Canada’s largest art, design and media university has named Ana Serrano as its new president and vice-chancellor.
Ms. Serrano arrives at OCAD University at a time of growing emphasis on collaboration by committing to interdisciplinary work and practices, building relationships and bridges across multiple sectors, and creating more alliances. This focus might speak to Ms. Serrano’s two-decade-long tenure at the Canadian Film Centre, where she currently works as chief digital officer. She founded the CFC Media Lab and launched IDEABOOST, a digital media and entertainment accelerator, along with founding partners Shaw Media, Corus Entertainment and Google. A recognized artistic producer, she has won a number of awards for her work, including the Best Canadian Feature Film Award from the Reel Asian International Film Festival; she was the recipient of the Digital Media Trailblazing Award at the 2016 Canadian Screen Awards.
Sara Diamond, whom Ms. Serrano will replace in July, applauded the hire. "Ana brings a fresh vision and commitment to the continuity of priorities we set on: providing quality teaching and innovative research in a world emerging in technology and a deep commitment to diversity and equity.”
The Globe and Mail spoke with Ms. Serrano to discuss her plans for OCAD U.
What is OCAD U’s role in producing future leaders?
Creativity is going to be terribly important. In fact, I went to see [former U.S. president Barack] Obama last week when he came to speak at the Economic Club of Canada in Toronto. He spoke at great length about the future of work. One of the questions he was asked was, ‘What are the kind of skills that are going to be needed in the future as we try to tackle complex challenges that we face, whether that’s climate change or inequality?’ And without hesitation, he answered: ‘Creativity.’ The ability to think outside the box, to synthesize multiple layers of thought, to work in an interdisciplinary manner, and to be comfortable with collaboration and complexity, those are all part and parcel of the kind of training that OCAD U has been providing to artists, designers and cultural critics.
How would you define your style of leadership?
My style is multi-layered – and one aspect of it is service-oriented leadership. I believe that I have to bring value to all my relationships. I have to bring my whole self into the relationships that I craft. In so doing, serving that relationship and cultivating it, everyone feels heard and we are creating value together. There is a co-creative aspect to what service-led leadership brings to relationships.
Explain some of the existing problems that you’d like to focus on.
I don’t know if I would frame it in terms of problems, per se. I think it’s clear that there are certain societal challenges and polarized opinions that everyone is worried about. We can develop as many different methodologies, styles and ways to solve problems to create transformative leaders. That’s really what this whole notion of coming together really represents. Artists, designers and cultural critics are critical sets of voices that need to be a part of that table in figuring out these complex societal issues. Not all art has to serve social goals, but the methodologies and ways in which the creative process works to help inform how we all might move forward is one area that I’d like to focus on.
Do you have any thoughts about student culture and learning experience and how you can innovate in that space?
Before I can answer that, I need to be able to listen. Part of my commitment in the first 100-plus days is to commit to listening before I come up with ideas about what we can do to make things better. There’s nothing better than spending time and holding space for people to share their thoughts and ideas first and responding to that. It’s important that I commit to this notion of being a much better listener and to figure out how I can cultivate that as a leader and deploy that practice in the first little while in my tenure there.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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