An innovative art project is bringing the gallery into the classroom to boost artistic experience for inner-city youth who face barriers accessing contemporary art.
The project called, A New Path to the Waterfall, was started in September by the Contemporary Art Gallery and Portland-based artist Harrell Fletcher. It will benefit young students who have limited access to the arts in Lord Strathcona Elementary, an inner-city elementary school with 94 special-needs students.
“Early exposure to art and artists makes it possible for students to imagine a future for themselves in the arts,” said Kimberly Phillips, curator of CAG.
But the project also boosts students’ life skills and confidence through negotiation, problem-solving and exploration. It encourages both collaboration and the individual voice, she said.
As the school year unfolds, seven artists will partner with A New Path to the Waterfall to deliver art programming for twenty-seven students.
The Strathcona Herbarium was the first of six programs offered.
This fall, Strathcona students gathered plants, fungi and moss during a series of foraging trips to Metro Vancouver’s regional parks. Their guide was Cease Wyss, a Coast Salish ethnobotanist and interdisciplinary artist. She helped them identify species and learn their aboriginal and Latin names. The class then stitched the pressed plants into herbarium books and presented them in a public display on Nov. 9.
“It allows students to encounter local natural environments and learn the Indigenous culture,” Wyss said in the launch.
The themes of the next programs have already been decided by the artists in discussion with students and teachers. Elisa Ferrari, a sound and installation artist, is up next. Her project will focus on deep listening and sound-making activities, paying close attention to vernacular sounds in our daily sonic experience, listening to external and internal sounds, and imagining soundscapes that no longer exist.
In the New Year, artist Carmen Papalia will lead a visual discussion with students on accessibility. Artist duo Hannah Jickling and Helen Reed will bring in their two-year public art initiative Big Rock Candy Mountain to consider “kid economies” and candy. Justine Chambers, an experimental dance and performance artist will explore everyday choreography with the class.
Broaden accessible artistic experience for inner-city youth
Lord Strathcona Elementary is an inner-city school and its art programming is underfunded, said Maryann Persoon, who teaches grades six and seven.
“The art curriculum is hit and miss as we don’t have an art teacher specialist per se,” said Persoon, whose students are participating in the art program.
This program gives students a chance to connect with artistic ideas and expression, she said.
Sophie, a student participating in The Strathcona Herbarium, said she never had such hands-on artistic experience before and learned a lot through collecting plants in her herbarium book.
“The art we’ve been experiencing with this project is so much broader,” Persoon said. “Many of the things we learn may not be taught in a typical classroom.”
Exposure to the arts can impact enormously on students‘ aspirations and their overall academic performance. “There is tangible learning, empowerment and raising of horizons for participants,” Phillips said.
U.S. Department of Education research has shown that low-income students who had arts-rich experiences in high schools were more than three times as likely to earn a Bachelor’s degree as low-income students without those experiences.
Art also inspires and provides a creative outlet for at-risk students.
In Persoon’s class, six students are designated as special needs and two more are working significantly below grade level in key areas such as math and English. She said this kind of program enables students at all sorts of levels to learn.
”Many of my students learn by physically seeing and doing. This project allows that kind of activity,” said Persoon.“It allows them to express themselves and develop confidence.”
More arts education opportunities for inner-city youth
A New Path to the Waterfall is not the only arts education project for inner-city youth in Vancouver.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of Studio 101, a program run by Eastside Cultural Crawl Society that brings inner-city students into professional artists’ studios for creative art work.
“The program provides students insights into the various phases of the creative process while promoting creative confidence and fostering an appreciation of the visual arts,” said Laura Aliaga, co-ordinator of Studio 101.
From Nov. 21 to Nov. 23, 100 Lord Strathcona Elementary and Britannia Elementary students will visit Eastside Crawl artists’ studios to create photographic works, textile arts and mixed media items. The students will also participate in animation workshops in Cineworks, an artist-run production and exhibition center.
A New Path to the Waterfall will be presented to the public through exhibitions, performances, and public programming at six-week intervals throughout the school year. The public are welcome to attend these events and programs during set hours provided on the project website.