutions or corporations providing them with a professional and peer network, art school graduates for the most part will go on to work as entrepreneurs in private studios. Their cohorts during their art school education are a very important resource for support during their initial years of establishing a studio practice and business. Within the 2 year educational environment at KSA there is a rich tradition of multi-disciplinary sharing between the students in the various studios.

I now wish to speak as a personally interested party in the future of the Kootenay School of Art. My family was involved at the very beginning of KSA over 50 years ago. My father and mother, Zeljko and Ann Kujundzic were involved in the establishment of KSA as a year round school, which even in its infancy offered a diploma program. The first diplomas were printed by hand on a press at the original site of the school on Baker Street. It has a long history of decline and resurrection, with Selkirk College being the instrument of its last demise. Through the extreme dedication and hard work of many Nelson and area residents it was again rebuilt in the fine tradition of the original school.

I truly hope that the city of Nelson and its residents will speak up against this latest attack. From its first year in 1960, the school attracted students from all across North America because of the excellence of the instructors, which exists to this day. Selkirk College in my opinion, should be focussed on enrollment strategies and marketing to appropriate arts venues, rather than gutting the program, which will likely result in the second decline and expiration of the school. KSA could perhaps look at other partnerships that might be more sensitive to the particular needs of applied art programs, for example Emily Carr.

There are opportunities to enhance the studio programs to increase enrollment. Many schools have opportunities for independently directed studies, under the mentorship of the instructors which would have the benefit of filling any empty studio spaces. There are opportunities for advanced studies in those areas where the program was cut to fit it into a 2 year program instead of the former 3 years. Even in the local region of the province there are many who have not heard of the school, or understand what the programs are.

In summation: some thoughts on KSA – what it provides for our community, and what might be some ideas for the future.

First, I think one of the real strengths is that the programs are preparing and enabling people to use natural resources to create functional, and aesthetically pleasing goods for sale. This is a primary driver of any economy. Many of the graduates from KSA become small business entrepreneurs. In some cases these businesses grow to an international level and contribute to the local economy in a very significant way – many businesses on Baker Street and throughout the region are a result of successful graduate entrepreneurs.

In other cases the graduates have gained the high level skills and artistry to gain employment in such well known productions as Cirque de Soleil, or working on the production of the new Lord of the Rings movie – The Hobbit. It amazes me that the College does not highlight and provide accolades for KSA faculty and programs that produce such excellent graduates. These results should be promoted through the marketing plan.

I think that KSA is serving its niche presently, a substantial problem is that even people who live in Nelson and the region don’t know enough about the school and the programs it offers. The deficiency is not with the curriculum and programs, it is more about recruitment which would advertise the employment and entrepreneurial prospects for graduates,

How to get recruits? Some suggestions:

1. Since the programs are skill based, and prepare students with the business basics – why are there no wage subsidy agreements with provincial and federal Skills and Training programs for students in these courses? I suggest that the College pursue this option.

2. Marketing has to highlight the accomplishments of graduates, and also the very talented instructors in KSA programs.

3. Exhibit/Sale display space for student work in high traffic areas in local communities to raise awareness of the work produced at the school. Students would also benefit financially from having outlets to sell their work.

Program/curriculum revision thoughts:

There are some specialties in the studios which the reduction to a 2 year program has eliminated, or at the very least reduced the depth of investigation – these could possibly be offered as shorter term intensive courses – for example advanced course in hydraulic press, advanced course in enameling, advanced course in stone setting. Other studios would have other examples.

If there is an empty space or bench in a studio perhaps it might be offered to a practitioner in the field who needs access to equipment in the school, on a monthly rental basis. This could be considered an advanced self-directed studio course. These people might also be able to provide some community and mentorship to beginning students.

Consider expanding and advertising part-time student options for mature students, or for people not fully employed who are considering a new career. My experience is that many local people don’t know that it is possible to sign up for less than a full studio program.

A very significant strength of the KSA programs is that they are STUDIO based. Most of the learning is hands on. Historically this carries on the tradition of the guilds and is a very important aspect of the school. As in other disciplines, new technologies are available for study, again this points in an expanded rather than reduced curriculum. Finally, there are currently transfer agreements in place for students to continue on with further studies at other post secondary institutions if they so choose. This provides alternative career paths for graduates of the diploma program.

In conclusion: Selkirk College needs to celebrate and promote its partnership with Kootenay School of the Arts – and to provide sufficient resources for a successful future. KSA has contributed to the culture and development of Nelson for over fifty years – it’s doing a lot that’s right and may thrive with some minor re-tuning rather than extreme surgery.

I urge the citizens of Nelson and the area to make their voices heard by the Selkirk College Administration and Board.

Kate Enewold, Nelson