Design students get immersed in Gaelic culture
December 2, 2011

Design students Nadine Purdy, Aradavan Mirhosseni and Yoana Ilcheva have proposed a bilingual Gaelic and English newspaper.
Aradavan Mirhosseni is from Iran, Yoana Ilcheva from Bulgaria, and Nadine Purdy from Truro.

Together, the NSCAD design students are brainstorming what they can do to help to sustain and enhance Gaelic language and culture in Nova Scotia. During the last class of the term, they’ll present their concepts to members of the Gaelic community and cap off their four-month immersion in all things Gaelic with a ceilidh.

“This class is all about community connections,” says Nadine. “You can google this kind of thing all you want, but at the end of the day, it’s really about understanding and asking questions and listening. As designers, we believe design is not just the physical product you come up with but also the emotion behind it.”

The class, Designing for the Nova Scotia Gaelic Community (Design 4101), was initiated by a meeting with Lewis MacKinnon, CEO of the Office of Gaelic Affairs, who was seeking ideas on how to raise the profile of Gaelic in the province. It’s taught by Professor Marlene Ivey, who is already engaged in a research project—An Drochaid Eadarainn (The Bridge Between Us)—with the Gaelic community.

There are 14 students in the class who represent a broad cultural spectrum—with ethnic backgrounds including Chinese, Korean, Finnish, Polish and Quebecois.

“The challenge is to understand the mental landscape of the Nova Scotia Gaelic community and then to look at the issues or problems that they could address through design,” explains Prof. Ivey, an interdisciplinary designer who recently returned to Nova Scotia after 23 years in Scotland.

Split up into three groups, the students have devised three quite distinct concepts: one a Gaelic/English newspaper; a “Gaelic gateway,” a gathering place and cultural centre with a kitchen at its very heart; and a youth conference.

“What I liked about doing this is that this is a real project, not just a class project that we hand in to our professor and it stops there,” says Yoana. “If we could really help in some way that would make us very happy.”

Her group came up with the idea of a newspaper written in both Gaelic and English—“a physical media that provides a real sense of belonging,” says Nadine. It’s based on a newspaper Yoana knew of which serves the Bulgarian community in Chicago.

Seumas Watson, the manager of interpretation at the Nova Scotia Highland Village in Iona, is impressed by the students and the commitment and imagination they demonstrated. He was one of the guest speakers invited to speak to the students and talked about how the Gaels ended up in Nova Scotia.

“I think it was an eye-opener for them—these are students coming not only from different cultures but different hemispheres,” he says. “But it was an eye-opener for us too and a real opportunity for us to get messages out that are authentic … this will help the community to look at themselves in new ways and with greater confidence.”

He also believes what the students learn about one culture and way of life will be applicable to other design projects. And Prof. Ivey agrees, whether those future projects are for another community—say aboriginal—or another type of culture, say corporate.

“This is a process of investigating and getting purchase on a culture very different from your own and now they have those skills,” she says.

The students will present their concepts on Thursday, Dec. 8, 1:30 p.m. in the Merkin Gallery, in the North Block (1895 Granville Street) of NSCAD’s Granville Campus. In attendance will be the guest speakers for the class: Lewis MacKinnon, Seumas Watson, Gaelic teacher Shay MacMullin and Gaelic singer Mary Jane Lamond. All are welcome to attend.