'It was life-changing': Art school recruiters visit Beal and bring their chequebooks

Students at H.B. Beal Secondary School are attracting attention from art schools in New York and Chicago.

International portfolio day connects students with schools and scholarship opportunities

A student from H.B. Beal Secondary School meets with representatives from NSCAD University. (Submitted/Elyse Booth)

Mikayla Bruder is living out an artist's fairy tale in New York City – and it all began at H.B. Beal Secondary School in London.

The 22-year-old now lives in lower Manhattan, pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the Parsons School of Design on a full-ride scholarship.

She's already landed a part-time job as a graphic designer at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, and has plans to work in sustainable product design.

"I had no idea this was going to happen at all," she said.

"When I was in London after I graduated high school at Central, I went to Beal for two years because I had no idea what I wanted to do. I just knew that I wanted to spend more time in the art realm."

Former Beal student Mikayla Bruder beat out 5,000 competitors in a scholarship competition to Parsons School of Design in New York. (Submitted by Mikayla Bruder)

The turning point for Bruder came at Beal's international portfolio day, an annual event that brings recruiters to Beal from art schools near and far. 

On that day, ​she struck up a conversation with the Parsons recruiter, who told her about a full-ride scholarship competition that Bruder wound up winning.

"It was life-changing for me," said Bruder.

Scholarships up for grabs

Although not all Beal students end up with a free ride, the school's event coordinator Kim Davy said there's a significant amount of money up for grabs on international portfolio day.

Beal advertises approximately $650,000 worth of scholarships, which includes agreements with schools including the Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD) and the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD University). These agreements allow students to skip their first year, which means money saved on tuition and living expenses.

Kim Davy helped develop international portfolio day five years ago. She says it's important that students are exposed to as many opportunities as possible. (Submitted/Mikayla Bruder)

Approximately 40 per cent of students get a scholarship of some kind, and 10 per cent get a full tuition scholarship, said Davy.

International portfolio day is now in its fifth year at Beal, and the number of participating schools keeps growing, she said.

"We've actually had representatives calling us or contacting me because they've heard that the students are often producing work at a high caliber for students of their age," said Davy. "We feel it's our job to introduce [the students] to the multiple opportunities that exist out there."

'It's a buyers' market'

A Beal student attends international portfolio day. (Submitted/Elyse Booth)

Art school applications have come a long way since Gary Markle graduated from Beal in 1983.

Like Bruder, Gary Markle pursued a bachelor's degree at Parsons after he graduated, but he said he had to schlep all the way out to New York City for his interview.

"Whereas when I was recruiting last fall, Parsons was represented there in the school at Beal. So it's very different," said Markle, who is now an associate professor at NSCAD University.

Markle used a real estate metaphor to describe the process: students are the buyers and colleges are the sellers.

"Right now, it's like the buyers' market...so if we want to bring top notch students to NSCAD we have to go out and find them and be represented in these kind of recruiting efforts," he said.

A future in art

A Beal student chats with a recruiter from McMaster University. (Submitted/Elyse Booth)

Although some may say a lot of fanfare in education is around science, technology and math (STEM), Davy believes her Beal grads are also well-positioned to compete in the job market.

"Industry supports people who think differently and that's how artists are trained," said Davy, who mentioned gallery curation, manufacturing and communication technology as just a few fields where artists thrive.

For Walker, who's now almost 35 years out of the program, he said he's a good case study.

"I don't know if I would've finished high school if there hadn't been an opportunity to study something that I actually excelled at, and that allowed me to realize that there are many ways to have intelligence and intellect in this world and that art is a viable one," he said.

"I truly believe in it as a path."

About the Author

Paula Duhatschek


Paula Duhatschek is an associate producer and reporter with CBC London. You can reach her at paula.duhatschek@cbc.ca.