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‘Be kind, fierce and always passionate’

NSCAD’s Graduation Ceremony is a singularly unique event, this year featuring processional music penned by NSCAD grad Jenn Grant, special awards, inspirational speeches, and a spirited performance by Samba Nova.

Tanya Mars shows off the Emerging Artist Survival app she’s proposing. (Photo: Eliot Wright)

After being honored with an honorary doctorate of fine arts from NSCAD, performance artist Tanya Mars addressed graduates. Here is what she said:


Thank you President O’Brien, esteemed colleagues, graduands and thank you Jan (Peacock)  for your fabulous introduction. I cannot express enough how moved I am to receive this degree from a place that I love, in a province that I love, among people I love. Some of you in the audience will know how very deeply this honour affects me. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

But enough about me!

I’m also deeply honoured to be here with you, to share with you and your friends and family your great day – to celebrate the culmination your graduate and undergraduate work… and the beginning of the travail that is “making art” – without assignments.

I would like to share with you some of the things other people have said to me, and observations I have made that have had an influence on my life and the way I choose to BE in the world.

The operative word here is BE.

BE in the world. BE in this moment. Savour it. Remember it. [and if you have a bad memory, you might want to write things down.]

I’m going to wax poetic for a bit here, so bear with me.

I often ask myself: WHAT am I doing? WHY am I doing this? Believing in art. Making Art…[and PERFORMANCE ART! of all things.]

My answer is always: Because I must.

You, I suspect, are driven by the same demons; the same questions, the same drive, the same doubts. What is it about the moving image, the making of objects, the surface of the canvas, the allure of the mark that compels us?

What fascinates us and how we manifest it may be different, but we all make art…because we must.  It tortures us. It thrills us.

NSCAD will have been a haven for most, maybe not so for others, but for all of you it has been the place where you have had the privilege to express yourself freely, to expand your skills, to explore ideas and to grow in an intellectually invigorating and supportive community.

But now, as you graduate, you may be a bit anxious about what lies ahead – about what I call the black hole: THE FUTURE.

And that’s pretty normal.

I would suggest to you that there is no Future, there are only a series of Nows that become The Past.

The Nows are about the choices you make, and with this in mind, know that your future journey may not always be what you expect.

Paths go in many directions. Be open to change.

I’m not going to pretend that everything before you is bright and sunny. You will have your challenges and I have every confidence that you will embrace them. You will overcome some and perhaps even surrender to others.

I propose that you might look at your future as full of possibility and contradiction.  Life, like making art, is a balancing act – it requires constant  “refreshing” – it requires attention. Indeed, for many of us there is no divide between art and life – they blend.

So, in the spirit of this idea of looking at life and art in terms of their many complexities, I offer you some thoughts for reflection:

You can start by asking yourself: What do I see when I look OUT? What do I see when I look IN?

How do I reconcile the difference between those perspectives?

What do I want? And. What do I need?

While everything IS possible; NOTHING is easy – especially when you are waiting for your next “idea.”  Be patient, it will come.

Speak your mind. Stand up for your rights. And stand up for the rights of others.

Get angry when there are injustices.


TRUST what you know and have the good sense to admit what you don’t. Sometimes you will be wrong.


Be kind and be firm.

Make boundaries.

Give and Take. Take care of yourself. (Especially your knees! You can trust me on that.)

Exploit your talents; push yourself.

Have FUN.

Be proud of your achievements, but also honour the achievements of others.

Build community – more than ever you will need the love and support of others who understand you  in your pursuit of this wonderful yet sometimes punishing life – your life as an artist. [My daughter still says to me, Mom, I love you, but “what does it mean?] Me? I get by with a LOT of help from my friends.

Life is long and it is short. Time is funny that way. We often measure time by our career achievements—by the number of shows and grants and reviews – but there will be other measures: your relationships, your family, your health, and your haircuts. Get those photos off your phone and print them! Don’t rely on FB, it will probably not be here in 10 years.

Open your mind. Open your heart.

And in the words of Carol Shields, “Choose your partners wisely.”



Live with Integrity.


Read voraciously: to increase your knowledge, to know the world, and to share in empathy with others. Look at art. Whether it’s good or bad it will fuel your imagination and give you ideas. You need to know what’s going on around you. You cannot make art in a vacuum.

Of course you want to think about success.

Now don’t worry!

To help you achieve success in the art world, I just happen to have this handy little app I’ve been working on, just a minute here, let me get my phone – [ring tone to microphone] – now it’s BETA, and I’m awaiting approval from Apple, but you can find out more on my FB page, which should be going up later this month.

The Emerging Artist Survival App EASY for short will help you get the start you need by taking you step by step through an emerging artist’s traumatic foray into the art world.

First:  You are going to need a New Name.

Now I know you might be attached to your birth name, and – apologies to the parents in the audience who I’m sure thought long and hard about the names they’ve given you to commemorate a grandmother or favourite uncle, but – are people going to remember Ann Harris or Lady Gaga? John Wilson? Or JayZ? Just spin the magic wheel of EASY’s “What’s my artist name?” function – and in seconds you will have a list of truly memorable art names to choose from. Simply pick the one that’s right for you. (Just so you know, I changed my name in 1982.)

Next, You will need a New Look.

It’s time to pay attention to your wardrobe!

For an artist there are really only three sartorial choices: The Modernist: jeans and white tee – admittedly this is a bit old fashioned and somewhat traditional, but it is very suited to the studio and perfect for every day attire.

For those occasions when you want to make a real splash and stand out from the crowd there is The Post-Modernist – the no holds barred Bjorkian mix and match of bright colours/styles/fashions, always outrageous and with lots of ACCESSORIES!

Finally you can’t go wrong with the classic NOIR – utterly contemporary, never out of fashion and a sure fire way to blend. If you are like so many artists who have an aversion to shopping and are on a tight budget, the EASY iShop function will help you find the best deals on arty clothes and accessories in your area or on-line – and for the Maritimes there is a special locator function for Frenchy’s. [You are so lucky here! Value Village just doesn’t compare!]

Now in art school you’ve been taught that the most important thing to do is to spend all of your time in the studio making art – NOT SO now – the single most important thing you can do now is to GO OUT. The big question is WHERE? With EASY’s Art Grinder function you’ll be ready for that adventure! Just ALLOW LOCATION and in seconds you’ll get a comprehensive listing of all the art events in the area, conveniently ranked by importance. Isn’t that EASY?

Once you are OUT – you need to know:  How to spot a curator? Since everyone in the gallery is likely to be wearing black, this could be difficult, however, don’t despair. The person surrounded by the most people, is NOT the artist as you might have thought – that’s definitely the curator!

As you glide your way across the room to the vicinity of the curator’s ring of fans, I’m sure you’ll be wondering, What do I say to a curator? You don’t want to stumble, fumble or mumble. You want to make a good first impression… The Say Hi! [Icebreaker] function provides you with a list of catchy pick up lines like this, which is one of my favourites:
“Hi I’m an artist, and I use paper and tape, JUST paper and tape.”

Be bold!

But seriously,  the trajectory will likely go something like this: introductions will lead to studio visits, that will lead to invitations to group shows, and then your first solo show and before you know it you’ll be lauded in the press. Or trashed. Or ignored. It really doesn’t matter.



I hope that when you reflect on what you have gained from your time at this magical place NSCAD —  (other than your student loan) that you will take with you a love of making art, some fond personal memories, some friendships that will last a lifetime, and most importantly the confidence that you can do anything.

May you have a life too rich and full to accomplish all that you hope to do.

I am very, very proud of you all.

Thank you and Congratulations to the class of 2014!Beck Gilmer-Osborne is from Bobcaygeon, Ontario and attended NSCAD for the past four years, majoring in Intermedia. Beck gave the valedictory address:

My degree holds two names: the name I came here with four years ago, heavy, and the name I claim now: lighter, and something I can hold. Rebecca appears in small type at the bottom of my degree. Beck is given more attention and space, but is accompanied by an asterisk, suggesting a story that will take more than five minutes to tell. I stand on the shoulders of my old name, of who I was when I first arrived at NSCAD. My old name is the foundation of who I am today.

As new graduates, we are all in a transition period. We are learning to settle into different routines, or no routines at all. Some of us are excited, some anxious, some are not here today because their next adventure has already begun.

Being at NSCAD has helped me immensely in coming to terms with my transition, and what that word can mean. I always come back to the words of David Wojnarowicz, because I think it is important to hold onto words that remain true. These words are true to me, and I find great comfort while reading them. In David’s 1991 memoir Close to the Knives: A memoir of Disintegration, he states with a silver tongue that, “Transition is always a relief. Destination means death to me. If I could figure out a way to remain forever in transition, in the disconnected and unfamiliar, I could remain in a state of perpetual freedom.”

I encourage you all to find words that you can hold close, your own bits of truth that will allow you to look at yourself, situations, and others in a different, and more open light. I hope you will welcome a life of transitioning and stay open to the endless possibilities that await you.

Today, we leave this institution to join countless other institutions, to jump through different hoops, show our teeth and start bigger fires.

Remember where you came from, where you are right now, but don’t look back, because you’re not going that way.
Lift with your legs, and don’t be too proud to ask for help if you need it.

Respect peoples pronouns, boundaries, bodies, and feelings.

Decolonize your interactions, and your work.

If you haven’t already, learn how to drive standard, how to change a flat tire, how to cook, how to fix a toilet, not hold grudges, and how to throw out unimportant things.

Be kind, fierce, and always passionate.

Be angry when you feel like it, but remain soft if you can.

Keep making work, and remember that some of the best work is the result of accidents, experiments, and failures.

Think of humorous ways to reassure your families and friends that having an art degree does make you qualified for many jobs, the jobs just might not exist anymore, that you have obtained skills that are useful in the “real world”, and yes, some people actually do understand your work.

Remember that making art is work, if not survival.

If you are comfortable with the work that you make, start doing things that scare and challenge you, and keep questioning everything. Little progress will be made within your comfort zone.

When you leave, people are going to ask you about NSCAD and about Halifax. Tell them NSCAD is full of strong and passionate artists, activists, and academics that will never stop fighting. Tell them about the bullshit, the art shows, the long hours in the studio, the time you took an Indigenous studies or Queer theory class and it changed you.

Tell them about the board of governors, the inaccessibility of our buildings, Seeds Gallery, and how you paid far too much money to be here. Tell them about the Dawson Print shop, our student executive, the queer collective, the feminist collective, the aboriginal collective, and NSCAD MAD.

Tell them about our artist run centers, all age music spaces, and community centers.

Tell them about the state that we are in, but that we aren’t giving up.

Tell them that it was worth it, because it’s true – otherwise; you wouldn’t be sitting here today.
But you’ll remember them, the people you’ve met, the friends you have made here, the teachers that made you cry and/or become self-reflexive and aware, and the technicians and staff who helped you with countless artistic failures and triumphs.

NSCAD has changed all of us, in some way or another. I hope it has changed you for the better, like it has me. I hope being here has made you angry and persistent, but that it hasn’t darkened your spirit.

To be in a state of transition does not mean that you lack direction or hope for what is to come. It is having enough faith and love in the present, and for yourself, and having the ability to enjoy it.

So, NSCAD Graduating class of 2014, don’t worry about what your next move is.

Stop longing for the future to get here, and remove the word “destination” from your vocabulary. Just keep making, loving, listening, failing, moving forward, and you’ll eventually stumble upon your next step.