Where students take chances on their ideas to create opportunities that benefit their communities

Since working as a naturalist interpreter at the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History, Kayla Rudderham has discovered an interest in creatively educating her community. 

Having witnessed the inner workings of a museum, Kayla was eager to pursue higher education that would connect art and teaching practices with social responsibility. NSCAD University’s new Master of Arts in Art Education (MAED) did just that for her. 

The MAED offers specialization in one of three program streams: Applied pedagogy in art education, museum and curatorial, and community-based practice. The museum and curatorial stream of the MAED program was the most attractive to Kayla as it is designed for those seeking advanced practice and perspectives in the delivery of art education programming in informal education settings such as galleries, museums or other immersive visitor experiences. 

The decision to apply wasn’t difficult, Kayla says, as “this stream expands on conventional approaches to public engagement with collections and emphasizes Indigenous and radical curatorial approaches intended to reach diverse groups of visitors.” 

 “As a Mi’kmaq student, there have been few instances where I’ve felt that past teachers and professors understand the importance of acknowledging cultural knowledge, but this has not been true for NSCAD,” Kayla explains. “While all of my professors have been caring and engaging, Dr. Carla Taunton has been especially generous in regards to the majority of my post-secondary education. She has an ability to Indigenize the content of the courses she teaches without appropriating the knowledge she shares. I am very grateful for her continued guidance and encouragement.”

This past November, Kayla had the opportunity to curate a panel discussion on mental wellness and colonization with one of her classmates, Alexia Mitchell. 

“Alexia and I wanted the audience members to be able to better understand the systemic barriers faced by Indigenous peoples regarding the access of mental-health services and found it rewarding to hear that we created a space for that to occur.”

The group engaged in meaningful conversations with Indigenous and non-Indigenous mental-health professionals on mental wellness and ethical research practices, while providing practical examples of the ideas being discussed in Kayla’s classes regarding cultural oppression and the impacts of colonization. 

“It was very rewarding to see how open to collaborating and committed to making steps towards reconciliation certain institutions are,” Kayla says. The event was hosted by the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, in partnership with Laing House and the IWK Health Centre. 

In the future, Kayla hopes to continue informing her community and to do so on a larger scale through the act of curating. 

“Historically, there has been a gap between the representation of Indigenous perspectives and practices and colonial institutions. I want to narrow this gap by Indigenizing these spaces, aiding with the preservation of cultural traditions and fostering connections between museum collections and the public (especially Indigenous peoples). The MAED program allows me to learn more about Indigenous practices in relation to curatorial approaches through the hiring of Indigenous knowledge keepers, like Roger Lewis, who share cultural practices and histories with students.” 

The MAED program is the first of its kind, and the only graduate art education program east of Montreal. It allows students to stay closer to home while pursuing graduate level education in the arts. Though this program is intensive and academic, Kayla says NSCAD is a place where students can take chances on their ideas, be encouraged to critically reflect upon experiences and may connect art to teaching practices that will benefit their respective communities.