New Kendall president is ready to contribute
Leslie Bellavance’s leadership experience and artistic skills will come in handy.
The new president of Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University is looking to build on her knowledge of internal and creative community relationships to maintain focus on the school’s direction.
Leslie Bellavance took over as president of the Grand Rapids-based school at the beginning of this month.
Bellavance also will serve as an FSU vice president and work directly with President David Eisler to strengthen the institutional relationship.
“Essentially, the work of both of these positions is academic leadership and business leadership of KCAD,” said Bellavance. “My interaction with Ferris is because of the very close relationship and to also interface with the academic and presidential leadership there to make sure the two institutions maintain their very close relationship.”
Prior to her appointment, Bellavance served as dean and professor at the School of Art and Design at Alfred University, in New York, and became interested in relocating to West Michigan after reading about the presidential role at KCAD.
“I became very intrigued and enthusiastic about the new direction KCAD has taken, the growth over the past 15 or more years, and the focus on studio and design, as well as art education and art history,” said Bellavance. “As I came to know the community here as I have come to Grand Rapids periodically this spring, everything confirmed my sense that this is a very dynamic organization, a leader in arts and design.”
As a former Midwest resident for many years, Bellavance said she was familiar with the West Michigan region both in terms of its connection to the creative sector and its landscape. Bellavance also cited the overlapping mission of KCAD and FSU as intriguing.
“The KCAD mission and the Ferris mission intersect in terms of focusing on the future success of students, the idea of successful careers and citizenship, and I’m very pleased the KCAD mission includes the concept of leadership in arts and design,” said Bellavance. “That is an important aspect for me.”
Although Bellavance’s initial priority is to build her knowledge of the community, the school and city, she plans to introduce a long-term strategic planning process in the fall to maintain the focus of the direction of KCAD and its successes.
“I think any institution of education, especially one with the successes Kendall has had, is a work in progress and also a work in motion. I see the challenges as maintaining the focus of the direction of the institution,” said Bellavance. “My focus right now is on those connections both internally and externally to the institution, in gaining and understanding the relationships with people and how that plays into the strengths of KCAD.”
KCAD has collaborated with a number of organizations in the Greater Grand Rapids area, including ArtPrize, Grand Rapids Public Schools, Grand Rapids Art Museum, The Wege Foundation and The Right Place Inc.
Christian Gaines, executive director of ArtPrize, said as a fairly recent transplant himself, it is exciting to welcome Bellavance to Grand Rapids.
“She’ll quickly become an integral member of this vibrant community of collaborators,” said Gaines in a press release. “I’m looking forward to working with her as she establishes relationships and builds strong partnerships that will move KCAD forward.”
Birgit Klohs, president and CEO of The Right Place Inc., said KCAD and Ferris have been outstanding economic development partners.
“We look forward to deepening our design partnership with President Bellavance and continuing to solidify the college’s position as a catalyst and partner within the creative community,” said Klohs in the press release.
As a long-timer art educator, Bellavance said the pedagogical approach, processes and skills acquired through a creative education are applicable in many ways to administrative and business endeavors.
“There has been a lot of conversation lately about how these skills can extend to other disciplines. It is important to focus on the intrinsic value of art and design regionally, and the state of Michigan, in general, has a long history of excellence in design,” said Bellavance. “I believe in a variety of ways these impact local economy, the creative economy, but also in terms of potential for collaborative projects.”
Bellavance has roughly 35 years of experience in higher education and has served in a number of academic and leadership roles, including professor of art and director of the School of Art and Art History at James Madison University, and head of the photography program, director of graduate studies in art and interim associate dean at the Department of Visual Art in the Peck School of the Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
She said her background as an art faculty member and her commitment to creating relevant learning experiences for art and design students will be beneficial because KCAD is student-centered and is the main point of the endeavor.
“My experience in leadership administration has strengthened my passion for art and design and for teaching,” said Bellavance. “It is important to nurture the incredible potential for transformative experience (that) art and design offers for students and the audience.”
Her experience extends to curriculum development, stability development, assessment and accreditation, sustainability studio practices and safety, fiscal responsibilities, and faculty, student and staff development.
With her experience in building nationally recognized programs and her accomplishments as an artist, Eisler said Bellavance is superbly qualified to lead KCAD into the future.
“It is a pleasure to welcome Leslie Bellavance to Grand Rapids as president of Kendall College of Art and Design,” said Eisler. “I very much look forward to working with her and am delighted to have her as a member of our leadership team at Ferris State University.”
Throughout her professional career, Bellavance participated in a number of solo exhibitions, selected group and invitational exhibitions and conferences. She has served on a number of boards, including the board of the College Art Association, National Association of Schools of Art and Design and the National Council of Arts Administrators.
Bellavance earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Tyler School of Art of Temple University, and a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Chicago.
“I’m very enthusiastic to live in Grand Rapids. It is a beautiful city, and I am anxious to learn more about it and see how KCAD interfaces with the city in terms of its close association,” she said.