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Art foundation program opens the door to design careers

Think back to art class in high school. For some, it was welcome relief from the usual chalk-and-talk lessons and assigned textbook reading. For others, it was an easy credit. But for Nick Birnie, art class was an opportunity to explore some untapped talents he knew he possessed.
Centennial College professor Robin Hobbs cuts the cake at the official opening last spring of the new visual arts studios at The Centre for Creative Communications in mid-town Toronto.

"I had always done art on my own and through high school. I particularly enjoyed photography; it's a passion of mine," Birnie says.

Refine skills

When he finished high school Birnie went to work at a Toronto community centre, unsure of what he wanted to pursue at the post-secondary level. After two years of working he kept thinking about his art, but didn't have a clue about where he could go to refine his skills and uncover a career path.

After some research, Birnie found Centennial College's Art and Design Foundation Studies, an accelerated 30-week program that introduces students to a wide range of traditional and digital art media, in preparation for more specialized creative programs at Centennial and elsewhere. Programs that lead to a career in art and design.

"The Centennial professors were very helpful and encouraging," Birnie says. "The program showed me the potential I had; it pushed me to my limits."

Birnie, 22, particularly liked the feedback he was getting at college. His professors showed him how to build a portfolio of work -- a vital passport to take to interviews at art and design schools and with employers.

"The problem with high school is that nobody can give you any guidance when it comes to art. I had trouble seeing how I could get into an arts-related career from there."

Centennial's program offered a unique blend of traditional media -- like drawing, sculpture and paint -- with digital imaging, which is being used increasingly by commercial artists. "The program was so much more than I expected to get," Birnie says.
  • Centennial's Art and Design Foundation Studies program features small classes, so students receive individual attention and plenty of evaluation.
  • Graduates may qualify to participate in articulated programs with selected universities and institutes, including the Ontario College of Art & Design and Ryerson University.
  • Students make use of a broad-bandwidth digital network at The Centre for Creative Communications, which supports all campus computers.
  • For more program information, visit

  • By the end of the program Birnie had decided to pursue further studies at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) in Halifax. It came recommended by the artists and designers he met during his year at Centennial.

    He's currently studying graphic design with a minor in photography at NSCAD, with an eye to securing work in the graphic design field. "I feel a lot more grounded in my art and design skills, thanks to Centennial. I'm definitely working towards my ultimate career goal."

    Centennial professor Gary Greenwood is not surprised by Birnie's success. "This is a comprehensive immersion studio. Students come here to explore the possibilities of art, all in just 30 weeks," he says. The program got a boost last year when new studio space was added.

    Flexible space

    "It's rare to find a substantial studio dedicated to fundamental art studies," Greenwood says. The studio, located at Centennial's Centre for Creative Communications in mid-town Toronto, features rotating walls to create flexible space, as well as a state-of-the-art ventilation system.

    Established in 1994, The Centre is a leading creative and educational institute focused on cultivating tomorrow's visionaries in the communication arts. With its programs in digital animation, new media design and advertising, among others, Centennial's "arts campus" has garnered an envied reputation all its own.

    Concludes Greenwood: "The Centre for Creative Communications is now a destination for arts students and not just a stepping stone."

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