BACKGROUND: OCAD University
OCAD University is Canada’s “university of the imagination.” Established in 1876 by the Ontario Society of Artists, the university was originally known as the Ontario School of Art, and was incorporated as the Ontario College of Art in 1912. OCAD U was the first school in Canada dedicated exclusively to the education of professional artists in fine and commercial art. In 1996, it was renamed the Ontario College of Art & Design and in 2010, the name changed to OCAD University, reflecting the institution’s university status. Today, OCAD University is the third largest of the approximately 40 professional art and design universities in North America.
Throughout its distinguished history, OCAD U has been shaped by many of Canada’s leading figures in art and design. One of the institution’s earlier principals, celebrated painter George A. Reid, designed its first purpose-built home on Grange Park, a beautiful Georgian building that to this day is part of the OCAD U campus. The Group of Seven’s Arthur Lismer and J.E.H. MacDonald were once vice-principal and principal, respectively. Many other famous Canadians have taught or studied at OCAD U, including artists Fred Hagan, Jock Macdonald, Michael Snow, Graham Coughtry, Doris McCarthy, Gordon Rayner and, more recently, Colette Whiten, Joanne Tod, Barbara Astman, Gary Neill Kennedy, Ian Carr-Harris, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Rebecca Belmore, George Bures Miller, David Rokeby, Kristan Horton, and Shary Boyle; as well as designers Clair Stewart, Carl Dair, Allan Fleming, Theo Dimson, Ken Rodmell and, more recently, Debbie Adams, Helen Kerr, Anita Kunz, Douglas Ball, Marcos Chin, Donald Stuart, Gary Clement, Gary Taxali, Jeremy Kramer, Floria Sigismundi and Scot Laughton.
The Ontario College of Art & Design Act, passed by the Government of Ontario in 2002, allowed OCAD U to confer on its graduates the degrees of Bachelor of Fine Arts and Bachelor of Design. University status has led to a number of significant institutional changes. These include a renewed undergraduate curriculum, three new graduate studies programs, a new professorial structure for faculty, the introduction of research programs and myriad opportunities for collaboration.
The changes make OCAD University even more distinct in Ontario’s educational sector. OCAD U now delivers art and design education at the undergraduate and graduate levels, integrating studio-based education with historical, critical and scientific inquiry. This unique learning environment draws from its high quality and diverse research practice, which is undertaken with extensive outreach and partnerships. Disciplinary and cross-disciplinary programs offer opportunities for cultural and life-long learning in concert with local, national and international communities.
OCAD U students have the opportunity to learn in what is best understood as a creative “hothouse,” a one-of-a-kind environment dedicated exclusively to visual culture. Innovation and creative work is further inspired by a vibrant community life, situated in a dynamic campus facility. The critically-acclaimed $42.5 million expansion and redevelopment, featuring the Sharp Centre for Design at 100 McCaul Street as well as, acquisitions of properties at 205 Richmond Street West and 230/240 Richmond Street West, is a catalyst for creative risk-taking and new collaborations.
On July 1, 2005, Dr. Sara Diamond joined OCAD U as President, leaving her position at The Banff Centre in Alberta, where she was Director of Research, Banff Centre, and Artistic Director, Banff New Media Institute. She is internationally respected as an artistic director, educator, researcher, critic, video artist, television and new media producer/director, and curator.
Following OCAD U’s unprecedented physical transformation, Diamond led the university through a programmatic transformation and strategic planning process, which culminated in December 2006 with the OCAD Board of Governors approval of “Leading in the Age of the Imagination.”
On May 1 2007, OCAD U introduced the Digital Futures Initiative (DFI), an important interdisciplinary program made possible through a $2 million annual investment by the Government of Ontario, as well as support from industry and education partners. The DFI puts OCAD U at the forefront of education in the 21st century, creating new opportunities for students to study art and design practice using digital technology.
The University’s refreshed vision and mission — and initiatives like the DFI — will ensure that OCAD U fosters a community of students, faculty and alumni who make significant contributions as cultural leaders, educators, innovators, creative thinkers and strategists in the field of emerging technology and in the art and design professions. This community will contribute significantly to local and global cultural initiatives and to knowledge and invention across a wide range of disciplines.