Hosted by the Ontario College of Art and Design University in Toronto, the 2021 Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design (AICAD) Symposium, Must Give Us Pause: Diversity + Sustainability, will convene November 4-6, 2021 as a virtual event.


While the goals of sustainability are often predicated around environmental issues (including, but not limited to global warming, climate change, resource extraction), it is imperative to understand the deeper implications that inflect upon diverse populations including Indigenous, refugee, and other racialized communities. Melting polar caps, deforestation in the Amazon, massive hydroelectric dam constructions in densely populated regions, ongoing displacement of Indigenous communities, and rampant inequities highlighted by the current pandemic, all of these are indelibly pertinent in the contexts of diversity and sustainability. The intention of this gathering is to provide opportunities for AICAD members to plumb the depths of these issues in order to delineate how art and design can assist and provide guidance as we imagine a more productively equitable future.

Must Give Us Pause: Diversity + Sustainability, seeks to reflect upon and investigate our collective values, pedagogies, research, challenges, and potential visions — as artists, designers, curators, and critical thinkers — that will provide guidance as we forge a path forward that is inclusive and attentive to some of the most pressing issues of our day. As Sharon Mattern recently wrote, the pandemic has resulted in “The Great Pause,” one which saw some retreating to the safety of the domestic sphere while others were forced into harm’s way. However, “It is all too easy to overlook the activity that enables privileged retreat; the Othered precarity that ensures our security.”

OCAD U seeks proposals from artists, designers and related cultural workers that will explore the symposium’s theme of reflective contemplation in the face of dire need. The intent is to foreground issues of sustainability as they inflect on Indigenous and other racialized and disproportionately affected communities, and how art and design modalities might provide opportunities and pathways toward an imagined world which privileges such rebalancing. We seek stories and storytelling from students and faculty working across disciplines in the AICAD community, who are exploring strategies for coping and thriving, rethinking power structures within and outside our institutions and within community and grassroots organizations, modelling pedagogies that respond efficaciously to current global conditions, creative and critical approaches to socio-political change, valuing and enabling down time in response to make-work imperatives, transformation of our campuses through environmental and aesthetic means, and any other insights from our AICAD partners that give us pause and open us up to progressive possibilities.

OCAD U is accepting individual and small group proposals; full-panel presentations, so a school or collaborations across schools, can propose a sustained conversation; full-panel case study presentations from individual schools to specifically showcase how different institutions interpret and manage different issues such as:

  • Sustainable Diversity
  • Racial Environmental Justice
  • Unequal Impacts
  • Climate Anxiety and Dread
  • Extinction Rebellion
  • Land Back Movement
  • Human/Non-Human Relations
  • Agency and Sovereignty
  • Beyond Whiteness
  • Intra-national discourses
  • Futurisms: Indigenous, Black, and beyond
  • Collaborating across identities
  • Health Inequities

In addition, Holding Space will be a virtual portal where faculty and students are encouraged to share an idea, ask a question, investigate an innovation, present a manifesto, or submit time-based, audio/visual work (experimental videos, animations, motion graphics, narrative films, and/or edited documentation of case studies) that address one or more of the conference themes.