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OCAD University celebrates Dr. Sara Diamond’s contributions as outgoing President

Dr. Sara Diamond
Dr. Sara Diamond

Passionate. Visionary. Collaborative. Innovator.

These are just some of the words that people use when describing OCAD University’s President and Vice-Chancellor Dr. Sara Diamond. She has led the institution through remarkable change and transformation during her 15-year tenure that comes to an end on June 30 when she steps down in her current role to become President Emerita.

While retaining OCAD U’s traditional strengths in art and design, Dr. Diamond has guided the University to become a leader in graduate education, research and digital media. She has also led collaborative efforts to strengthen equity and diversity and to support Indigenous cultures, research and decolonization.

Her efforts to forge novel partnerships that erase the borders of different industries have helped students to develop both an innovative mindset and the soft skills to advocate for change. In fact, 94 per cent of OCAD U graduates are employed in all areas of our economy, including technology, health care, finance, industrial design, manufacturing and the automotive sector.

She has nurtured young artists and designers through OCAD U’s unique Imagination Catalyst, a design-led incubator that included the venture-supported Imagination Catalyst Fund to support start-ups. It is now a component of the Centre for Emerging Artists and Designers, a dynamic environment that supports students and recent alumni’s experiential learning, internships, and professional and business skills development.

Dr. Diamond has put students first throughout her presidency, welcoming them into her home for Dining with Diamond, holding open office hours, and significantly strengthening student support services and experiential learning.

When Dr. Diamond took the helm in 2005, the University was still in its infancy as a university, a status granted in 2002.

With an eye on charting a course for the future, Dr. Diamond led the development of three strategic plans with resulting scorecards and metrics, a new vision and mission, and a new name with a new brand. She initiated capital and digital infrastructure strategies and implementation plans with multi-year forecasts.

Last year’s decision by the Ontario government to give OCAD University full-degree granting authority was a tremendous achievement, and the culmination of diligent work and perseverance by Dr. Diamond and members of the OCAD U community.

Dr. Diamond focused her efforts to make OCAD U a destination of choice for Canadian and international students. Over the past 15 years, enrolment has grown by 37 per cent. At the graduate school level, the University now offers seven programs with 319 graduate students.

She spearheaded the creation of the University’s research program, which has received significant recognition over the years, as well as funding from national granting agencies. The University received its first-ever Tier 1 Canada Research Chair appointment in 2016 and there are now two additional Tier 2 Canada Research Chair appointments with one pending. She was also successful in advocacy efforts to have digital media and ICT part of Ontario’s research priorities, and design included in federal research funding.

Today, OCAD University boasts of high quality, diverse research practices that are undertaken with extensive outreach and partnerships, including unique research in inclusive design, health and design, and sustainable technologies and design. Dr. Diamond has been an active researcher, leading the Visual Analytics Laboratory at OCAD University since its inception over a decade ago.

As part of the successful Ignite Imagination campaign, she worked alongside cabinet members to raise close to $70 million to support OCAD U in building and renewing its infrastructure; enhancing the student experience, including scholarships, awards and bursaries; fostering faculty innovation and research; and enriching academic programming. She is an avid art collector whose home is filled with works by OCAD U alumni, faculty and students.

She initiated the creation of OCAD U CO, a commercialization entity for the university that was launched in 2019, located on the Daniels Waterfront - City of the Arts. This executive training studio helps industry leaders and their teams use creative problem-solving to drive innovation and change.

Revitalizing and Expanding the Urban Campus

OCAD U’s campus looks much different compared to 15 years ago when Dr. Diamond joined the institution – a reflection of her collaborative leadership that has focused on putting students first.

Today, the revitalized campus includes a complete refresh of McCaul St. through the Creative City Campus project, including the renovated Fabrication Centre (100 McCaul St.) and the Rosalie Sharp Pavilion, (115 McCaul St.) that welcomes students and graduates to work, create and collaborate and houses the Experiential Learning Centre, renovations to George Reid House, the Fabrication Centre, and the renewal of library and studio space at 113 McCaul St.

At the official opening of the Fabrication Centre in late February 2020, Dr. Diamond told those gathered for the occasion: “This state-of-the-art centre is the heart of our university. We are now providing our diverse students with the knowledge they need so they can be even more of a driving force in our economy and society when they graduate.”

Dr. Diamond also initiated and successfully created the 14,000 square foot Campus for the Connected World in the Daniels’ City of the Arts on Toronto’s waterfront. She led the acquisition and development of OCAD U’s Richmond Street West campus.

Throughout all of these initiatives, her approach has been innovative and recognized the power of collaborative partnerships, especially with developers and governments.

Her entrepreneurial spirit was evident in the campus expansion by leveraging the City of Toronto’s Section 37 program. Through this program, the University gained Onsite Gallery, an 8,000-square-foot professional gallery at 199 Richmond St., which opened in September 2017; three apartments on Simcoe Street to house visiting artists and curators; and the inclusion of 25,000 square feet for OCAD U in the Mirvish/Gehry/Great Gulf development on King Street West slated to open in 2023.

Supporting Indigenous Arts, Culture and Rights

Dr. Diamond is well-known for her long-term support for Indigenous arts, culture and rights in Canada and at OCAD University.

Under Dr. Diamond’s leadership, the Indigenous Education Council, formerly known as the Aboriginal Education Council, was created. Since its inception in 2008, this Council has directed efforts to create undergraduate and graduate programs and services, culture and research throughout the University.

The University was also successful in efforts to create Canada’s first Tier One Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Visual Culture and Curatorial Practice held by Dr. Gerald McMaster at OCAD University. The University also welcomed The Honourable James K. Bartleman as the University’s second Chancellor and Canada’s first Indigenous Chancellor.

The Presidential Task Force on Under-representation of Indigenous and Racialized Faculty was an important undertaking, which led to important initiatives to increase Indigenous and racialized faculty and staff numbers with the Indigenous Cluster Hire and the Black Cluster Hire. These are precedent-setting hiring strategies in the university sector, and we are now seeing other institutions follow OCAD University’s lead.

Digital Futures

Dr. Diamond led a proposal to the Ontario government for the Digital Futures Initiative and was successful in securing funding, which the University still receives to this day to support our digital capacity. The University now offers an undergraduate and graduate program in Digital Futures.

She secured $9 million to create and fund the Digital Media Research and Innovation Institute with matching funds from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation. The Institute supported research excellence, building skills and creating jobs for the creative and knowledge economies in the realm of information and communication technologies (ICT)/digital media and has provided the underlying impetus for OCAD U’s current research labs.

She has supported the development of many Canadian digital media and ICT companies and start-ups through the activities of the Banff New Media Institute, the Banff New Media Accelerator, the Interactive Project Laboratory and OCAD U’s Imagination Catalyst Fund.

She has contributed to Canada’s digital strategy, including serving as a member of Industry Canada’s researcher roundtable and Canada’s Digital Economy roundtable and participated in Industry Canada’s Digital Media Technology Road Map.

Fostering Collaborative Partnerships

She has worked tirelessly to create a strong network of partnerships in Toronto, nationally and internationally across many private and public sectors. This includes the cultural sector, design industries, ICT industries, developers, the health sector and government.

Her passion for showcasing the importance of art and culture, not only in education, but within the city, is demonstrated through her work to redefine public art in Toronto. In collaboration with the University of Toronto, she led independent research on the history and current policy and practices in the realm of public art which resulted in policy and practice recommendations to the City of Toronto.

This resulted in the City of Toronto undertaking a review of its public arts policy and adopting many of the recommendations in the report, Redefining Public Art in Toronto. A Year of Public Art will launch in 2021, with Dr. Diamond appointed by the Mayor of Toronto to serve as Co-Chair of Toronto’s Year of Public Art Advisory Committee.

She currently serves as Chair of Nuit Blanche Toronto Advisory Committee (and has served as Chair, since its founding year).

At the same time, she has provided her expertise and support to the university sector in various capacities. This includes serving as Vice-Chair of the Council of Ontario Universities, serving as chair of the Association of Canadian Institutions of Art & Design and serving as a member of the Executive of the international organization, Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design, and Universities Canada.

Awards and Accolades

Dr. Diamond has received several honours throughout her career, including the Order of Canada and the Order of Ontario.

She was named the 2019 Digital Media Pioneer at Digifest last year in Toronto and in 2017 was among the Inspiring 50: Advancement of diversity of STEM fields identified by Government of Netherlands and Senate of Canada. In 2017, she was among Canada’s 150 Women leaders and among Toronto’s Life 50 most influential people in 2014.

This fall, she will be honoured by Simon Fraser University (SFU) when she receives an honorary Doctor of Science in recognition of her substantial contributions to art, education and technology policy in Canada, and will be recognized as an Exceptional Woman of Excellence at the Women’s Economic Forum, to be awarded at the United Nations.

Fabrication Centre re-opening
OCAD U celebrates the opening of its newly renovated Fabrication Centre with student Stoyan Barakov, Sara Diamond, President and Vice-Chancellor, OCAD University, MPP David Piccini and Jaime Watt, Chair, Board of Governors, OCAD University (February 25, 2020)