OCAD U announces 2019 honorary doctorate recipients

Wednesday, June 5, 2019 - 12:45pm

OCAD University will present honorary doctorate degrees to four prominent Canadians: artist, activist and educator, Jeannette Armstrong, PhD, famed cartoonist, illustrator and OCAD U alumnus  Barry Blitt, celebrated artist and graduate of OCAD U, Shelley Niro and accomplished Canadian filmmaker Patricia Rozema.  

This year’s convocation, on Friday, June 14, will take place at Roy Thomson Hall, celebrating the graduation of more than 700 students. Medal winners in 24 academic programs will be presented with their awards, a number of faculty members will be honoured with teaching awards for their exceptional contributions and honorary degrees will be conferred.  

“It is a great pleasure to present these degrees to four extraordinary artists who have made a phenomenal impact on society,” said Dr. Sara Diamond, OCAD University President and Vice-Chancellor. “We look forward to hearing from our honorary doctorate recipients as we celebrate this cohort of graduating students.” 

The first ceremony, at 10:30 a.m., will recognize graduands from The Faculty of Design with Barry Blitt and Patricia Rozema receiving their honorary doctorates. The second ceremony, at 3:30 p.m., will honour graduands from Graduate Studies, the Faculty of Art and the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Jeannette Armstrong and Shelley Niro will receive their honorary doctorates at the afternoon ceremony.  

The Honorary Degree Committee, chaired by Chancellor Salah Bachir, selected the recipients from a list of nominees submitted by the OCAD University community.  

Barry Blitt 

Blitt Barry

Born in Montreal and educated at the Ontario College of Art (now OCAD University), Barry Blitt is one of America’s most notable illustrators and pre-eminent satirists, best-known for capturing the larger-than-life absurdities of Washington and world politics.  

Blitt is most famously associated with his contributions to The New Yorker, which, since 1992, have included innumerable illustrations and more than a hundred covers. His witty and insightful work for Vanity FairTimeRolling StoneThe AtlanticEntertainment Weekly and countless other publications have received worldwide attention and accolades.  

In addition to his magazine work, Blitt created a postage stamp for Canada Post in 1994, an animated sequence for an episode of Saturday Night Live in 1996 and has illustrated several children’s books. 

Patricia Rozema 

Patricia Rozema

After earning an Honours B.A. in Philosophy and English from Calvin College in Michigan, Patricia Rozema distinguished herself as a writer/director with her internationally celebrated first comedy feature, I've Heard the Mermaids Singing at the Director's Fortnight in Cannes, where it won the Prix de la Jeunesse. She was the first woman to write and direct the opening-night film of the Toronto International Film Festival in 1987.  

Other highlights include: writing/directing the contemporary bi-racial lesbian love story, When Night is Falling, which premiered in competition at the Berlin Film Festival, adapting/directing the politically progressive Miramax Jane Austen feature, Mansfield Park with Harold Pinter, and co-writing HBO’s Grey Gardens with Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange (PEN screenwriter's award, Emmy nomination and a Golden Globe). She also won an Emmy for writing and directing a Yo-Yo Ma/Bach film, Six Gestures. Her latest feature film, MOUTHPIECE (opening on June 7, 2019, in Toronto at the TIFF Bell Lightbox) was the TIFF Special Presentations opening-night fi̇lm in 2018. 

Jeannette Armstrong, PhD 

Jeanette Armstrong

Jeannette Armstrong is Syilx/Okanagan, a language teacher and a traditional knowledge keeper. She has a PhD in Syilx Indigenous Oral Literatures and Environmental Ethics, a master’s degree in Syilx Language and Culture and a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Victoria.  

Armstrong is the founder of En'owkin Centre, a Syilx/Okanagan institution of higher learning that delivers the National Aboriginal Professional Artist Development program supporting Aboriginal artists in recovering traditional art practice.  

Armstrong is the past recipient of awards for her visual and literary works, such as the 2016 BC Book’s George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award for literature. She is also an author whose published works include academic writing on a wide variety of Indigenous issues as well as non-fiction, prose, poetry and children’s literary titles.  

Shelley Niro 

Shelley Nero

Born in Niagara Falls, N.Y. and currently living in Brantford, Ont., Niro is a multimedia artist with work that involves photography, painting, beadwork and film.  

She is conscious about the impact that post-colonial mediums have had on Indigenous people and like many artists from different Native communities, works relentlessly presenting people in realistic and explorative portrayals. Photo series such as Mohawks in Beehives, This Land is Mime Land and M: Stories of a Woman are representative of the genre of her artwork. Her films include Honey Moccasin, It Starts with a Whisper, The Skirt, Kissed by Lightning and Robert’s Paintings. Recently, she finished her film, The Incredible 25th Year of Mitzi Bearclaw.  

Niro graduated from the Ontario College of Art (now OCAD University), with honours and received her Master of Fine Art from the University of Western Ontario. In 2017, she received the Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts from the Canada Council, the Scotiabank Photography Award and the Hnatyshyn Foundation’s REVEAL Indigenous Art Awards.  

OCAD University celebrates these honorary degree recipients for their contribution to knowledge and culture in their creative fields, for their passionate belief in the importance of visual arts and design, and for their spirit of philanthropy in the cultural sector and beyond. 

Since 2003, OCAD University has conferred honorary doctorates on notable figures including David Cronenberg, Douglas Coupland, Jeanne Bekker, Piers Handling, Nobuo Kubota, Carole Condé and Karl Beveridge, Anita Kunz, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Margaret Atwood, Charles Pachter, Dan Donovan, Bill Buxton, the Rt. Hon. Adrienne Clarkson, Karim Rashid, Will Alsop, Daphne Odjig, Claude Gidman and Kent Monkman.  

Alumna Shelley Niro wins Scotiabank Photography Award

Image of three women with ornate hair and jewelry
Tuesday, May 23, 2017

OCAD U congratulates Shelley Niro (AOCA 1990) on receiving the seventh annual Scotiabank Photography Award. The prestigious Scotiabank Photography Award includes a $50,000 cash prize, a solo Primary Exhibition at the Ryerson Image Centre during the 2018 Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival, and a book of the winner's work to be published and distributed worldwide by renowned art book publisher, Gerhard Steidl.

Niro joins an exclusive group of artists who have been honoured with the Scotiabank Photography Award that includes Suzy Lake (2016), Angela Grauerholz (2015), Mark Ruwedel (2014), Stan Douglas (2013), Arnaud Maggs (2012) and Lynne Cohen (2011).

Niro was selected from a group of three finalists, which also included Raymonde April and Donigan Cumming, by a jury composed of pre-eminent ‎members of the Canadian arts community.

A member of the Turtle Clan of the Kanien’kehaka (Mohawk) Nation, from the Six Nations of the Grand River territory, near Brantford, Ontario, she has demonstrated her dedication to producing art that contributes to Indigenous identity in Canada.

Niro creates complex visual experiences in a variety of media, including beadwork, painting, photography and film. Her work has been exhibited widely, both nationally and internationally, and she has received considerable attention for her films.

Known for challenging conventional, colonial representations of Aboriginality with directness and humour, Niro crafts and retells Indigenous narratives by drawing on lived experienced, as well as themes of identity, self-determination and liberation.

An OCAD University alumna, Niro also studied at the Banff School of Fine Arts and received her MFA from the University of Western Ontario. To view some of Niro’s work, please visit her website.