NSCAD gallery faces tightening finances

University’s financial problems spur review

Most works at NSCAD’s Seeds Gallery are sold to people looking for up-and coming artists. Photo: Vanessa Ratjen
Most works at NSCAD’s Seeds Gallery are sold to people looking for up-and coming artists. Photo: Vanessa Ratjen

“Save Our Seeds!” cries a poster tacked to a bulletin board at NSCAD University. It is evidence of concerns on campus about the future of the gallery, which showcases student artwork, as the school grapples with a $2 million deficit.

NSCAD’s financial difficulties have put Seeds Gallery, among other services, under review. Marilyn Smulders, director of communications at NSCAD, says there is “no intention of closing the gallery,” but a review is under way that will spark some changes.

Seeds is NSCAD’s not-for-profit commercial gallery and it gives many students their first professional experience with galleries. With funds tightening at the school, the gallery needs to rethink its finances to ensure it survives as a permanent part of the Halifax arts community.

More than 80 students and alumni showcase their work at there. All art mediums are accepted: a sculpture of two-metre-high popsicle sticks leans against a wall and, next to it, a painting of an unusual breakfast scene vibrates with colour. A glass case displays silver and porcelain jewelry, a shelf holds fine ceramics and a corner is dedicated to prints, cards and books.

These pieces have one thing in common: they are all made by NSCAD students and alumni. This little gallery on Marginal Road is the first in Canada to exclusively showcase an art school in a commercial space.

The gallery is more than just a display area, says manager Krista Hull; it’s an important teaching tool for students. Through Seeds, students learn the professional and commercial side of their art 

“It’s just that last step of pushing people out and taking their work into the public domain — learning how to market yourself, learning how to sell your work.”

From the first steps in the process of applying to exhibit, Hull coaches students through gallery procedures and works alongside them through studio visits, pricing and fine-tuning their displays.

NSCAD offers professional practice courses where students learn these skills, but the courses are not mandatory to graduate.

And Seeds offers something else, Hull says. “It’s just that last component where it’s not in a class, it’s the real world.”

Alissa Kloet, a contributing artist at Seeds, says the connection between the gallery and school makes it easier for students to prepare for the next step after graduation. 

“It’s nice having your first experience (in a gallery) with people you know. They’re looking out for the students, not just the gallery.”

Smulders agrees that Seeds is “wonderful for the university, students and alumni.” But, she says, the university is looking at all areas of the school in terms of where to cut costs and improve revenues.

A 2011 Government of Nova Scotia report says NSCAD is “operating at a loss equal to more than 10 per cent of its annual budget,” a deficit of more than $2 million. As a satellite business for the school, Smulders says Seeds is under review and needs to be made more “financially viable.”

Hull says the goal is for the gallery to be self-sufficient, but there is no single solution for tightening up running costs and increasing sales revenue.

She says a meeting on the subject earlier this month led to the creation of a Seeds Advisory Committee — a group of faculty, students and alumni “working with what we have … to brainstorm about what we want Seeds to be.” 

Hull says the gallery’s value is in showing students that a degree from the college is “a valid degree.”

“That’s huge … to show students that it’s important and you don’t need to be a barista after you’ve graduated with a degree. What you’ve learned is important, here’s how to use it.”