Skip to main content

Alexandru Stratulat, a third-year student in sculpture. Because studio space is limited at OCAD U, Mr. Stratulat said he has had to do his work at home and bring it to the school, limiting the scope and scale of his sculptures.Isaac Roberts

Blaming economic and political instability in Italy and its own budget pressures, the Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCAD U) has suddenly suspended its long-running study-abroad program in Florence, leaving about two dozen students who had already been accepted angry and disappointed.

Late last week, students who had begun to prepare for the year-long experience set to begin this fall were told the program would be immediately cancelled for next year. Anti-corruption policies in Italy and internal financial constraints have made it too difficult, said an e-mail from a senior administrator sent to students and faculty.

About 24 students were accepted into the program in March. Many say they have no way to replicate the benefits of an experience that would have allowed them to create a substantial body of work over the course of the year.

"The program offers a unique opportunity to have freedom and studio space," said Alexandru Stratulat, a third-year student in sculpture. Because studio space is limited at OCAD U, Mr. Stratulat said, he has had to do his work at home and bring it to the school, limiting the scope and scale of his sculptures. "I like to take inspiration from the environment where I am – I was hoping to be inspired by the Italian textile industry and how fashion and labour go together," he said.

Canadian postsecondary institutions are looking to expand their study-abroad opportunities in an effort to increase the number of students who participate. But increasingly, students prefer to spend a shorter period of time abroad, reducing the cost to themselves and their institution. OCAD U offers many other study-abroad options, but they are of shorter duration, not staffed by its own faculty and are cheaper to run, the school said.

The university is looking at cuts of 3.5 per cent across the institution, said spokesperson Christine Crosbie. "It's a painful cut, it's a cherished program," she said. But "this that was something that was going to be extremely costly."

Professors said that studying the Renaissance in its birthplace is of huge benefit to any art student.

"We are really understanding our social structures and our art history by going back to the beginning of the Renaissance," said Natalie Majaba Waldburger, an assistant professor of contemporary painting who participated in the program when she was a student at the school. "What is the industrial revolution, what is modernism? We can see where it started even in critiquing these models."

Participants in the program spend a year in Florence, where they have their own studio space in a building leased by the university. In addition to paying regular tuition fees, they also pay a $1,000 program fee and have to cover their transportation and living costs.

Students still hope the decision could be reversed. In a meeting with the administration on Tuesday afternoon, they talked about the lack of consultation leading up to the sudden reversal. Many say they prepared for weeks to be competitive in the selection process.

"You have to bring in about 10 works to the [selection interview]," said Alondra Ruiz-Hernandez. "I wanted to be extremely prepared and had things framed and looking sharp. That was basically my reading week."

Ms. Ruiz-Hernandez said one of the primary reasons she attended OCAD U was because of it offered the possibility of the Florence experience. "It is completely different to do art history from a projector than to study the work there," she said.

OCAD U budgets about $250,000 to run the Florence program annually. The cost and upkeep of the studio space and the administrative demands had long been a subject of debate, sources said. "Maintaining a small, niche program with a full scope of student services and access to extra-curricular activities within Italy has become fiscally unsustainable," said the e-email sent to students and staff by Vladimir Spicanovic, dean of the Faculty of Art.

The university will review the program in the fall.

Algonquin comic book creator and TV producer Jay Odjick responds to the idea that diversity in comic book storylines is to blame for falling sales. Odjick is the creator of Kagagi, a superhero comic book series and TV show