Gordon Barnhart, C.M., S.O.M., Ph.D. – Interim President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Saskatchewan
The Emma Lake Kenderdine Campus has been, since its opening in 1936, a symbol of the University of Saskatchewan’s, and the province’s, creativity, resourcefulness and vision. Founded during extremely difficult economic times by the painter Gus Kenderdine, head of the University of Saskatchewan’s department of Art, and the university’s first president Walter Murray, it became an internationally recognized site of artistic collaboration for over seven decades. Saskatchewan artists such as Reta Cowley, Winona Mulcaster, Bob Christie, Dorothy Knowles, Terry Fenton and many others attribute their productive careers in part to their experiences at the campus, and to the influence of leaders at its Emma Lake Workshop, begun in 1955, such as Frank Stella, Barnett Newman, Roy Kiyooka, Jack Shadbolt, Anthony Caro and Clement Greenberg. In the mid-20th century the Emma Lake campus was a cornerstone of the province’s unique culture that was notable for its visionary public policies in universal health care coverage, immigration, agriculture and education.
Since the late 1960s, the University of Saskatchewan has depended upon partnerships with a number of different groups to sustain the campus in a way that enabled artists and community groups to access and enjoy its rich potential. The Prince Albert Regional Community College was the first, evolving into SIAST’s Woodland Campus in the late 1980s. Many of the buildings on the site were made by students and instructors of SIAST’s trades programs around that time. Woodlands oversaw the operation of the campus for a decade until the partnership ended in 1998, at which point the University of Saskatchewan assumed sole responsibility for all aspects of the campus, investing $1 million at that time into its infrastructure. Community-based arts instruction programming was the core of its activities then, overseen by the university’s Extension Division.
By 2005 the campus was experiencing only modest use by community arts groups. Those that did use it rightly regarded it as crucial to their activities and to the province’s arts scene, but the costs of running it were far exceeding its revenues. In 2005 the university began to look at models for sustaining it, somewhat along the lines of the Banff School model, including diversifying its offerings beyond community arts programming, creating connections with the university’s academic mission in the form of departmental courses, and broadening its appeal for external organizations to hold retreats and conferences there. Some academic units, such as Biology and Soil Science, had made Emma Lake a cornerstone of their programming years earlier, and the university encouraged other departments and units to move in a similar direction, offering financial and other supports for them to do so. But with the notable exceptions of some courses and retreats offered by Music and Drama, there was little uptake in this direction. By 2005 the $1 million investment the university had made in 1998 was recognized as only the beginning of what it would take financially to make the campus attractive to external organizations, to academic departments, to students and to arts groups. In the midst of a particularly challenging time financially for the university in 2012, the university felt it could no longer continue to defend the alarming increase in the campus’s annual debt and use of public funds, and it suspended operations for three years to try to figure out what to do next to make it sustainable.
Two things are quite clear regarding the university’s aspirations for Emma Lake at the time of writing this. One is that it is committed to making the campus a viable and attractive place for artists, students, external organizations and visitors, in a manner that acknowledges the university’s academic mission and the spirit of Emma Lake’s rich history and legacy. A second is that it needs a strong partnership to be able to do so, as it did before. The university’s world-leading activities are carried out as a result of partnerships, and the Emma Lake Kenderdine Campus will likely need to follow that model of collaboration. So the university has been pursuing, and continues to pursue, partnerships for this purpose, with the expectation that the Emma Lake Kenderdine Campus can be a vibrant testament to the province’s and the university’s creativity, resourcefulness and vision.