March 31, 2023
An important takeaway? The New Brunswick College of Craft and Design’s technical foundations and approach to teaching and design are on par with top-ranked art, craft, and design schools around the world.
Since its founding in 1938, NBCCD has redesigned its curriculum and community to support learners in forging sustainable, creative careers. What can often feel like a hidden gem of a college on Canada’s east coast, NBCCD empowers learners that belong in the global fine craft and design industry.
“It felt like we were going to see some of the most amazing things on the planet at Collect, and we did. What stuck with me is that I didn’t feel it was so far removed from the wonderful work happening here in New Brunswick. We had the realization that we do graduate people with the potential to one day exhibit at Collect. Many of our colleagues are already at that level,” said Jewellery/Metal Arts Studio Head Kristyn Cooper.
“The experience has changed me as a person, as a craftsperson, as an educator. I am so full of new ideas and energy.”
Studio Heads Elizabeth Demerson (Ceramics), Jamie Bergin (3D Digital Design), Erica Stanley (Entrepreneurship), Rachel A. MacGillivray (Textile Design), and Kristyn Cooper (Jewellery/ Metal Arts) attended Collect in London, England, while Foundation Visual Arts Studio Head Jillian Acreman and Graphic Design Instructor Kirsten Stackhouse attended the South by Southwest (SXSW) Design Conference in Austin, Texas.
Collect Art Fair
Collect is the leading international fair for contemporary craft and design. Hosted annually in London, England by the Craft Council, it’s a place for contemporary designers and craftspeople to gather, exchange ideas, and view “exceptional work made in the last five years by living artists and designers,” according to the Craft Council’s website.
The five NBCCD Studio Heads who attended from March 2 to 5 said they saw amazing works of textile design, jewellery, metalwork, glass, ceramics, multimedia pieces, 3D printed work, woodworking, baskets, and more at the Somerset House in London. They said they were impressed and inspired by “the use of unexpected materials, playfulness in form, and skilled expertise.”
But they didn’t just visit Collect. London was filled with gems of traditional craft history and innovation, including Stoke on Trent, The Clay College, Central Saint Martins (University of the Arts London), Cockpit Arts, Royal College of the Arts, The Victoria & Albert Museum, and more, all of which they visited.
“We felt continually reaffirmed in the quality of education at NBCCD. There was a reinforcing of the importance of a strong foundation in technical skill, as well as creative exploration,” said Bergin.
Despite being separated by an ocean, Demerson and Bergin noticed the educational outcomes of NBCCD and the Clay College in Stoke-on-Trent are similar.
“It was incredible to see the historical site of Middleport Pottery, a pillar of industrialization in ceramic production, and to witness that historical knowledge uniting with the contemporary college to preserve hands-on ceramic technique, like we do at NBCCD,” said Demerson.
Meanwhile, at the Royal College of Art, MacGillivray talked curriculum with Senior Tutor and Reader in Textiles , Freddie Robbins, and found that they shared many similarities in their approach to teaching. She said she found a “kindred spirit” in Robbins.
“While they are teaching on a larger scale and preparing students for a different industry than we do, the core of our teaching philosophy was the same.”
Upon taking a tour of Cockpit Arts, a London-based artist incubator program, with Head of Business Incubation David Crump, Stanley said that the approaches Cockpit was taking to business and financial planning are the same as those used in NBCCD’s Entrepreneurship Studio. Both institutions start with visual models of planning and dreaming and move gradually into more structured methods of creating career plans.
Both focus on cooperation over competition, something Stanley says is crucial.
“That’s a part of how you survive and thrive in the crafts industry.”
Bergin said the depth of technical knowledge NBCCD students receive was further emphasized by what they saw in London. While some institutions have studio technicians to perform the more technical or risky steps for the students, NBCCD students do it all and learn the entire process of making. To guide students to independence, NBCCD have expert faculty in each studio that assist in the learning and care of the college’s state-of-the-art studio spaces.
In North America, NBCCD offers more hands-on courses than comparative colleges and universities across Canada.
Cooper said NBCCD’s small size and competitive classroom capacity is to thank for its tactile-learning model.
“Our size is our advantage. If you have a huge school where 100 students need to use a piece of equipment, that might not be possible; but because our studios limit enrolment, we’re able to give learners more hands-on experiences.”
“To be able to give real-world experiences and training to our students is so incredibly important and we do it well.” said Bergin.
SXSW Design Conference
Jetting off in another direction, two NBCCD faculty members travelled to Austin, Texas to experience SXSW, a massive annual conference and music festival, focused on film, interactive media, digital media, and professional development for those in the industry.
“SXSW is an essential destination for global professionals, featuring sessions, showcases, screenings, exhibitions, and a variety of opportunities to learn and discover from one of the most diverse, collaborative, and inventive communities in the world,” said Graphic Design Instructor Kirsten Stackhouse.
While Stackhouse focused on discovering the latest in social media, advertising, design and branding, Foundation Visual Arts Studio Head Jillian Acreman focused on unpacking creative process and design and diving into civic engagement and accessible and sustainable design. Acreman said the duo got to hear firsthand what’s coming up across multiple industries.
“It solidified just how connected everything actually is, and this reminder serves me as an educator, curriculum designer, and filmmaker. I’m energized by the whole conference and excited to amplify the classroom with exploratory ideas, experimental practices, civic engagement, and creative problem solving,” said Acreman.
Acreman oversees NBCCD’s first-year program, Foundation Visual Arts (FVA), which is offered on the main Fredericton campus, online, and at the Saint John Arts Centre for learners of all types. FVA is a one-year certificate that launches students into the principles and elements of design, drawing, creative process, and more. Acreman introduced a new class to FVA in September 2023 called Time Design which introduces students to time-based art and design mediums. Time Design is an upcoming avenue in the design industry and NBCCD is the only school to offer a course on it in their foundation year in Canada.
Stackhouse said she brought a lot of knowledge, insight, and perspectives back to share in the classroom from the panels she attended, which will further equip NBCCD students to continue entering the workforce as competitive designers.
“I think there was something relevant from every type of panel I attended that can be harvested and used to empower our students here in New Brunswick to have just as much of an edge as students based in larger, more central cities,” said Stackhouse.
NBCCD offers two certificate and eight diploma programs in the field of Foundation Visual Arts, 3D Digital Design, Ceramics, Fashion Design, Graphic Design, Jewellery/Metal Arts, Photography/Videography, Textile Design, Wabanaki Visual Arts, and Advanced Studio Practice. Throughout students’ technical training, they are introduced to entrepreneurship and take courses in business, marketing, pricing, grant writing, exhibitions, and more. NBCCD graduates have been invited to show their collections at Paris and New York Fashion Shows, have created 3D digital designs for Marvel and Star Wars, have directed prop and wardrobe for Netflix shows and theatre, have been commissioned by U.S. embassies and appeared in international exhibitions. NBCCD fosters a culture of community, creativity, and curiosity for its students, faculty, and staff. Design makes the world. Come make with us.