Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Whither the Awesome, OCAD?

It's no secret that I love Canada. It's not an us-versus-them thing; I genuinely like living in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and even though people are quick to point out that it's not the same as New York (right) or Chicago (I know) or Boston (natch), Toronto is still my home. All home to both awesome cultural and education institutions, my city fits in, albeit with a different sensibility and a lot more parkas.

But what's the deal with OCAD?

I'm not shitting on The Ontario College of Art and Design as an school. Obviously, there are skills to be learned and trades to be honed. A fine, if over-accessoried, group of young people make up its student body; they are my friends and my Torontonian compatriots. But OCAD as a presence in the city is kind of...lame.

For comparison's sake, let's look at the Savannah College of Art and Design. They have an amazing array of programs, ranging from fibre art to video game design. You can get a Ph.D in comic books (they call it sequential art, but that's pretentious bullshit), you can minor in playwriting, and you can live in downtown Savannah while you do it. Savannah, a city bursting with parks, fixed gear bicycles and cupcake stores, is a gorgeous place to do an arts degree. The city is green in February and full of antebellum mansions.

That Toronto isn't blooming in the winter, or studded with pre-Civil War architecture, isn't exactly the city's fault. But OCAD is located in the heart of downtown Toronto, in a neighbourhood (Queen Street) known more for awesome teeshirts than great works of art. It's a commercial, not artistic, zone. I know - OCAD backs onto the AGO, but let's face it: a provincially sponsored museum isn't going to be filled with art from the emerging- and under-25 artist set.

Not only is OCAD rolling back some of its most interesting programs (it's been a slice, ceramics), but there's zero school presence in the city at large. OCAD doesn't sell school swag - you can't buy a mug or teeshirt emblazoned with the new building or the school acronym. I saw dozens of SCAD sweatshirts in Savannah, while I've never seen so much as a poster for Toronto's art school.

Nor does OCAD lend its students and graduates a helping hand. SCAD has a beautiful store devoted to selling its newly-made artifacts, and OCAD could benefit enormously from doing the same. The stuff it sells is gorgeous; furthermore, the store is staffed by students and grads who can actually talk about the work. The whole experience feels grassroots and organic, not sterile or commercialized.

Universities are constantly struggling for cash, and very few of them produce graduates who produce saleable work. OCAD is an exception, but seems unwilling to help itself out. It would be a boon to debt-ridden students, a potential money-maker for the school, and a way to imprint the college onto the landscape of Toronto itself. Allowing the school and the city to interact - even if it's through commercial enterprise - might mean the difference between school pride and apathy, and between cancelling programs and adding new ones.

So get with it, OCAD! Don't let Savannah push you around. Let's see some of those hand-embroidered pillows and those woodblock prints. Let's get that big ugly building on a tee shirt, and let's showcase your students and their place in the city. Those Southerners don't know what it means to rough it, either in the dead of winter or in an artistic dead zone; it's too bad that OCAD students know all too well.

1 comment:

  1. I tried to comment before, but somehow managed to hit the post comment button.

    Anyways, this post inspired a really fun idea that I had for the OCADSU to pursue in the coming years, though I won't be around to see its fruition, I'm going to float the concept at our upcoming board training and see if people are serious about taking it on.

    We have XPACE - student and professional artwork on Queen street, it's great! The Student Union began XPACE and it has become what it is because of the hard work of a few dedicated students over the years, I'm hoping we can make something similar with a slightly different twist, being for the OCADSU to take on a retail space on McCaul and turn it into a cafe/boutique where students can put on shows of their artwork and sell their wares, while people have a cool place to chill.

    There aren't many places on campus for students to comfortably hang out where they aren't sandwiched in between others trying to get assignments done. Few spaces actually dedicated to hanging out and exchanging discourse about art, design, ocad, the toronto art scenes etc. And while there are a few places for students to be able to show their artwork in an exhibition (not enough), there really isn't a venue for students to start selling artwork.

    The space could be manned with internships for things such as curating, and OWSP positions for things such as managing the shop. Students can make some money, get some exposure, learn more about the practical side of selling their stuff (what that means in terms of filing taxes, etc), and any profit the centre makes can go back into quality of life improvements for students on campus. Many other student unions in the GTA operate other businesses that they use to generate revenue to go back into their programming, and I'd really love to see the OCADSU start doing the same.

    Thanks for the idea!

    Cheers :)