Current Projects

Popular Craft: The Impact of Popular Culture on Professional Studio Craft in North AmericaPopular Craft: The Impact of Popular Culture on Professional Studio Craft in North America seeks to address the disjuncture between these areas in an effort to not only advance the scholarly thinking around ideas of craft, but to develop a new methodology of popular craft that will benefit the entire field through increased scholarly investigations, improved economic development strategies for both sectors, and a stronger presence for professional craft in the digital economy. North American statistics that show a decline in the number of professional craftspeople are causing worry for this cultural sector, but they do not reflect the reality that an increasing number of craft artists do not identify with traditional notions of craft, and therefore fall outside historical counts of craftspeople. However, do-it-yourself crafters and fine artists who employ craft materials are introducing new ideas around craft that are injecting the field with vitality.

Led by Dr. Sandra Alfoldy, this 3-year SSHRC Insight project has the following objectives:

1. To analyze scholarly writing around professional craft in relation to scholarly and mainstream writings around popular craft.

2. To develop ways in which the two areas could mutually benefit from knowledge exchange and suggestions for how craft historians, theorists, curators and critics could contribute to new modes of writing about the crafts that interface between the popular and the professional.

3. To disseminate a new methodology of popular craft that will benefit the entire field through scholarly investigations, improved economic development strategies for both sectors, and a stronger presence for professional craft in the digital economy.

Unless the professional craft sector realizes that the majority of its potential audience resides within the realm of popular craft supporters of studio craft will decline. In addition to scholarly contributions from the project, like a single-authored manuscript, I want to create an online site that brings together these various communities to highlight their shared concerns. At this moment there is no such forum; instead, there are rich but fractured groups each promoting their own perspectives. I strongly believe that all interested parties would benefit from the opportunity to openly exchange information and opinions on popular craft. By extending my academic investigations of craft into the realm of economic surveys from professional craft, popular culture craft, and the fine artists who utilize craft, I hope to demonstrate that rather than representing a declining or dying field, craft is simply realigning itself and in the process, expanding its field of influence.

Tracing the City: Interventions of Art in Public Space

NSCAD faculty members Solomon Nagler (Media Arts) and Kim Morgan (Fine Arts), along with Martha Radice (Dalhousie University,  Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology) have received a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Research Creation grant for their project Tracing the City: Interventions of Art in Public Space.

This three-year project explores an innovative combination of creative processes in the visual and media arts, principally in film (expanded cinema), public art (site-specific installations), and empirical qualitative research in the social sciences and humanities (urban social anthropology).

Collaborators include Christopher Kaltenbach (NSCAD Division of Design), Ellen Moffat (artist) and Erin E. Wunker (Dalhousie Department of  English). The principle researchers will be presenting their research framework during the Cineflux Symposium at NSCAD University in May and at the 17th International Symposium on Electronic Art in Istanbul, Turkey in September.

Architectural Applications of Electronic Textiles

Led by Professor Robin Muller, Chair of NSCAD University's Division of Craft and Dr. Sarah Bonnemaison of Dalhousie University's School of Architecture, this collaborative project seeks to develop "smart" textiles for architectural applications.

Interwoven with lights, sensors and actuators, these textiles will be responsive to sound, movement, sunlight and touch and are being developed as prototypes for such products as curtains, free standing walls, theatrical backdrops, and hung ceilings for tensile roofs.

Professor Robin Muller and a Jacquard Loom
Professor Robin Muller and a Jacquard Loom. Photo by Steve Farmer.

Interactive Stage/Cricket Enclosure
Interactive stage set                                                    Cricket enclosure model

By filling the gap between traditional textile manufacturing and new technologies, the project will improve the capacity for innovation in the private sector and could lead to an expanded range of products to be produced by the commercial partners. ACOA's Atlantic Innovation Fund has committed over $1 million toward the three-year project with an estimated total project cost of $1.4 million.

Professor Muller's website

From Domestic to Epic: Twentieth Century Canadian Craft, Design and Industry

Sandra Alfoldy 2

Craft is rarely integrated fully within the fields of design and industry. While craft and design may have overlapping aesthetics, histories and material concerns, they have been institutionalized in Canada in notably different ways. Craft is often seen as oppositional force to industry, an antidote to dehumanization through mass production. The divisions between craft and design and industry are being reinforced in the emerging field of craft history. Scholars have done little to dispel the myth of craft as anti-industry, anti-machine and distinct from design; rather, the story of Canadian craft has been constructed around the accepted notion that studio crafts relate directly to the interests of the nineteenth century British Arts and Crafts Movement. While this is often true, the lack of research into the relationship of craft and design and industry means that significant examples of collaborative practice have been overlooked.

Sandra Alfoldy, @Lab  

Funded by a Research Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), Dr. Sandra Alfoldy and a research team of six graduate students will seek to construct a social history of the relationship of twentieth century Canadian craft with design and industry. The project will provide an in-depth analysis of the craftspeople working between disciplines and how their objects were perceived within and outside the studio craft movement and classified within artistic institutions.

Obsolescence and the Culture of Human Invention

Funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), Obsolescence and the Culture of Human Invention will cover a three-year investigation into language, technology and artistic production in the context of digital media. Professor Robert Bean and NSCAD Research Fellow Ilan Sandler will investigate, document and produce interdisciplinary artwork influenced by the culture and language of machines and obsolescence. This research / creation project engages a team of contemporary media artists, graduate students and authors with backgrounds in literature and cultural studies. The relevance of an interdisciplinary approach to the creative process and production with digital technology is essential to this initiative. Digital workstations and the multidisciplinary applications that artists access through this technology have significantly reconfigured the studio practice of artists. This research/creation project will be approached through an interdisciplinary exploration of art, language and technology.

Conceptual Art in Canada

Funded in part by a National Gallery of Canada fellowship and by a research grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), Dr. Jayne Wark is currently conducting the first comprehensive research into Canada's conceptual art history. Her resulting book will cover the timeframe from the mid-1960s to present, detailing the rise of conceptual art in the Canadian context and in relation to international currents. No such resource currently exists, and Canada's considerable contributions are barely mentioned in US and other publications about conceptual art.

Filmmaking Production Cooperatives in Atlantic Canada

Darrell Varga

Canada Research Chair in Contemporary Film and Media Studies, Dr. Darrell Varga, stands in NSCAD's new Screening Room at the Academy Building. Photo by Steve Farmer

Funded by SSHRC, Canadian cinema specialist and Canada Research Chair in Contemporary Film and Media Studies, Dr. Darrell Varga will examine the history of film co-operatives in Atlantic Canada through an examination of founding mandates, formation process, resources and programming activities, as well as an examination of the scope of production work produced therein. The intention is to situate this history in the broader critical and theoretical context of studies on national cinema and the transnational flows of media and culture. In spite of the importance of the film co-operative, there is no significant scholarly research in this area, with the exception of studies of specific filmmakers. A key contribution of the proposed study is the examination of the inter-relation between the film text and this production context.

"Sign After the X": An Interactive Digital Network

This SSHRC-funded project led by Professor David Clark focused on the production of an interactive internet art project loosely based on the book Sign After the x by NSCAD alumnus Marina Roy who is now a professor at the University of British Columbia. Roy's book is an 'encyclopaedic' book based on the letter x but encompassing a range of interdisciplinary fields of knowledge / inquiry (linguistics, psychoanalysis, postcolonial theory, gender studies, visual culture, literature). The project explored the interconnectedness of the structure and reception of books and that of websites. While the digital form is distinct and unique and has changed the very modes of distribution and reception of art, information and knowledge, it does have close connections to the form of the book.

Empathy Suit Research

One out of every ten people in the world is over 60. This rises to one in five in many industrialized countries. We are experiencing a growth in the number and proportion of older people never before seen in human history. As our population ages, responding to their needs will be one of the most important and continuing issues for designers. From this change in demographics, there will be a need to provide services and products for our large aging population. In order to provide those products and services, a better understanding of the physical changes and limitations that the elderly may experience is needed.

Supported by the Early Stage Commercialization Fund, Assistant Professor Glen Hougan (Product Design) is developing an 'empathy suit' that, when worn, physically simulates the physiological changes associated with aging. The suit is intended to become an effective way to allow those involved in designing and providing services, products and environments for the aging an immediate understanding of the physical limitations associated with aging.

Contact Information

Ann-Barbara Graff, Ph.D.
Vice-President, Academic & Research

Marlene Ramos
Research Grants Officer (Acting),
Office of Research Services
5163 Duke Street, D301
Halifax, Nova Scotia  B3J 3J6
Phone: 902.444.7221

Eric MacDonald
Academic Affairs and Research
5163 Duke Street, D300
Halifax, Nova Scotia  B3J 3J6
Phone: 902.494.8220