Jimmy Baptiste is an Arts Facilitator, Muralist, Illustrator, Graphic Designer and Graffiti Artist who facilitated an ELAN Quebec ACE project at Richmond High School, in Richmond, this Spring. Below are his reflections on the project, and on the importance of including art in education.

ACE: What is your artistic practice?

Jimmy Baptiste: I’m an Arts Facilitator, a Muralist, an Illustrator, a Graphic Designer, and a Graffiti Artist. I do mostly arts-based projects with students or people from the community around street arts, graffiti, visual arts and graphic design.

 

ACE: How have you incorporated your practice into the ELAN ACE project you are currently involved in?

Jimmy Baptiste: The ELAN ACE project that I was involved in directly fits the type of practice I have been doing. In the last fifteen years, I’ve been going around to different schools, community centres, YMCA’s and universities, and creating different art-based activities.

Often, we will go focus on a specific subject or theme that the organizer wants to explore, and from that, we will try to envision visuals, from which we will design the artwork that we want to do. I accepted the project when I first met Paula Knowles from the ELAN Art Ed Team, even though I wasn’t sure how a project that revolves around the theme of geography would work. The teacher and I began to brainstorm together, and the project ended up coming together very nicely.

Photo credit: Siu-Min Jim

ACE: Can you describe the project that you worked on?

Jimmy Baptiste: In this project, we were exploring natural disasters, and the human response to them. The project touched on three different subjects: English Language Arts, Geography and Art. To incorporate the English component, the students had to write a page on the natural disaster that they chose, why they chose it, and what their reflections were on the project. They then had to add a quote onto the poster, and a visual. It was really about trying to create something impactful from the first view; to affect the viewer and impart a message on the impact of natural disasters that was both immediate and contextual. The students were pretty clever, and I was quite impressed with their play on words, whether it was to modify the font, melt the words into the image, or use puns. We had a week to enact the project, and while it usually takes more time to do a poster project, the students did great within this time-frame. I think that once they felt as though they had structure and were aware of how to implement the themes they were wanting to develop, they were able to really explore their creativity within the time and project boundaries. Throughout the week, I was accessible to the students; I would move through the classrooms throughout the week to discuss the development of the project with each student. There were also different blocks throughout the day when students could come and work on the project when they didn’t have other work. At the end of the project, we had a vernissage, and parents were invited in to view the work of their students.

 

ACE: How do you see the students and the teachers that you are working with growing through your project?

Jimmy Baptiste: One of the things that I really liked was to have the teachers participate in the project. It’s a cool moment to see students and teachers working on equal ground. It is a humanizing moment that destabilizes the traditional teacher-student dynamic and encourages co-learning. I think that this perspective creates a healthy environment and motivates the students to understand their school environment differently.

 

ACE: How has your own practice deepened through this project?

Jimmy Baptiste: Definitely. Every project that I do enables me to further evolve. I see the value in this project because the theme was new for me, and it was a good challenge to adapt my arts facilitation practice to work within geography curriculum.

 

ACE: Can you think of an example of co-learning that you witnessed and participated in through this project?

Jimmy Baptiste: Yes, I can think of a few. During this project, I was working with a boy who had high energy and found it hard to focus. I learned from this project of the importance of creating dynamic learning so that he was always engaged; it forced me to adapt my material. I also think that I witnessed co-learning with the teachers working alongside the students on developing their themes through the posters. The teachers and students were bouncing ideas off each other.

Photo credit: Siu-Min Jim

ACE: What is your vision of the future relationship of the arts to education? What do you think is the value of integrating the arts into education?

Jimmy Baptiste: I think that as we move into the future, jobs that focus on creativity are becoming more and more important. With the advent of artificial intelligence, it will be important to develop skill sets that highlight creative innovation, and not just repetition or patterned thinking; the arts can promote this. I also think that projects like this one are great to refresh teacher-student relationships and expose students to thinking they might not usually have access to in their community.

ACE: Did you observe any changes in particular that indicate the community or school will continue to support the arts?

Jimmy Baptiste: I hope so! I had really excellent support of the teachers and the principal throughout my project. Also, I was hosted by a really lovely teacher-couple and received great feedback from parents.

 

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.

ELAN launches ArtistsInspire Grants (AIG), a $2.2 million investment for Quebec official-language minority schools to create arts and cultural opportunities. Visit the new AIG website at artistsinspire.ca.

ELAN Quebec, in partnership with LEARN, officially launched ArtistsInspire Grants (AIG) today, a micro-grant program that will fund artistic and cultural activities in 300 official-language minority schools throughout the province of Quebec. Eligible public elementary and secondary schools are encouraged to apply for this funding, with $1500 available per school for each of the next four years, starting in 2019/2020.

“Access to arts and cultural expressions allow us to hear stories and see ourselves in multiple ways, showing us an infinite possibility of bright futures. Our government knows that it’s important for parents in minority communities to provide their children with an environment in which they can thrive in their own language and culture. We are proud to implement this program, which will not only increase the number of activities offered, but also immerse students at official-language minority schools in the cultural life of their community.”

— Mélanie Joly, Minister of Tourism, Official Languages and La Francophonie.

“The ultimate goal of the program is that through the hands-on creative experiences that artists facilitate, teachers, students and community members in the province are inspired to develop their creativity capacity in ways that lead to individual and community outcomes for learning, wellbeing and socio-economic development.”

— Christie Huff, Lead Consultant – ELAN’s Arts & Education Initiatives.

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ELAN (English-Language Arts Network) est heureux d’annoncer le lancement du programme de subventions Artistes Inspire (AI), soit un investissement de 2,2 millions de dollars destiné à créer des activités artistiques et culturelles dans les écoles de langue officielle en situation minoritaire au Québec.

En partenariat avec le programme LEARN, ELAN Québec lançait aujourd’hui le projet Artistes Inspire (AI), un programme de micro-subventions qui financera des activités artistiques et culturelles dans 300 écoles de langue officielle en situation minoritaire au Québec. Les écoles primaires et secondaires publiques admissibles au programme sont invitées à faire une demande de subvention. Un montant de 1 500 dollars par école est disponible pour chacune des quatre prochaines années, à compter de 2019/2020.

« L’accès aux arts et aux expressions culturelles nous permet de découvrir des histoires et de nous voir sous de multiples angles, nous montrant ainsi mille et une possibilités pour un avenir prometteur. Notre gouvernement sait qu’il est important pour les parents des communautés minoritaires d’offrir à leurs enfants un environnement où ils peuvent s’épanouir dans leur langue et leur culture. Nous sommes fiers de lancer ce programme, qui permettra d’accroître le nombre d’activités offertes, en plus d’inviter les élèves des écoles en milieu minoritaire à une incursion dans la vie culturelle de leur communauté. »

— L’honorable Mélanie Joly, ministre du Tourisme, des Langues officielles et de la Francophonie.

« L’objectif ultime du programme est de susciter, par l’entremise d’activités créatives offertes par des artistes, l’intérêt des enseignants, des étudiants et des membres de la communauté à développer leurs capacités créatives afin de favoriser, tant sur le plan individuel que collectif, l’apprentissage, le mieux-être et le développement socio-économique. »

— Christie Huff, consultante principale des initiatives en arts et éducation chez ELAN.

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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.

Laura Teasdale is an actor, playwright, musician and drama teacher hailing originally from the Maritimes who has facilitated two ELAN ACE projects, one in the Eastern Townships and another in the Maria, Gesgapegiag, and Cascapedia/St. Jules villages of the Gaspé Peninsula. Below is an interview taken while she was facilitating the project in Gaspé, featuring her thoughts on the project and the importance of art in education.

Photo credit: Darlene Dimock

ACE Initiative: What is your artistic practice?

I am an actor, playwright, musician and drama teacher. A passion of mine is writing historical theatre and creating community-based theatre events.

 

ACE Initiative: Can you describe the process of, and the project that you are working on?

When I first met with community coordinators at New Richmond, they were undecided on the kind of art project they wanted to have, but they knew very clearly what they wanted to see come out of it: a sense of pride in the community. Students at New Richmond come from the nearby villages of Maria, Gesgapegiag, and Cascapedia/St.Jules.  The Mi’kmaq, French, English, Scottish and Irish all lay claim to the founding of the area. As a history buff, this intrigued me. So, I asked the community if they would be interested in creating a performance based on the history, and they said yes. To develop the play, the students and I have been going to local Seniors’ homes and speaking with Elders. We’ve then turned these stories into performance pieces. There were three phases of this project, first we had a phase where I was introducing drama and comedy and storytelling through workshops. Then we had a phase where we were documenting the stories and creating the script. Now we are in the rehearsal phase. All of the elementary students are performing, and some senior high students are supporting with music and dancing.  Local musicians are also volunteering to play in the house band for the show. I am here for 5 weeks total.

ACE Initiative: How do you see the students growing through your project?  

With the kids- it’s the way it always is with kids, when there is music and art. It’s really apparent to me when I’m with kids who don’t have these things. There have been students who were initially so shy, and who would never perform who are now really engaged.

For example, recently, a girl who is so shy, and who I thought I might never break through to started singing to me.  Her teachers tell me she seems to be flourishing, even though she still won’t perform in front of anyone but me. I thought, how is this going to impact the course of her life? There is another kid who I pegged as the sharpest knife in the drawer, and who I realized couldn’t read, when we were reading a script. But he had such high emotional intelligence and really thrived in my workshops. It makes me think, that if he had arts regularly in his education, he might understand his worth and abilities differently like, “reading is a struggle for me, but I’m worth it”. In general, there has been a real growth of self-confidence in the students, through creating the play, and exploring facets of their personality through the drama, comedy and storytelling workshops.

Photo credit: Darlene Dimock

ACE Initiative: How has your own practice deepened through this project?

I think that deepened is really the word. When you are up in front of the students all day teaching, it’s like acting. Any teacher would tell you that. And I came here knowing no one. So, to connect, I needed to let all the newness of the community touch me.  Not acting in front of them, but being really me there with them. This investing in connection has in turn made this project about more than just teaching. It’s connected me to the community which in turn is influencing my work.

ACE Initiative: Can you think of an example of co-learning that you witnessed and participated in through this project?

The teachers and I have been continuously surprised at what the kids have been coming up with. They’ve been creating all of these songs and scripts from the stories of the Seniors and Elders- it’s been really lovely to see. And in documenting the stories, the students have been learning history from their Elders. I know that everyone has been working to be open, and this in turn is helping me to be vulnerable and take more risks.  The teachers tell me everyday what exercises and games they will continue to use in the future.

ACE Initiative: What is your vision of the future relationship of the arts to education? What do you think is the value of integrating the arts into education?

I am going to advocate for integrating arts into education for the rest of my life. I started teaching about twelve years ago. I’ve been an artist my whole life, and I didn’t think that teaching was my calling.  I still don’t.  It’s really hard work! But I find that now, I can’t stop. I can’t un-see what I’ve seen. The compassion and closeness that these projects engender. Art is play and playing is so valuable for developing authentic communication and relation skills. It also empowers kids and makes them less self-conscious. This impacts those who aren’t even going to get on the stage. Having the opportunity to think creatively and develop empathetic skills is also so good for the brain.  Also, selfishly, I know that if we aren’t promoting creative thinking in schools, we won’t have art in the future to enjoy.

Photo credit: Darlene Dimock

ACE Initiative: Did you observe any changes in particular that indicate the community or school will continue to support the arts?

Definitely. Throughout the process, the teachers have been super supportive, and they’ve been very willing to participate in all of the workshops I’ve been doing and lend a hand in the production. The principal, when I first arrived, seemed sort of hesitant. But then people in the school and community started coming up to him and were like, “Hey, who is this person? She’s doing stuff!”. And he’s been on board and has been very instrumental in helping me. Just recently, he told me that if the school can’t get funding again through ELAN, he would like to find other funding to bring me back. A community up the coast (Gaspé) also just reached out about having a project in their school. The community of New Richmond has also been coming up to tell me of the joy that they see in their teachers and students through the project. So, everyone has been super supportive and helpful. Even today, I had two teachers and people from the local Irish association volunteer to perform with the older kids in the band. That everyone has been so involved and good to me indicates how much this sort of project is needed in communities like this one.

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

Jessica Houston is an multimedia artist and participatory arts facilitator. She facilitated two ELAN ACE Projects this year, the “Magical Garden Window” project at Sunnyside Elementary in Stanstead in the Fall of 2018, and the “Future Landscapes” mural at St. Mary’s school in Longueuil, Quebec, this Spring! Read on for her reflections on her most recent project, and her practice. 

ELAN ACE: What is your artistic practice?

Jessica: My multimedia projects examine questions related to our changing natural world, and our nature within it. I have traveled from pole to pole—using photography, painting, oral histories and objects—to evoke nature and culture entanglements. Through a variety of interventions, my works challenge the premise that we are separate from nature, looking at ‘it’ from a distance from a position of privilege. My projects often include site-specific oral histories that amplify the memory of a place and evoke land as a living process. I have worked on projects involving communities and their relationship to their environments in the Canadian Arctic, Antarctica, Greenland, Iceland, and Italy.

ELAN ACE: How have you incorporated your practice into the ELAN ACE project you are currently involved in?

Jessica: In my current project “Future Landscapes” with the students at St. Mary’s school, we have been working on envisioning our future. Based on discussions around environmental issues, including climate change and sustainability, the students created a 15-foot long mural depicting what they would like to see in the future.

Teaching is very much an extension of my artistic practice. I have worked with communities around issues of sustainability and their relationship to place in the Canadian Arctic, Antarctica, Iceland and Europe. In terms of thinking about the future, I recently deposited a time capsule in a glacier in Antarctica containing 22 handwritten letters to the future from contemporary thinkers across disciplines. No one from the present has read the letters.

Photo: Jessica Houston

ELAN ACE: Can you describe the project that you are working on?

Jessica: This collaborative piece at St. Mary’s School involved group discussions around ecology and sustainability, and thoughts about what present-day decisions will impact their future. As a group, students decided about what future they wanted and how to give their ideas vision. They delved into questions of color, scale and composition, as they painted a 5-meter-long mural of their future landscape. This work includes an Arctic with ice, biodiversity of animals, electric cars, wind and water energy, forests, mountains with minerals left in them and not extracted, and revolutionary zero energy architecture. This mural is an artwork onto itself, and it will be used as a setting for a film that the students are making that involves a robot in the future. It speaks to the way art engenders the capacity to envisioning things differently than they are. This four-day art marathon was invigorating for the students and teachers alike. The project will culminate in a school-wide event where the gymnasium will be transformed into a science museum.

ELAN ACE: How do you see the students and the teachers that you are working with growing through your project? 

Jessica: The teacher that I am working with said that he was able to see different aspects of his students emerge through artmaking that are not apparent to him during other school activities. In both school projects that I have carried out, the art experience engenders in children the capacity to imagine things differently than they are. It is this ability to envision that is so important to our democracies and societies. It is also crucial for our own path as human beings.

There isn’t a lack of data supporting the evidence of global warming, clearly, we need more than data to move forward into a sustainable future. The value of imagination is pivotal to our ability as humans to respond empathetically to our world. The process of making a collaborative mural required students to think about the entire composition, and how their piece fits within and contributes to the whole. Working together, students experienced ecological thinking through the artmaking process.

ELAN ACE: Can you think of an example of co-learning that you witnessed and participated in through this project?

Jessica: The students learned a lot from one another, and I surely learned a lot from the students. Mostly, I am heartened by their spontaneity, curiosity and ability to think freely without too many censors. Of their own accord, they come up with many viable solutions to environmental issues. They surprised their teachers, who had a different idea of the future. As a result, they changed their narrative for the film they will make with the robot moving through the future landscape.

ELAN ACE: What is your vision of the future relationship of the arts to education? What do you think is the value of integrating the arts into education?

Jessica: Students’ ability to be whole human beings is awakened in the practice of making art. They use empathy, imagination and agency when making things. These elements are essential to imagining our future – art should be a core requirement to any school curriculum.

Photo: Jessica Houston

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

Follow ELAN Quebec’s ACE Initiative on Instagram: @elan_quebec_ace_inititiatve

Lisan Chng is a mosaic artist, facilitator, coordinator and initiator of community mosaic projects and participatory art. She created and coordinated the ELAN Artists Community Education Initiative (ACE) project, “Magic Pots and Talking Mirrors” at Métis Beach School, in Métis Beach, Quebec, this year. This interview took place when Lisan was completing her project at Metis Beach School.

Photo: Bertin Bélanger

ELAN ACE: What is your practice?

Lisan: My practice is predominantly focused on community-building through mosaic-making. I like the journey of bringing people together through art. In Quebec, this is also considered as cultural mediation, which is the process of building bridges between the cultural and social realms. In my work, I feel like I’m the glue. I bring people together, like tile pieces. In both my life and my work, though the vision isn’t always fully formed; it develops as I bring projects, people and stories together.

 

ELAN ACE: How have you incorporated the ELAN ACE concept into the project you are currently involved in?

Lisan: Before ACE came into my life, I was facilitating community art projects intuitively. But since knowing ACE’s Lead Consultant, Christie Huff, and Project Consultant, Paula Knowles, I’ve really focused on taking more care into connecting the people who are involved in my work. The community-building focus of ACE allows me to focus on being more conscious of the kinds of partnerships I am building and take more care in nurturing the relationships between people. I think that the ACE model has made community-building more structured for me and equipped me with tools and ideas that I can use in this project and in future projects.

 

ELAN ACE: Can you describe the project you are working on?

Lisan: When I was developing the project, I had a few goals. First, I wanted to bring seniors into the community project and connect them with the kindergarten and grades 1-2 students. I also wanted to focus on bridging connection with the linguistic community and between older and younger people beyond their nuclear families. My project is called “Magic Pots and Talking Mirrors”. I first taught the seniors how to create mosaic mirrors, which express their life stories. They learned some basic mosaic skills and were then able to help the students in the making of mosaic pots. The pots were chosen for the students because gardening is important for the community. With the pots, the students learn to tend and grow as well. As the project developed, the art teacher at Metis Beach School, Ms. Lynn Fournier, and I wanted to bring students from Grades 3-4 students into the project as well. In our process of research for additional funding, we found the OseEntreprendre Challenge. At this point, we thought that it would be interesting to challenge the older students to develop the entrepreneurial mindset; we could sell the pots at the farmers’ market. The older students were challenged to create and add features to their pots to make them more compelling for sale. So, it was a project with a base, and it really grew from that. With Culture in Schools, New Horizons For Seniors and ELAN ACE‘s support, we were able to expand the intergenerational project to include the kindergarten, grades 1-2, and grades 3-4. The project started its CREATE phase at the beginning of February. All of the creating work is done, and we now will sell some of these pots with the students in May and June. Some of these pots already have interested buyers! For the younger kids, they could each bring a mosaic pot home, planted with seeds and soil, and give it to their mother for Mother’s Day. All this is made possible with the help of senior participants who chipped-in their time to assist the students in the process.

Photo: Melissa Landry

ELAN ACE: How do you see the students, teachers and community at large growing through the project that you are working with growing through your project?

Lisan: First of all, I’ve never worked with students this young before on difficult process like grouting. Lots of artists wouldn’t even go there. I think that my naivety and the support of the teachers have let me expose the students to something that they haven’t experienced before. It is a project that the students have really learned from, and which has also challenged me in my teaching. I’ve been very lucky to work with artist and art teacher at Metis Beach School, Ms. Lynn Fournier, who has inspired me a lot in the way she teaches art to her students. A lot of the credit for the project’s success goes to her, as we brainstormed together on how to develop the project. It is not easy to have community and another artist come into your class as it can be a lot to manage; Ms. Fournier’s willingness and openness to bring the generations together is pivotal. The seniors’ involvement and presence turned out to be really generative and helpful. There was also an excellent synergy between the math teacher and art teacher, Ms. Fournier, in developing a method to combine curriculum objectives while enacting this project. We were like, hey, it actually makes sense to teach math through art! For the community, I think the community-building aspect pushed some people out of their comfort zone in positive ways. For example, there was a senior who was French-speaking who initially thought that she may not be comfortable working with students in English in an English-speaking school. Another senior participant thought she was not good with working with children. They came and thoroughly enjoyed and learned from the process.

 

ELAN ACE: Can you think of an example of co-learning that you witnessed and participated in through this project?  

Lisan: I didn’t really plan for my project to incorporate co-learning, but it has really developed that way on its own. I am just really impressed with the community’s intelligence. When I first came to this project, I was nervous that I was going to have to bear a lot of the project. As I’ve progressed, I’ve realized that you open the space to have people connect and then their intelligence comes in, and all I have to do is be observant of the learning. For example, when one student gets an advanced concept of cutting or mosaic setting, she gets it done on her pot. Soon, other students see the results and they get up to speed as well. Because we spend more time with the students on techniques and concepts, as the seniors accompany them, they learn and pick up the knowledge as they help the young ones well. We are all learning and absorbing all the way through the project. As we get towards the end of the project, we see the learning accelerating and the production too. It is really quite amazing how the learning becomes concrete and how we all influence each other in a collaborative environment.

 

ELAN ACE: What is your vision of the future relationship of the arts to education? What do you think is the value of integrating the arts into education?

Lisan: Honestly, I take it for granted that that is the way that the future of education will develop. I see art being so vital. I think that the direction of art now is so community-oriented, and out of the galleries. Art is now used for healing, for community building. The value I see in including art in education is that it helps to address the issue that different students learn differently. Our academic systems really only value certain types of learners. In our art project, I see some learners with different abilities pick up on the art project so quickly, even quicker than some adults can manage. In this project, for example, there is a girl with developmental delays who has impressed all the adults in her mosaic skills. On her own, she covered an entire pot with cut tesserae in precise fit, with the motif of her favourite bird in the center. Art taps into different learning abilities. And we have to cater to different learning styles in education.

 

Lisan Chng’s Website: http://mosaicjam.com

Lisan Chng’s Instagram: @mosaicjam

ELAN Quebec’s ACE Initiative’s Instagram: @elan_quebec_ace_initiative