Optimism and Conviction

June 30, 2020
Sarah Turner



Dear NBSS Community,

In June, the president typically sends a letter to the NBSS community to reflect on the accomplishments of the past year and signal the way ahead. Usually, summer is a transition season, a slowing of pace and rhythm, a reset between semesters. Writing this seems quaint and dreamy now, as nothing about the last months have been typical or marked by gradual transitions. Instead, sudden changes and urgent needs have upended our routines, calling us to reimagine our work and ways.

In reflecting on the past year at NBSS, I find myself drawing strength and inspiration from our students, faculty, and partners. This past fall, they dove into another year of deep, thoughtful work in their crafts and trades. Would-be carpenters were building dormitories, future locksmiths were practicing installations, jewelers-in-training were engineering under microscopes, upcoming luthiers were assessing stringed instruments for the Boston Public Schools, and our bookbinders were learning from an international exhibition in our gallery. At the same time, furniture makers crafted toys for charity, piano technicians brought old instruments to life for young students, and preservation carpenters helped revive our historic built environment. Supporting this good work were the staff, donors, and friends who invest in our mission and help us extend our reach into communities.

When we closed the building in March, the resilience, creativity and commitment of our School was clear and steadfast. NBSS violin makers set up varnishing stations at home with buckets and plastic sheets, jewelers fixed their bench pins to kitchen tables, preservation carpenters learned from buildings in their neighborhoods. Meanwhile, our faculty devised ingenious ways to keep students engaged in their training. They tuned their own pianos on Zoom, delivered workbenches and materials, assembled a mock roof frame in a spare room, and presented alongside guest instructors from across the country. Some of the biggest changes came to our Continuing Education program, which shifted fully online, gamely creating new content from scratch.

In all of this, our community stood strong, weathering the upheaval with fortitude. It’s the hard work—and heart—of these last few months that gives us confidence to reopen NBSS this fall, albeit with more distance, a shifted calendar, fewer students, and new protocols.

NBSS excels at learning and training through practical work, concrete action, and individual development. These are the strengths we will leverage as we move forward.

The year ahead will be one of change and adaptation, certainly. We will have to teach and work in our shops differently, with distance, adjusted spaces, and limitations to what we can do in groups. The way we move in our building will shift, as we’ll limit gatherings and visitors and even shared lunch breaks. Our use of technology will increase, both remotely and in-person. NBSS, which has mentored generations of artisans and educators, is now primed for an expansion through online training. We’ve proven ourselves to be not only capable of, but also talented in and energized by these virtual endeavors.

Change and growth will not happen only in our methods, however, it will come to the School as a whole. Last week, a school-wide commitment to become a more diverse, equitable, and transformed NBSS was confirmed by the Board, faculty, and staff. These will be both near-term and long-term projects and will involve a critical and honest look at ourselves as an institution. We have dedicated funding to a DEI working-group, which will lead us in hiring outside assistance to bring anti-racism and anti-bias education to the School. From these efforts we will establish a next set of goals, tuned to who we are, and who we want to be as an institution.

Next year, NBSS will turn 140 years old. We were founded to help immigrants adjust to their new home in America with vocational training and social services. Now, we embark on a path that will hold both substantial challenges and great opportunities—simultaneously—for our mission. We will fold together new health realities and new modes of training with the essential work of bringing equity, diversity, and inclusive transformation to the School, and to our chosen fields. NBSS excels at learning and training through practical work, concrete action, and individual development. These are the strengths we will leverage as we move forward.

Looking at the last year feels nostalgic. Looking ahead brings optimism and conviction. I hope you’ll join me in this vision for all that NBSS will be.

Sarah Turner