The Last Art College: the exhibit

On Friday we went to an opening at the Art Gallery of NS of a big exhibition with a long name: The Last Art College: Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, 1968-1978.  If you are unfamiliar with the art produced during that period you may not instantly “enjoy” the exhibit, but if you want to understand a time when Halifax was a centre of the contemporary art world, this is your big chance.

At the opening many folks of my generation were remembering with Boomer grade nostalgia the confusion and energy of that moment. Made me look for pieces of ephemera I’d saved  and I’ll use those to try and give a little context.

The bright 60s had included colourful Pop Art and dizzying Op Art but had not prepared us for the Conceptual Art that made the College famous. Often an artwork was just a set of instructions or a performance or a poor quality video. This announcement for a a 1974 exhibit by Doug Waterman, then a recent NSCAD graduate, gives you the idea.


Many of you will not realize that the Art College during most of this time period was located at the corner of Coburg Road and LeMarchant Street. There was a big old building that had been a church hall (where I had attended Sunday School and Cubs) attached to a new “tower” of 5 or 6 stories. The ground floor of the new section was the  Anna Leonowens Gallery with a wall of north facing windows (where Doug Waterman would have been thinking about a wall). That space was pictured in this 1971 exhibition announcement.


A similar view was used in this 1970 poster designed in the International Style by Gerhard Doerrié, a German born and trained professor in the Design faculty.


When it came to type faces only Helvetica or typewriter need apply.

This is a cover of a brochure for the NSCAD Lithography Workshop. Many well known artists came to make prints here, and in the current Art Gallery exhibition you’ll see a selection of weird and wonderful  old favourite lithographs that we grew up seeing around the Collage.


One of the most accessible units of the current show has 36 photographs of corner stores in Halifax . Here is the poster for the original installation in 1972.


Allan MacKay, the director of the Anna Leonowens Gallery, had the idea of photographing these stores all from the same angle and my buddy Lionel Simmons took the pictures. It felt like a very clever art concept at the time and the meaning of the collection becomes more valuable as time passes. The photos were printed in a treasured little publication. Here is a sample spread.

January 20162-001

Halifax likes it when famous people come to town, the only problem being that most of the top figures in the art world who visited NSCAD were not exactly household names. This little book of six post cards documented an installation by French artist Daniel Buren who worked with stripes.  Today I like his stripes attached to the side of a Granville Street building and his chance record of a forgotten parking lot. (You can see all the images in the AGNS exhibit).

January 2016

Garry Kennedy was the President of NSCAD and the enabler of this Renaissance. He has written a book that documents the time, and it provides the title and is the muse for the AGNS exhibit.  Sheila and I once heard Garry Kennedy say art is “special and difficult” and we’ve found this a useful catch phrase for the last 40 years.  Do visit the exhibit, maybe sample it a couple of times. You might find it difficult but I hope you also find it special.


During some of the ascendancy of NSCAD I attended Dalhousie University next door and enjoyed taking photos for my student newspaper.  In 1971 Ian Murray, a NSCAD student, organized an exhibit in the Anna Leonowens called Attitudes Towards Photography and invited me to participate. Most of the others in the show were recent art college graduates or teachers at the college.  The exhibit announcement was yet another image of the empty gallery.


I really don’t remember what was in the show but I suspect there was as much “attitude” as there was “photography.” Here is one of the photos I showed that Ian particularly liked.


You get the picture.

About the author

Stephen Archibald

It’s Stephen Archibald doing the noticing. I’m a huge fan of Nova Scotia’s material culture and cultural landscapes. Twitter (@Cove17 ) made me realize I could share what attracted my attention (perfect for my very short attention) and I’m gratified when folks enjoy my content. Pleased to meet you on the internet.