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.
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.
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.