Jan 28

OCAD U’s Student Union on: sustainability, food security & “That Place on the Second Floor”

This year the café on the second floor of 100 McCaul came under new management; OCAD University’s Student Union (OCADSU) now boasts the space as one of its most recent expansions. Aptly renamed “That Place on the Second Floor,” the café was reimagined with the collaboration of participants from the student body and members of the OCAD University community. We connected with Student Union representatives Simran Kaur and Hilary Cluett to find out more about how different the space has truly become.

[Image description: photo of the cafe counter, showcasing food options available for sale and a sign above the counter stating 'For Students By Students']

[Image description: photo of the cafe counter, showcasing food options available for sale and a sign above the counter stating ‘For Students By Students’]

SITE-SPECIFIC: Why did OCADSU decide to operate the café as a student run business?

STUDENT UNION: We wanted to extend the Student Union’s reach and provide more for OCADians. The OCAD Student Union recognized a need for community space, healthier food options, and fostering student engagement. Drawing from similar local, sustainable cafes and food co-operatives, we built a vision that brought together innovation and entrepreneurship. Ultimately our approach to achieving success was multi-faceted.

There were weeks where we spent every moment researching sustainable initiatives all across Toronto, drawing as much information as possible about operation structures, food vendors, food cycles, waste management, and every new detail that popped up. I think it’s safe to say that we had no idea of the community we had jumped into. We discovered unsurmountable levels of passion for local food systems, and were exposed to infrastructures that we didn’t even know existed around us. Along the way we knew we had to narrow down on priorities, and that’s when we consulted the people that mattered most: students. We invited students to taste-test our vendor’s foods before we chose them, as well as our coffee suppliers. We sent out a poll to decide what the name of our cafe should be. All of our cafe staff are OCAD students.

That Place on the Second Floor has been a long process of consultation with students and OCAD U administration. Through discussions with senior leadership, we were able to align on goals around social and environmental sustainability.


[Image description: closer view of cafe’s set-up and beverage selection]

S: What are some of the priorities that inform the café’s practices and product selection?

“Our Food Advisory Committee meets regularly to set our cafe’s priorities and make decisions around menu options, so that we can make sure we’re always offering what our students are looking for.”

SU: Sustainability was built into our mandate from the beginning, which gave us criteria on how to select food vendors and suppliers. What we got from these partnerships was much more than healthy food, however, because we were able to adopt more sustainable operating practices as well. We had more options for things like waste management and low-quantity purchasing that enhanced our ability to participate in just food systems, and wouldn’t have been available had we chosen standard sources.

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Sep 18

Fatimah Tuggar on: visibility, flexibility, and critical pedagogy

SITE-SPECIFIC: What does critical pedagogy mean to you? How has your art-making practice informed your approach to pedagogy? Conversely, how does your approach to pedagogy inform your art-making?

FATIMAH TUGGAR: At the heart of critical pedagogy is thinking. Learning to think critically, which should result in taking actions and responsibility for yourself and on behalf of others. In my classrooms, I encourage thinking on various levels; through production and a dynamic of constructive peer to peer exchange in order to create a community learning environment that is safe but honest. This can inspire students to view their peers and planet as evolving resources, and reinforces the skills of self-directed, life-long, independent, and collective learning. Through this students are empowered to challenge dogmas, including their own.

I am committed to teaching as a personal expression of my professional goals and values. These values include expanding the territories that art and artists explore. The goals include pushing back the boundaries of the studio and the classroom to include a greater global community. The system of mutual learning and teaching is synonymous, for me, with the creative action of taking responsibility. Creative action through teaching is my way of ensuring that there will be ongoing meaningful dialogues with other artists, and their work, throughout my own practice.

“Representation matters because meaning and interpretation depends on access to power and knowledge. Since, we don’t all have access to the same level of power and knowledge, we have to be mindful of the impact of our own bias and privileged accesses.”

S: Where do you begin when talking about the critical issues of representation in art? What about representation should artists and designers be mindful of in their practice, and why does this matter?

T: Representation is how human beings create and share meaning for both the imagined and tangible aspects of existence. It is therefore, critical to the production of all creative cultural workers including visual artist. Our relationship to meaning or cultural signification is an emotional one. There is a constant struggle for meaning and ownership of signifiers. Artist and designers have the responsibility of both using and creating cultural signification that is both effective in communicating intended meanings and at the same time being culturally sensitive enough so unintended meanings and readings do not get ascribed to their cultural productions.

Representation matters because meaning and interpretation depends on access to power and knowledge. Since, we don’t all have access to the same level of power and knowledge, we have to be mindful of the impact of our own bias and privileged accesses. We have to ask ourselves in the making process, who is being represented? How are they represented? Who is the interpreting audience and what are their biases? In other words, meaning matters in time, place, how and why. The artist has to be aware that life experiences; individual backgrounds, cultural context, beliefs, psychological states, social and economic status, etc. all affect meaning.

Welcome back to Site-Specific!


Happy September! We’re excited for the new academic year, full of potential and opportunities to connect with and feature many more critical, forward-thinking, and creative individuals and activities in the OCAD University community and to continue to advance our collective understanding of equity from an art & design perspective.

As always, don’t forget to connect with us on facebook and twitter for more critical content and updates on what’s happening within our community.

May 29

Violet Chum and Patrick DeCoste on: indigenous connectedness, colonialism, and their artistic practice

Earlier this past year OCAD University teamed up with the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA, and, with the support of the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa created ‘We Are All Related’, a calendar featuring artwork by students and recent graduates of the two schools involved in the project. Recently we took some time to catch up with two of the artists who were involved in the making of We Are All Related, Violet Chum and Patrick DeCoste.

SITE-SPECIFIC: In your view, why is the ‘We Are All Related’ Calendar project important? 

VIOLET CHUM: The ‘We Are All Related’ Calendar project is important because it unites artists collectively, especially for Indigenous artists. Our art work communicates with one another to bring an understanding of our own personal and political views within the world. Each artist expresses their own view of their culture creatively through various mediums of art and because of this, it establishes a form of connection. It was great meeting some of the artists in person from Santa Fe, New Mexico.

PATRICK DECOSTE: The ‘We Are All Related’ Calendar project is important to me because it connects my Nova Scotia Métis heritage to a larger North American community of indigenous artists. Bonnie Devine (Anishinaabe, Serpent River First Nations) taught me in her Indigenous Cultural Studies class in the OCAD U MFA Program of the importance of land. Naming your people and where you are from ‒ where you live ‒ is not simply a cultural act, but also a political act. Colonizers (especially the Government of Canada) have been taking land from First Nations People since Jacques Cartier staked a holy cross in the soil of the ‘New World’ in 1534 to the dismay of Iroquois chief Donnacona. This practice continues today, especially when resources like oil and lumber are concerned. ‘We Are All Related’ is a reminder that indigenous people still live all across this land. The calendar can foster dialogue so that we indigenous and non-indigenous people alike, can better understand each other, regardless of where we come from or who we are related to.

Violet Chum, Home Sweet Home, 2011, acrylic on canvas, 36 x 36 inches

Violet Chum, Home Sweet Home, 2011, acrylic on canvas, 36 x 36 inches

[image description: painting looking upwards at the blue sky through the top of an also blue teepee and its supporting poles]

S: Tell us about your piece and some of the themes or issues you explore though it.

C: My art work in the ‘We Are All Related’ Calendar project, Home Sweet Home, and Sliding Party explore the themes nature and lifestyle. By exploring this, it was my intention to portray the feeling of warmth through the surrounding of nature and family. Home Sweet Home invites the viewer to take a look of nature through a warmth setting of the light beaming on the teepee poles and the light blue sky. The many shades and tones of blue in the Sliding Party offer a more airy, cool atmosphere, and a sense of warmth through the family who are enjoying the winter wonderland.

D: ‘Wolervine Map’ 2013, acrylic and thread on wolverine skin, 36 x 48 inches. The piece is created on a wolverine skin with acrylic paint and red thread. It connects to the fur trade and is based on the maps of explorer Champlain during his visits to Canada in the early 1600s. The piece is a self-portrait, tracing my movements, similar to Champlain’s, from where I was born in Antigonish Nova Scotia to where I currently live in Toronto and Georgian Bay. Early colonial movements in Canada, while destructive then and now, also populated the country with mixed blood people, and in my Métis case, French and Mi’kmaq.

Patrick Decoste, Wolverine Map, 2013, acrylic and thread on wolverine skin, 36 x 48 Inches

Patrick Decoste, Wolverine Map, 2013, acrylic and thread on wolverine skin, 36 x 48 Inches

[image description: painting of a map of southeastern Canada on a wolverine’s hide; with red thread tracing a pattern of travel]