My 2013 ArtSmarts experience

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For the first time, I had the opportunity to join Culture PEI’s ArtSmarts program, and I must say it was an experience to remember!

This year, the program was organized in collaboration with the PEI Association for Newcomers and Sandy Macaulay’s Project-Based Learning class of pre-service B.Ed. students to fulfill the theme “Celebrating Diversity: Exploring Culture, Language, Identity and Global Citizenship.”

 I was lucky to be matched with pre-service teacher Robyn Christensen and Todd James, 7th grade Social Studies teacher at Birchwood Intermediate School, to work on a project that would be displayed at the Confederation Centre for the Arts on the 11th of December.
The first month, from mid-October to mid-November, was spent planning with Robyn. Todd had given her free reign over tackling the chapter on World War I. Originally, we began planning a performance that would be a combination of narratives and acting, more in the spirit of mime, but pretty much a “silent film news reel” type of performance so the students would not need memorize anything, considering how little time there was.
At our second meeting, Cecile Arsenault, who was then in charge of the ArtSmarts program, reminded us of the “diversity” aspect. Robyn and I agreed that the students would interpret the War from the points of view of the different nations involved. The prospect of creating a full production was daunting, so I suggested we use Asian shadow puppets, called Wayang Kulit, to introduce a new art form to the students. Robyn was reluctant at first, but warmed up to it when Cecile and Sandy both thought the idea was exciting. At our last planning meeting, Robyn constructed a shadow puppet from a model I had made, and from then on, she was completely hooked.
We decided that, to simplify the construction of puppets, that I would create the templates for the students to cut out and assemble, which they did in one hour. We spent another hour painting the puppets. Then, we took a whole afternoon to piece together the whole performance.
That afternoon was pure chaos. Needless to say, we did not finish blocking the performance and the students were all over the art room, where we were rehearsing. At the end of the day, Robyn decided we should just record the puppet show on video. I suggested that we might as well dub it with the sound effects and the students voices, so that I could continue directing even as we recorded each scene of the puppet show. I did a quick rewrite and blocking of the script over the weekend in preparation for our Monday afternoon recording session. We took the whole afternoon and completed 13 of 20 scenes. Then, we took the whole morning of Tuesday and finished the last 7 scenes. Robyn did the editing and dubbing and we spent all day of Wednesday at the Confederation Centre showing off the students’ work–puppets and puppet show–to all comers.
I must say that 5 meetings of putting a 15-minute puppet show all together, from making the puppets to staging the show, was a HUGE accomplishment for 7th graders! Everything they did was amazing. Understandably, the process of recording, which took 3 half days, proved taxing for everyone, considering these were 11- and 12-year-olds we were working with.
I have suggested that more time be allocated to interaction between the artist and the students, especially in junior high. Our biggest disadvantage was that we had short isolated sessions sprinkled throughout the week, only 2 of which were full hours, the rest just half hours. All told, I had 6 scheduled meets with the students, but had to take over 3 half days just to finalize the project. If we could have collaborated with more classes or, ideally, with all the teachers of the class we were working with, and a full quarter with 2 or 3 whole days a week dedicated to the art project, then it would be an amazing integration of all subject matter into a single art project!
The only sad note was that our class did not get to see their own puppet show at the Confederation Centre. Neither did they get a chance to visit the Gallery@The Guild to see the artists’ works on display. One of the reasons the Arts Council mounted the artists’ exhibit was so that the students would get a chance to see works by the artists they were working with.
All that aside, I will definitely want to participate in the ArtSmarts program, every single year, if possible!
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MAKING A CONNECTION: Cultures Connecting Through Culture

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(also available at http://www.onrpei.ca)

 

The main staging room at Murphy’s Community Centre was set out with a dozen tables or thereabouts on the afternoon of Monday, November 7. Around 3 p.m., maybe even a little earlier, people began drifting in with boxes, bags, suitcases and other paraphernalia. No, they were not refugees. These people were artists and artisans who had recently arrived in PEI, the majority of them new to Canada as well. And the baggage? These contained works – the products of their creativity that they carefully and meticulously set up on the tables for display.

Display

The event was the 2nd such networking event organized by Culture PEI and the PEI Association for Newcomers to Canada, sponsored by the Murphy’s Community Centre. The first such event was held in 2010 and, following its success, the 2nd ever event was mounted this year, attracting several newcomers and representatives from various groups and galleries. Its purpose was to get business owners and managers to meet newcomer artists and artisans to see if they could do business together.

Networking

Several calling cards were exchanged, certainly some deals would have been made, and there was also the occasional purchase of products. As this was all going on, a few cultural numbers were staged to entertain visitors and exhibitors alike.

It was most certainly a helpful event, especially to newcomers who had absolutely no connections–or a very precious few—on the island. I personally would never have debuted as an artist had the cultural community in PEI not made it so easy for me to see my dream come to fruition.

What I would like to see, though, is more gallery owners or studio owners and managers or directors of places that would sell works made by newcomers present. I would have loved to have given out every single calling card I brought and maybe even made deals that evening—but that may be just me dreaming a little too much a little too soon.

I do know I’ve made a couple of contacts that seem really promising and hope to eventually follow up on those, but because there is no immediate promise of a solid sale, I know I still have to continue working at my day job (or night job, as the case may be) to support my art.

I would also have wanted an expo-type or fair-type of set-up that might have lasted over a weekend at least (so we could do it despite our day jobs), and we would have the opportunity to sell works as well. Nonetheless, I look forward to participating in more of these events, including craft fairs and such, with the fervent hope that, one day, my art will support me and I won’t need another job!

My table