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KCAD Community Turns Toward Bright Future with the Inauguration of President Leslie Bellavance

Posted December 19, 2015 in Campus

Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) President Leslie Bellavance believes that the true power of art and design lies in its ability to connect people, places, and ideas in order to positively impact the world. So fittingly, the inaugural celebration events held on Nov. 5, 2015 shined a light on the entire KCAD community.

“This event was an opportunity to celebrate a wonderfully vibrant and bold community of creative people,” said Bellavance. “I feel honored to now be a part of this group and to have been able to share this day with everyone who makes KCAD such a special place.” 

It wasn’t just new faces that were the focus of the celebration, but new spaces as well. The day began with a ribbon-cutting ceremony unveiling the newly renovated classroom spaces on the third floor of the 17 Fountain St. NW Building. Staff, faculty, students, alumni, community partners, and representatives from Ferris State University gathered to commemorate and tour the repurposed spaces, which previously housed undergraduate and graduate studio spaces and will now support the recent growth of the Illustration, Medical Illustration, and Master of Architecture programs.

More than a logistical project, the renovation reflects KCAD’s continuing commitment to embodying a forward thinking educational model. Addressing the crowd, Dean of the College Ron Riksen pointed to the Illustration program’s longstanding tradition of cultivating stylistically innovative illustrators, as well as the ways in which the Medical Illustration and Master of Architecture programs have been designed to empower students to set the curve rather than follow it.

“Today, we take time to celebrate KCAD’s past, present and future and the space in which our future illustrators, medical illustrators, and architects will begin to build the framework in which they will create and impact our world,” he said.

Guests were then invited to tour the college’s new studio spaces, located just across the street from the 17 Fountain St. NW Building at 89 Ionia Ave. The expansive studios include individual workspaces and communal spaces, and boast high ceilings and wireless internet access throughout. More importantly, they provide space, convenience, and resources that enable students to explore and hone their creative talents outside of the classroom.

After the tours of the new spaces wrapped up, President Bellavance headed to a student ice cream social, where she had the opportunity to spend some time getting to know the KCAD student body. Since arriving on campus back in July, Bellavance has made connecting with students a top priority.

“As an institution, we cannot talk about our goals for the future without understanding what kind of community our students want to learn in and be a part of, so it was very refreshing to hear what the vision of KCAD’s future is from the students’ perspective,” she said. “It’s clear to me that we have a very special community of students here.”

Later in the afternoon, the celebration made its way to Fountain Street Church, where a ceremony was held to officially install Bellavance as the thirteenth president of KCAD. Guests waited inside as Bellavance led a processional of faculty, staff, students, and leaders from other area colleges from the 17 Fountain St. NW Building to the church. Drawing Program Chair Stephen Halko, who served as Master of Ceremonies, began by drawing a parallel between Bellavance’s inauguration and KCAD’s annual commencement ceremony.

“Since its founding in 1928, KCAD has embodied the power of art and design to transform people, places, and ideas; to communicate experiences and uncover solutions; to provoke the mind, touch the heart, and inspire the imagination,” he said. “It’s fitting that we gather today in the beautiful Fountain Street Church, where we gather each spring to celebrate our graduates. Today, we welcome a new leader who will guide and support us as we work to ensure that our future graduates will step off this stage ready to make their mark on the world.”

Art History Program Chair Suzanne Eberle took the stage next, speaking poignantly about the collective contributions of everyone in the KCAD Community. “What unites us is that every constituency at KCAD embraces the basic belief that artists and designers can make a difference in the world and create a better future,” she said. “Our joy comes from the hard, repeated work of teaching skills, grappling with concepts, connecting to community, balancing history and innovation, providing a workable, safe environment for our learners, and especially facilitating students’ progress from novice to art and design professionals.”

Ferris State University President David Eisler spoke next, highlighting the mutual growth that KCAD and Ferris have experienced in partnership together. “Today we celebrate new leadership at Kendall and a re-affirmation of the shared history, mission, and vision of Kendall College of Art and Design and Ferris State University. he said. “This is a very exciting time in the history of Kendall College of Art and Design, and we are truly fortunate to have Leslie Bellavance as the college’s thirteenth president.”

Eisler then presented Bellavance with a presidential medallion , officially installing her as President of KCAD. The medallion, designed by Allesee Metals and Jewelry Design Program Chair Phil Renato, replaced the use of a traditional seal with a lattice structure of stainless steel. While non-traditional, the medallion was designed to reference not only the college’s past, but also its journey.

After accepting the medallion, Bellavance welcomed engagement, saying, “Leadership is not a solitary endeavor. Instead it is collaborative in the moment in a trajectory that expands into the future and back in time.”

Bellavance went on to point to curricular development and innovation as the key drivers of new initiatives at KCAD, specifically with regard to areas of interdisciplinary engagement. She also expressed a desire to explore new ways of thinking about student life at the college, saying, “A new conceptualization of student life and learning will develop living/learning communities and spaces to enhance learning experiences.”

Bellavance even took a few moments to share the personal stories of KCAD students, including Jennifer Bafile, an Illustration student from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula who’s first visit to New York City involved moving there this past summer for an internship with Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia; Anthony Murtha, a Collaborative Design student who earned a summer internship with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources after an online survey he create to learn more about what attracts people to state parks caught the attention of a DNR employee; and Courtney Jackson, an Art History student who worked with Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (UICA) and Grand Rapids user experience design firm Universal Mind to create Access UICA, a new mobile app that increases the accessibility of art exhibitions by harnessing valuable contextual information about different artists and artworks and presenting it in a captivating and straightforward manner.

“I have been teaching for most of my working life, and although I am not in the classroom much these days, I remember every day why I do what I do,” Bellavance said. “It’s for the students.”

Bellavance then proceeded to speak about her family, specifically her sisters Denise, who was in attendance, and Michelle, an artist, musician and celebrated theatrical set designer who passed away in 1997. After reflecting on the shared passion for creative expression that bonded the three sisters together, Bellavance announced the creation of the Michelle Ann Bellavance Endowed Scholarship, which will support KCAD students for years to come.

“Denise and I wish to honor not only Michelle’s creativity and work, but also her courageous and generous spirit with the establishment of this endowed scholarship,” she said. “We are happy that her legacy will be instrumental in inspiring future students and supporting the development of future artists and designers, and she would be happy too.”

After the conclusion of the installation ceremony, guests headed over the Woodbridge N. Ferris Building to cap off the day with a tea reception and a viewing of “Undone,” a retrospective exhibition of Bellavance’s artwork in The Fed Galleries @ KCAD.

“Leslie is a not only a highly attuned leader, she’s also an incredibly talented artist, and as many of us who work and teach here are also practicing artists and designers ourselves, it’s very reaffirming to have a President who understands both the creative and administrative sides of the institution equally,” said Director of Exhibitions Sarah Joseph. “Her perspective and her leadership can only make our community stronger.”

The exhibition remained on display through December 5, 2015. 

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