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KSA responds to low enrolment with expanded program

Bill Metcalfe
By Bill Metcalfe
May 28th, 2014

Starting in September, Kootenay Studio Arts (KSA) at Selkirk College in Nelson will return to offering a two-year diploma program, adding to the current ten-month certificate that has been its only option for the past two years.

This return to a two-year program is part of an ongoing attempt to solve the problem of declining enrolment. For the past decade, KSA’s programs—blacksmithing, metal casting, ceramics, jewellery and textiles—have run with very low numbers, sometimes with as few as four students in some courses. 

Craft enrolment is down everywhere

“Why numbers are so low, I wish we knew,” says KSA chair Jason Taylor.  “It has been in constant decline, and we can see this all across the province and in Alberta. It has been something we have been trying to answer for a long time.

“The bigger centres like Emily Carr and the Alberta College of Art and Design, they are doing OK, but even they are not full,” Taylor said.

Adding a second year

Starting in September, year one will consist of the current certificate courses, and in year two students will combine existing courses in other Selkirk College programs with a directed studies requirement that will see them spend at least 18 hours a week in their chosen studio. 

The two-year diploma program will make it easier for students to transfer to other schools to continue their studies, says Taylor.

Opening the school to local practicing artists

Another change is the Open Studio Advanced Certificate that KSA experimented with over the past year and will now implement formally.

This will be open to former graduates and other local working artists wishing to use studio space, tools and equipment in the school. They will collaborate with and mentor the regular students, as well as having space to do their own work. 

Taylor says this will open up the campus to the community. “We want our studios full and vibrant and creative,” he said.

Trades versus crafts?

The question of low enrolment remains somewhat of a mystery, however. Taylor says that in other arts programs at Selkirk, the numbers are good.

“In digital arts, we are full for September already, a month and a half earlier than in the past,” he says.

And Selkirk’s fine woodworking program, which exists outside KSA at the Silver King campus, has for many years had full enrolment with waiting lists.

“Maybe woodworking is seen as closer to the trades,” says Taylor.

But he says he wants to bridge the gap between trades and craft.  “I see jewellery as a trade, and blacksmithing was one of the original trades. Textiles and ceramics are highly skilled trades, and I would like them to be seen that way.

“I have done a lot of work with school counsellors, telling them, ‘These are a viable career and they are amazing, useful skills to have.’”

Focus on marketing

Taylor said that when marketing techniques changed over the past decade along with all other aspects of the media, the marketing of KSA did not keep up. He says Selkirk needs to improve its marketing of the program and that there is a new strategy in the works for that.

Selkirk’s new marketing director Maggie Keczan says the new open studio program will help to market the programs locally.

“It will open up opportunities for working artists in the community to come back and hone their skills on independent projects,” she says. “That will create a different target group of users of the space.”

Keczan says the annual year-end student show will be used to get the message out to potential students and their parents. And she said the additional non-craft course options in the second year of the new diploma program are designed to add depth to the program and thereby attract more students.

“Layering on other skills such as digital arts and new media, and some of the writing courses, will take it to the next level,” she said.

“We are taking trips to high schools outside the region,” says Taylor. “And we have just came back from a meeting at Emily Carr, and we have video projects within the next few months showcasing and highlighting what students are doing. Much of the new marketing will be online, on Facebook, on the Selkirk website, and promoting those links with our affiliates.”

Taylor said marketing also involves gaining greater visibility in the local community.

“We are serious about having a more focussed community presence, and it might be things like having booths at the market on Baker. We are looking at having a booth at Shambhala this year, an interactive booth with a forge and kiln. So we are looking at new things, because we are keen on creating a greater community awareness.”

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