I am writing to update the OCAD University community on our plans for Grad Ex 105.
First, I would like to thank everyone for their understanding with respect to our original decision to cancel the 2019-20 Graduate Exhibition event that normally runs at the end of the winter term. The onset of the pandemic, the enormous popularity of Grad Ex with the general public, and the challenge of navigating our spaces within an uncertain pandemic context gave us no choice.
Shortly thereafter, I convened a Task Force led by Associate Dean of the Faculty of Design Melanie Hope and former Dean of Faculty of Art, Vladimir Spicanovic. The Task Force membership drew from across the university and included staff, faculty and students who had a passionate stake in seeing Grad Ex move forward in a way that would be possible under the pandemic circumstances we still find ourselves in. The composition of the committee can be found in the report submitted to me on behalf of the Task Force.
The Grad Ex Task Force did a significant amount of work over the summer months to meet regularly, consult with colleagues and students, and think through what form the showcase of our graduating students work might take. There are a number of considerations that have impacted the proposals from the Task Force. Although Toronto is now in Stage Three of the Province’s re-opening plan, physical distancing is still necessary and gathering sizes are still restricted. And we need to be prepared that we may move back into Phase Two at any time. With this reality in mind, we need to design Grad Ex 105 in a way that ensures it is future-proofed and can be safely produced against a resurgence of COVID-19 or even within the current context.
I, in collaboration with my colleagues on the Executive Team, have considered the proposals submitted to me by the Task Force and see an exciting potential for the 2019-20 Graduate Exhibition to move forward with three distinct opportunities for community engagement:
- Public Exhibitions: This aspect of Grad Ex will allow the public to view art and design works by graduating students in physical spaces. Members of the Task Force, as well as President Ana Serrano, have been cultivating relationships with public partners who are enthusiastically encouraging us to install the work of our graduates on their sites. Possibilities include storefronts, public projections, public sites outside to name a few.
- Virtual Showcase: An online platform will be developed that will serve as a presentation hub. This digital engagement platform will provide professional networking opportunities for our 2019/20 graduates and will have compelling and transformative power for graduating students. It will have the potential to be both an exhibition venue and an e-commerce vehicle allowing grads to showcase their work to art and design professionals nationally and internationally, as well as their peers, families and friends. I will acknowledge that some programs have already undertaken this process and developed a web presence for their students. How these sites might be folded into the new platform can be discussed with the production team.
- Grad Ex LIVE: This aspect of Grad Ex would feed into the new OCAD U LIVE channel recently communicated by President Serrano. 2019/20 graduates who had final work(s) in-progress, and who were unable to complete their projects due to the constraints of the pandemic, will have an opportunity to present and describe these projects to the public through video segments that will be broadcast on the LIVE channel. This unique venue will allow these students to create an intimate dialogue about their process for the public, and to discuss where they anticipate their art and/or design practice will go in the future.
Each of these distinct and related channels for distribution of the work of our accomplished 2019/20 graduates will require resources. The university is committed to providing these. The Grad Ex Task Force has made recommendations regarding the staffing required to undertake the work of mounting the re-visioned Grad Ex 105. Having looked carefully at these, I am following the recommendations of the Task Force and will create two related streams of support:
i. 2019/20 Grad Ex Producer: We are committed to retaining production expertise to support the three aspects of the Grad Ex strategy. This position (and/or team) will provide guidance and direction for the Curatorial/Design Team to assist them and students in determining which of the three opportunities for presentation they would most benefit from participating in.
ii. Curatorial/Design Team: OCAD University has enormous expertise in Curatorial knowledge and Exhibition Design, among our faculty, students and alumni. The Curatorial/Design team will be comprised of recent graduates and current faculty who will work with the Producer, Chairs, GPDs and program faculty to create a compelling and exciting artistic vision and direction that is characteristic of the excellence we are known for, and maximizes the potential of each of the above formats as well as their synergies.
Additionally, there will be good opportunities for our students to be engaged in this reconceptualization of Grad Ex. As the coordination of the event develops, positions for students will emerge and will be posted. We anticipate graduating students will be very involved in the production of Grad Ex 105. Faculty, in particular Chairs and GPDs, will be engaged much as in the past by helping to organize their programs and guiding students as they make decisions about what they plan to present. The University’s Marketing and Communications team will lead promotion of this reconceptualized Grad Ex 105.
Given that some part of the re-fashioned event will enable description and discussion of unfinished work, or presentation of new work completed off campus, and given that the pandemic’s continued grip makes it challenging to safely re-open our facilities, we will not be enabling access to the Fabrication Centre and studios to facilitate completion of any unfinished 2019/20 projects. This may come as disappointing news, but we have established the safety of our students, faculty and staff as the paramount concern by which to assess re-opening capacities. There are other considerations underway with respect to accessing campus specifically for retrieving unfinished work.
Timeline: As is evident from the description above, mounting this event will be demanding at a time when all of us are working hard to do something else that we have never done before: offer a full term of art and design education remotely. However, the sentiment expressed by the Task Force, and by anyone I have encountered as we have discussed Grad Ex 105, is that there is a deep commitment move forward with an opportunity for our 19-20 graduates to showcase their work in formats that honour their efforts to produce outstanding art and design. Considering the time it will require to identify the teams and staff working on these three formats of display, and the time for graduates to forward work, the event will likely launch in late Fall, and/or early in the new year.
There is much more to be said on this, and I am sure many questions will result from this message, but I wanted to inform the community of our collective commitment to Grad Ex 105 and about the exciting direction this is taking.
In closing, I want to thank the Co-Chairs of the Grad Ex Task Force Melanie Hope and Vladimir Spicanovic for their diligent work with the committee in producing a proposal that assisted all of us in seeing Grad Ex move forward. I want to thank all the members of the Task Force, staff, faculty and students, for their devotion to this event, and for giving their time during this challenging period in all of our lives.
Vice-President Academic and Provost, OCAD University