ELAN Quebec’s ACE Initiative connects artists with schools all over Quebec. Sometimes, artists are paired with schools in regions that are located far away from their hometown. This provides intercultural exposure for both the artist and the community in which they are working. This intercultural exposure creates an excellent innate learning opportunity for the students and community, in addition to their benefiting from the expertise of the artist. This inherent benefit goes both ways- as well as to having an opportunity to develop facilitation skills, the artist can also be positively impacted by being in a different community.

ACE residencies are different than other artistic programs that are delivered in rural communities in that they follow a long-term model, instead of the more typical short-term residency. ACE artists typically work in the community for a month on a project. Afterwards, the partnership can grow: if the school administration is keen on having artists continue to come to their school, ACE will work to continue to send an artist into the community in subsequent years. Also, the artist might return to the region through the relationships they have formed with the school, and other community partners.

A vernissage of the artwork of students at New Richmond High School. Photo: Siu-Min Jim

This obviously benefits the school and community by continuing to expose their students to the arts, enabling these students to gain the health and academic benefits of having arts in their education. The practices taught by the artist can also be enacted during periods when there are no artists-in-residence. An example of a community that has had multiple ACE projects in its school is the remote community of Chevery-Harrington on the Lower North Shore. This community has had an artist come to their school every year through ACE for the past three years. ACE and Netagamiou School are trying to make this a five-year partnership.

This year, ¼ of our ACE artists were artists-in-residence in the communities in which they were based, while many more were based in rural areas close to the communities-of-residence of the ACE artists. Artist, playwright, actor and director Laura Teasdale was based in New Richmond, on the Gaspé Peninsula; graphic designer, graffiti artist, and muralist Jimmy Baptiste was working Richmond, in the Eastern Townships; and musician and composer Louise Campbell enacted her participatory arts practice in Grosse Île, in the Magdalene Islands.

As mentioned, ACE projects in rural communities don’t only benefit the schools, they also benefit the artists. Reflecting on her experience, Louise acknowledges that the remoteness of her ACE project benefitted her artistic and teaching practice, saying, “I enjoyed getting to know the people in Grosse-Ile for somewhat selfish reasons. I have always lived in medium to large-sized urban centres and being in Grosse-Ile for a month was a small taste of what it might be like to live in a small community. There are benefits and drawbacks to every place, and the trick is to take advantage of the best parts of every place you go or live. Animating an ACE project in Grosse-Ile was an opportunity for me to question my regular ways of doing things and find a way to make music with the people in Grosse-Ile that was the best way for them to make music”. While in Grosse-Ile, Louise also created a musical piece for use in an exhibit in a local museum, “People of the Sea”, which commemorates those lost at sea from the community.

Part of the performance at Richmond High School. Photo: Darlene Dimock

In New Richmond, Laura Teasdale created an enduring partnership both with the New Richmond High School, and with other schools in the region. News of her impact spread, and communities up the coast have requested that she works in their schools next year. She wrote of her project that, “there is something magical about going to a remote area to do this kind of work. It feels like an epic adventure. You are so far away from your everyday life, it gives weight and importance to the work. You are there for no other reason, so you become completely absorbed in the project. And everyone in remote small towns knows each other, so it is easy to make connections quickly and to become invested in their lives. I felt surrounded by synchronicity. Like I was exactly where I needed to be and where they needed me to be”.

Gathering sound recordings for the radio drama, in Grosse Ile. Photo: Louise Campbell

Jimmy Baptiste reports that though it is always had for him to leave his community in Montreal to facilitate artistic projects in other regions, it always feels worth it because of the exposure to new thinking patterns challenges him to be more flexible with his facilitation practice. He writes that, “I love working with ACE outside of my community because I get to discover and see new places that I might not be able to see otherwise. Furthermore, working with students from different places create an interesting and beautiful dynamic since they get to discover new art techniques”. In all the 2018/2019 rural ACE projects, connections and new patterns of artistic and faciliatory practice were established, to deepen professional development.

ELAN has two artist-in-schools projects, the ACE Initiative and the Artists Inspire Grants (which are also supported by LEARN), under the umbrella of ELAN’s Arts Education Initiatives this year. Both projects can support artist-residencies in rural communities, and the impact and duration of a project through either initiative can be extended through drawing on other funding sources, such as the Culture in the Schools program. Applications for both programs will be open by June 2019. An ELAN Art Ed artist-residency can benefit both the artist and the school; get your application ready to see your artistic and faciliatory practices, or students, grow next year.

When actor, playwright and performance art facilitator Laura Teasdale first came to New Richmond for an ELAN ACE Initiative project, both she, and the teachers, were unsure of what the project would look like. Everyone was instead concerned with the desired outcome: promoting unity in the community. The Cascapedia Bay is a region with long-standing Mi’kmaq, Acadian, Irish, Loyalist and Scottish roots, and encouraging shared citizenship was important, in an area where as Laura states, “every internet source shared a different story of who founded the place”. Laura’s passion and speciality are creating historical plays. In consultation with the teachers of New Richmond High School, she decided that it would be thought-provoking to create a historical play that celebrated the history of the founding of the community. With this in mind, she, and the students of New Richmond began to gather stories from the local Seniors and Elders of the community, which they turned into scripts and songs.

Photo credit: Darlene Dimock

Though intercultural unity was the main priority for the community for Laura’s project, the intergenerational component has been important as well. Laura recalls that when she first visited some of the seniors and Elders, their eagerness made it seem as though “they had been waiting all their lives to share these stories with someone”. Connecting to the elderly in the community in turn helped the students connect with their own histories.

In addition to being drawn out of their selves by connecting to the larger narrative of the space, in the act of performance, students also became more confident to articulate in different ways. Laura recalls an example of a girl who was initially very shy, who would not perform. Through Laura’s drama workshops, she began to emerge from her shell, and now has a speaking role in the performance. Laura also reflects on how the students at large have softened through her workshops, so that both the louder kids and quieter kids now make space for each other to perform and respect each other’s performances. Such empowerment is the magic of art, Laura believes. While the students are empowered to connect to themselves and relate in different ways, the Seniors and Elders are also empowered to connect and relate to their community first through being listened to, and then through hearing their stories relayed back to them in ways that honour the uniqueness, skill and culture that each community has brought to the area.

Photo credit: Darlene Dimock

Laura decided through observing the empathetic process of the students in documenting the stories and creating the performance that perhaps, ultimately, the goal of the project could be celebrating diversity, “making the students feel good for being themselves” rather than promoting unity. The unity would come instead from the shared act of development and viewership. Just as all human populations in the area are united in relying on the Cascapedia River, which bore witness to their economic developments, so all spectators of the performance would be united in witnessing the students re-enact the histories of their diverse ancestors. The students also decided to use the River as the narrative cherry on top of their performance.

Photo credit: Darlene Dimock

Laura states that when she first came to the community, she knew nobody. She realized that to find connection, she would need to open herself up to the peoples of the Bay de Chaleur; documenting the stories of the locals was one way in which she achieved that. The willingness of the community to welcome Laura demonstrates their shared pride in their histories, and their willingness to be vulnerable. The community made space for Laura, as it also made space to listen and celebrate each other’s unique strengths and capacities. The community performance took place April 17th, and the performance and songs created have been preserved, so that the community can appreciate them in future years.

A key component of an ELAN ACE project is to encourage multidirectional learning. Inviting a student-journalist into a project to document its progress is a great way to empower leadership skills in younger people, and have the artist and the community learn from the student-journalist’s unique perspective, voice and artistic skill-sets. Melissa Landry was the student-journalist for Lisan Chng‘s project at Metis Beach school. She did a fabulous job capturing the stories emerging from the various stages of the project. Below is a piece that she wrote reflecting on the impact that the project had on her.  

The Impact an Intergenerational Community-Based Art Project Had on My Life.

Pulled by a chubby hand I was lead to a table supplied with a plethora of colourful beads and tiles of glass.  “Can you help me?” the little one asked as he grasped a pile of sparkling golden tiles from their neat container and scattered them into a mess. From the perspective of this two-feet higher set of eyes, I watched him salsa dancing in his chair, holding a facial expression I swear to have been the most excited look a child could have, and got lucky to catch a glimpse of childhood wonder. I smiled. From ear to ear. And said “of course! let’s do this together.”

In the midst of the lower st. Lawrence stands the teeny, but yet impactful, town and community of Metis Beach. And at the centre of this small town lies a gem, known as Metis Beach School (my former high school). Over the years, this lively school has proven to serve as an inviting scope for community-building activities, and community projects relating to art have certainly been no exception.

During my graduating year at MBS, I was blessed with the privilege to be taught by mosaic artist, Lisan Chng, whom I, at the time, had become greatly inspired by. While working on the project she had hosted, I remember being in a state of awe seeing the fullness of enthusiasm and passion that she had in her marrow for the craft. So, after being informed by my mother that Lisan was going to host yet another community-based project, “Magic Pots and Talking Mirrors”, I headed into it with excitement. This specific program was made possible by multiple sponsors and was set to be an intergenerational mosaic project where adults and children would work alongside each other. Adults on mirrors, and younglings from kindergarten to elementary level on flower pots. Though I must say, even knowing this, I walked in on all this excitement with a completely blind idea of what exactly to expect.

Photo credit: Melissa Landry

First off, in my spur-of-the-moment decision to join this project, I followed my mum into it not knowing at the time the group’s label was preceded by “Senior”. As a freshly-turned 18-year-old, discovering I had involved myself into what was, in fact, a “senior’s” group,  quickly hit me with a bout of laughter.  “I guess I’m just an ‘extra Jr. Senior'” I giggled to myself. But shortly after emerging into the unfamiliar group, in both demographic and faces, I was pleased to find that I still found a comfortable spot to fit right in.

Still salsa dancing on-top his chair, my eager little partner squealed “It’s sooooo SHINY!!!!!” And soon after, with an opera-singer voice, he sang “like a pot of goldddddd!!!”. (What a voice indeed I tell ya). It was while seeing these silly moments, of a now-hopping-around-the-room child being simply careless, free and undoubtedly hyperrrr, that I discovered within myself that I find an abundance of joy in with working with kids.

Currently, my life motto is to “go with the flow”, “follow whatever path is ahead”, “take opportunities as they come”… basically, my current life plan is to have no plan. I don’t yet know exactly what I want out of life, what I want to do or if going to college/university will ever be part of it. So now I’ve been focusing on trying new things and figuring out what works for me. Anything and everything. Heck, for the past six months I was working in a lobster processing plant, and I discovered it was seriously the absolute best. This project was also the absolute best.

In experiencing the emotional baggage of a recent hardship,  you could say my spirit was like a “caged bird” before being granted the opportunities walking in on this whole experience provided me. Of helping little hands, of doing my best to capture precious moments with pictures and with writing this very article. In short, I needed something new to learn, or people new to meet to get me out of my rut. And this project, consisting of the niche community of senior volunteers and young students, along with a wonderful artist host, had created just the environment I needed to spring me back into motion. It was the fun I had designing my mosaic mirror. The new techniques and skills I learned. Speaking with all the wise “senior” ladies I met (who I swear are still so young at heart). And most definitely, it was the kids.

After every session I found myself arriving home pooped, tired, exhausted, hungry, sleepy… and well, you get the point. But at the same time, I was never so empty but yet ever so full of joy and happy energy from the crowd of children who had surrounded me for that past couple of hours. It was something I looked forward to each week. Being utterly pooped. Needing 100 naps. Just seeing those adorable faces and the pieces of our hard work come together. Or not…

As a step of this project, we had to glue beaded patterns the kindergarten students created onto the tops of flower pots. Easy as 1,2,3. right? 1. Apply glue. 2. Stick pattern on. 3. observe completed pro… uh ooh. Pretty pearly pinks and blues and rainbows of colours had started to droop right off the glue, well, the “kamikaze-slide”, that had just been slathered on. Shortly after, sort of in a panic, we were forced to observe the un-kind effects of gravity. Not so fun. I’m not lying when I say tears of stress started leaking out of our eyes at the sight. But all the while, Lisan was already coming up with a way to fix our encountered problem — thicker paste. She’s a superwoman, I swear. This is how Lisan somehow managed to inspire me even further. By demonstrating perseverance at it’s finest! As a bonus, this also served as a learning experience for the younger ones — sometimes things in life don’t quite turn out to plan.

After about two months of trial and error, creativity and plain hard work, everything was complete. A group picture was taken with completed pieces as faces all-a-smiled and everything was cleaned up. (However, I beg to question if grout ever truly leaves any space it dare enters…). It was simply finished. With its bittersweet taste and all. And I could tell I wasn’t going to be the only who would feel a little weird about not having to mark the next project dates on the calendar.

Photo credit: Melissa Landry

“Magic Pots and Talking Mirrors” was a community-based project I won’t forget being involved in. I won’t forget spotting heads of youngsters and those with strands of white working together with smiles. I won’t forget how the loving and eager volunteers, even some who were not at first confident with their ability to work with kids, came in and made it all so much more fun. (They seriously made cutting tape seem like the “fun-est” thing in the world). I won’t forget one of my little partners gasping at how SHINY his pot turned out or the what seemed like a hundred hugs and cat drawings I got from the kids for helping them make what they did. They were proud of themselves. I was definitely proud of them. And I certainly won’t forget the impact it has had on me as a young adult.

Getting to be a part of something so impactful has both given me more confidence in myself and has shown me a little more of the direction I hope life’s current takes me towards. I mean, I still do not know what I would like to do with my life. (Do any of us?) But my biggest takeaway was in discovering that teaching children stems from a passion I didn’t know I had. They’ve stolen a place in my heart, and their drawings are still on my fridge to prove it.

Due to the positive outcome I’ve seen this project have in-close and personal for everyone involved, I hope it will serve as a launch-pad for more intergenerational art-based projects for not only this community but also perhaps those which neighbour to spring up. Because hopefully, and just maybe, I believe if opportunities like this would continue to arise, others might be given the same chance to learn something new. About a craft, or even, about themselves.

Photo credit: Melissa Landry

Photo credit: Melissa Landry

Lisan Chng, of MosaicJam International, says that for her, the community atmosphere and self-confidence that grow out of facilitating artistic practices are just as important as the creative practice of mosaic-making itself. Community-building was a core aspect of the project that she organized for Metis Beach School, which received funding and support from ELAN Quebec’s ACE Initiative, to encourage those of different generations and linguistic backgrounds to learn from each other in her Magic Pots and Talking Mirrors project.

In the project, Lisan first gave mosaic workshops to local seniors of the community so that they could make mosaic mirrors. The seniors then shared the skills they gained in making the mirrors with the students of Metis Beach School by teaching them how to grout and tile pots. Throughout the process, Lisan relays, both the students and seniors gained self-confidence through developing ingenious ways to make the art, which they then shared with the other members of the group. An example of such an occurrence was when a student with autism proved that she had a natural knack for mosaic setting and demonstrated her ability to other students and adults. Such multidirectional learning, which encourages a community atmosphere and the development self-confidence, is a core tenet of the ELAN ACE Initiative’s project model.

Photo credit: Melissa Landry

Another way in which multidirectional learning was introduced in Lisan’s project was through bringing in a student-journalist, Melissa Landry, to document the project. Lisan states that, “with Melissa onboard, I was able to completely focus on the workshops without having to think of capturing photos of moments at the same time. Having someone independently writing about the project really makes this project special for me. ACE Consultant Paula Knowle’s idea of presenting a timeline of the project with photos and comments from the participants was also a valuable idea. It helped me to communicate the story of what we are doing to everyone in school, and also to all participants. These are ideas I can implement in future projects as well.”

By welcoming a student-journalist into the project, Lisan increased the intergenerational connection that she values in her projects and encouraged multidirectional learning; she herself realized the benefit of welcoming someone into the project with communications expertise to relieve herself of the task, and of the importance of documenting and sharing content to broadcast the impact of the project to broader communities.

Photo credit: Melissa Landry

Melissa Landry, meanwhile, was able to develop her journalism, documentation and curation skills. Melissa states that: “this opportunity gave me a solid introduction into what journalism entails and provided for me a safe place to try it out for my first time. And because it was intergenerational, I got to work with both children and seniors which I believe doubled the value of this experience. Learning in this environment helped to sharpen the multitasking skills required in the documenting process between taking pictures, logging writing ideas, and washing little hands”.

Melissa Landry’s mother, Andrea Landry, also reflects on how the project developed her daughter’s self-confidence and her ease in working in diverse environments. She writes that, “from the moment we entered the beautiful Metis Beach School cafeteria, I knew the “Magic Pots and Talking Mirrors” project was going to be magical for us. Most interestingly for Melissa. As the workshop progressed, I could see that taking part with the lovely seniors and adorable children had invigorated her. Just as mirrors reflect us and plants bloom when they are planted in pots, I was grateful to see her grow from this experience.”

Inviting a student-journalist into her project benefitted Lisan’s goal of promoting the growth of intergenerational community and self-confidence, extended the multidirectional learning already present in the project through having Lisan further learn and benefit from Melissa’s counsel and skills, enabled Melissa further hone in on these skills, and ensured that the successes and moments of reflection of the project were well-documented and shared. Similar benefits can be gained in other ACE Initiative projects that invite-in student-journalists to document their progress.

Photo credit: Melissa Landry

This is the first story of a new ELAN series, “Lessons Learned”. In this series, we will be highlighting insights of key stakeholders in our ELAN Artists Community Education (ACE) Initiative project on facets of the projects they are engaged in. This story was written when Louise Campbell was in Grosse Ile. 

Photo: Louise Campbell

When Musician and Participatory Arts Facilitator Louise Campbell first arrived in Grosse Ile for an artist residency supported by both ELAN Quebec’s ACE Initiative and the Culture in the Schools program in the Magdalen Islands, she used music to introduce herself to the community. Campbell grew up in Southern Alberta, and she says that there were many similarities between both locales, namely the big skies and wind. Contrasting her experience in Southern Alberta with her current hometown of Montreal, she improvised music to help the students of the Grosse Île School and community understand and relate to her background and the idea of making music and art inspired by place.

 

Throughout her project, Campbell maintained the theme of connecting to place through improvised sound and colour in order to help the students deepen their understandings of their community. She writes that the people of Grosse Ile, “have a very strong sense of place; working through sound can highlight this and give [the residents] a way in to making music based on their own experiences”.

 

Stories emerged out of the brainstorming sessions that Campbell partook in with the students of Grosse Ile School. Many of these stories centered on the sea, from students’ favourite memories of time spent with friends and family at the beach, to tragedies evolving out of the reality of living in such close relationship to the ocean.

 

Such maritime tragedy is part of the lived and mythic experience of the Island; known as the “Island of a Thousand Shipwrecks”, community members have recently opened an exhibit called “People of the Sea” that remembers and commemorates the lives of those lost at sea.

 

Louise and the students of the Grosse Ile School developed short narratives that delve into the range of experiences the students associate with their home through the medium of radio play. To better express the narratives, they began to build up a repository of sounds, a sound library, using Foley-style sound effects, boom whackers, loop pedals and sounds recorded in the natural environment.

Photo: Amber Mckay

The efforts that are being taken in the project to narrativize experience and understand the natural landscape are central to relating to place and its natural elements in ways that broaden understanding and empower the students to think of the natural environment with both awe and understanding.

 

During her residency, Louise also developed a special educator-student relationship with a young student with extreme sensitivity to sound. Similar to empowering the students to articulate the natural environment in clearer ways through sound and narrative, Louise helped the student understand and appreciate his sonic environment more through developing ways with him to first manage, and then play within his experience of everyday sounds.

 

Louise recalled first arriving and playing clarinet for a class, and having the student react very strongly and negatively to her music and sound in general. Following this class, Louise showed the student how to use an equalizer on his computer to neutralize sound to adjust the balance of specific frequencies, in the hopes that he would be able to adjust the sound so that it would be more comfortable for his hearing. Louise states that “once I had done this, in ten minutes, he went from being quite mad to being very content and started having a lot of fun playing with sound”.

 

With consent from his teacher, Louise invited the student to take a break from his classroom when he was done with his schoolwork to help with the recording of sounds for the sound library. She recalls that the first time that she first gave the student this responsibility, “I heard him stomping around and slamming a door and running water; creating all these sound effects”.

 

Since then, the student has started to mix sounds effects to create music, including a short piece featuring the sounds of a wind storm and another of a train leaving the station. He has also thrown himself into pitch and rhythm games using boomwhackers, showing exceptional aptitude and taking great pleasure in playing these games alone and with others. Louise reflects on the importance that creating a positive association to sound for one student can have on the community at large, saying that this student, “has been a huge part of my experience here, and is one of the ways in which I think I am really creating an impact through my project. In such a small school, one kid affects so many others. If I can have him understand sound as fun and interesting, it may help him develop important coping strategies to deal with this acute sense of hearing”.

 

Before leaving Grosse Ile, Louise has been teaching as many people as possible how to help the young student equalize, edit and mix sound with software downloaded onto his computer, as well as play pitch and rhythm games using boomwhackers. She hopes that this, and the momentum built up around contributing and using the sound library to create both music and stories, will encourage the students of Grosse Ile to experiment with sound in order to understand themselves and their environment in deeper ways after her residency ends.

 

Louise states that she believes that creative approaches to learning are essential to help diverse peoples integrate into schools. She also believes that creativity helps people process their life experiences. Through helping the student with sound sensitivity relate to sound in both more manageable and healthy ways, Louise is helping him be and feel more in control and successful now, which will help him later in life. In helping the students of Grosse Ile understand their environment better through sound, Louise is encouraging healthier relations to the natural environment. Both facets of her project encourage more complex relational learning through the sound. The skills developed through recording and mixing sounds will hopefully serve as catalysts for deepening learning of sound, to create stories that help both locals and newcomers relate to the realities of Grosse Ile into the future.

Photo: Louise Campbell

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