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Thursday, 16 July 2015 11:44

Q&A: Leslie Bellavance, President, Kendall College of Art and Design

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Leslie Bellavance Leslie Bellavance COURTESY PHOTO

After spending over 20 years as a faculty member at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Leslie Bellavance decided to transition from teaching into a leadership role. That led the veteran educator to positions at James Madison University in Virginia and Alfred University in New York, and she now comes to Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids, where she will serve as its president. Ahead of a launching a strategic planning process this fall, Bellavance sat down with MiBiz to discuss her vision for Kendall College and how to develop the school’s relationship with the business community.


Former president David Rosen made quite a few inroads with the West Michigan business community. Do you have any initial plans to further those relationships?

I think that one of the things that stood out before I even came to campus was how passionate the faculty are about partnerships in the community, including (with) businesses. I would say in general this is an idea that we are keen on promoting. I think one of the areas that might be focused on is in research and development and how design and design thinking might engage in that.


On the flip side, what can the business community do for Kendall to aid that relationship?

In terms of what the specifics of that might be, I think what I’ll do is share an observation. Since I’ve been in Grand Rapids — and granted, it’s been a short time — one of the things I’ve experienced that stands out is how engaged people are with Kendall as an institution. These are business people, community people and I would say that support is really important for the institution. That’s what I’d be looking to foster. What that would mean specifically would really depend on the situation, but I do think it reaches both ways.


As an urban institution, obviously a big constraint is space. What are some of your thoughts of how to expand Kendall’s physical footprint?

That’s an excellent question. I’m still in exploratory mode. I think how Kendall is situated in the center of the city is really attractive. In terms of future expansion, it’s very hard for me to be specific about that right now. My plan is to enter into a strategic planning process starting in the fall semester and to use that process to have a conversation about where Kendall is now, where we want to go and then to get into the details of what we need to do to get where we need to go.


What would you like to see happen with Kendall’s Design West Michigan program?

I’m very happy that it has close ties to Kendall and that it is an organization that reaches out across the region and makes connections with a lot of other organizations that are business-related. So that’s an area that I need to explore even further.


Across all industries locally, companies readily cite a talent gap as a growth constraint. In your mind, what can Kendall do to address that talent gap to help those companies?

The talent gap seems to be focused in the area of technology. I guess what I’d say is that this is exactly an area that I was engaged in in my previous position and worked strongly with engineering. That had to do with the question of developing a very robust capability in 3-D prototyping. It wasn’t until art and engineering collaborated on this together that we saw real potential in reaching out to various companies. We did it together. I don’t know if it’s going to be an identical thing here, but that’s the kind of thing I’d look for.


What attracted you to West Michigan?

I think that the main attraction was what I was learning about Kendall. I’m originally from New England, and I think that when I learned about this position and started reading more deeply about Kendall and how it’s developed over the past 20 years, I just got really enthusiastic. Add to that the transformation and growth in Grand Rapids, and it seemed like a very good cultural center to go to.


How have your previous positions prepared you for this role?

Each one of them was very different and I think that was an important aspect of that. One of the things I bring is I’m not attached to one solution for any given question that arises — I’m fairly flexible. Kendall has this really amazing relationship with Ferris State (University) and the Urban Institute of Contemporary Arts. That kind of configuration is unique and I’ve never experienced anything like that before. But in my previous position, there was also a unique configuration between the college of ceramics, which was publically funded and a private school. I think the fact that I’m open to a configuration that’s not typical is very helpful.

Interview conducted and condensed by John Wiegand. 

Read 1641 times Last modified on Tuesday, 21 July 2015 09:53

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