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Integrated Design program coordinator Barr Gilmore creates ‘prep school’ for design and life


barr-gilmoreWhen creating the Integrated Design program at Fleming College’s Haliburton School of Art + Design (HSAD), professor Barr Gilmore wanted to ensure students received more than a foundation in design studies.

“I think of it as not only a ‘prep school’ for a life in design, but also for life itself,” he says. “I encourage my students to dig deep, to develop their own manifestos and philosophies on life through self-knowledge. I ask them to listen to their dreams and personal desires, and to empathize with others less fortunate and/or different from themselves. In short, I ask them to design their own lives.”

The Integrated Design program, unique in Ontario, allows students to develop the fundamental design thinking, problem-solving skills and hands-on material culture needed to further their design education in whatever field they decide to pursue – graphic, fashion, interior or industrial design, urban planning, landscape architecture, sustainable building or architecture.

Barr, a graphic and industrial designer since 1996, has worked with numerous high profile clients. A former senior design associate at Bruce Mau Design, Barr started his own company, Barr Gilmore Art + Design, in 2005. He has won the Governor General’s Academic Gold Medal as well as numerous awards for his book and exhibition designs. In 2009, he was inducted into the Royal Canadian Academy of the Arts for his graphic design work.

Now, as an educator, Barr believes he needs to lead by example. As such, he developed for his class an Integrated Design Manifesto, which sums up both his teaching and design philosophy:

  • DREAM BIG… then dream a little bigger.
  • LISTEN TO YOUR INTUITION… and your heart.
  • COMMUNICATE EFFECTIVELY… efficiently and with conviction.
  • SELL YOUR IDEAS… not your soul.
  • COLLABORATE WITH THE BEST… don’t neglect the rest.
  • PLAY WELL WITH OTHERS… and don’t drop the ball.
  • EXPERIMENT WITH LIFE… but take responsibility for your actions.
  • LEARN FROM YOUR MISTAKES… then try, try again.
  • APPLY YOURSELF NOW… make it happen.
  • BE A VISIONARY… more importantly, be yourself.

Back in 2012, when Barr was first contacted by HSAD Dean Sandra Dupret about creating a new program, he had never been to Haliburton and didn’t know much about the School.

“But I was intrigued at the possibility of starting a new program from scratch,” he says, having just completed his MDes in May 2011 at OCADU with an Interdisciplinary Masters in Art, Media and Design.

And so, Barr made the trip to Haliburton to check out the campus, the town and the possibilities.

“It was a beautiful fall day,” he recalls. “The leaves were on fire with colour and Head Lake was crystal clear and still. As I drove up to the school, I remembered thinking, ‘Wow, what a beautiful blue school nestled into the highland woods.’”

Entering the signature red doors, Barr says he could feel the energy of the place as he passed studios filled with people working calmly on their art.

“Everyone greeted me with a warm smile and made me feel welcomed.”

Though he was initially consulted about creating a graphic design program, Barr surmised his vision of a traditional classroom where students were sitting at desks, glued to laptops didn’t jive with what was happening within the creative culture at the Haliburton Campus.

“For me, it was more important that I create a program where art and design and craft meet on equal footing and that our students get an opportunity to experience hands-on material culture, as well as developing software application skills – in the hopes that interdisciplinary breakthroughs, inventions and methodologies would have a chance of happening on a regular basis.

As such, the idea for an Integrated Design program was born and the compressed, three-semester diploma program first launched in September 2014.

Since then, Barr has assembled a “kick-ass” line-up of practicing design professionals – material culturalist J.P. King, graphic designer and photographer Michael Barker, landscape architect and documentary filmmaker Joseph Clement, and 3D animation guru Chris Bahry, amongst others – to come up to Haliburton for intensive two-week courses, so as to provide his students with the most current contemporary culture and design wisdom.

Barr still maintains his graphic and environmental graphic design practice with an international client base, though, the more time he spends in Haliburton, the more his practice is shifting towards industrial design and the art of making, he says.

While teaching wasn’t something he initially set out to do, Barr says it has been a rewarding experience.

“It’s important to be adaptable to change,” he emphasizes. “I love seeing the light go on in a student’s head when you introduce them to an idea or an ideology that they hadn’t previously thought of. It’s exciting to see a student truly find themselves, become engaged and take ownership of their creativity. I also learn a lot from my students and I think that is what keeps me young at heart, current and engaged. I’ve been pretty lucky in life and love, in art and in design, so it’s nice to share my knowledge and experience with others.”

And since his first visit to Haliburton four years ago, Barr has become completely enamoured of it.

“I love the clean air, the fresh water, the abounding nature, the free-roaming wild animals, the friendly people, the talented artisans, the cross-country skiing at lunch behind the school, the social life of the curling club, swimming, kayaking, canoeing and floating aimlessly in the lakes and rivers of Haliburton County, the local micro brews, the farm fresh farmers’ markets, and the push toward sustainable living as well as owning a farm, an Airstream trailer, a truck and a ride-around snowblower/lawnmower and being able to share it all with my partner, our dog, our two horses and all the friends and family from the big bad city that come to visit us.”

Barr adds that he may not know what the future will bring, “but right now, at this moment in time, Haliburton is the place to be – and there is a lot of opportunity here. I love it.”