Bringing Art to Classrooms with SG On the Go

 

by Katherine Ryalen

At Station Gallery, we know that to love art, we need to learn about it. Art education is essential for art appreciation. The earlier in life children are taught to understand art, the more profound an impact it will have on them as they grow into the adults of our future society. This is why we offer educational programs for children, and why we have developed our On the Go workshops. If students cannot come to us for their art experiences, we bring the art experiences to them.

We at SG are of the firm belief that Ontario’s public schools are in need of a robust arts education program, and we encourage teachers to bring their classes to our gallery to take part in our on-site experiences. Yet we have heard from teachers that they are finding it increasingly difficult to do so. Larger class sizes, fewer resources and financial constraints are all factors which prevent students from having an art experience in a unique setting like Station Gallery.

It’s more than disappointing; it breaks our hearts.

If you’re not familiar with our educational programs, we’d like to introduce you to Gallery On the Go and Studio On the Go. Each program features workshops that are tailored to support the Ontario curriculum and use materials given to Station Gallery by Crayola. With our Gallery On the Go Myth Making workshop, our art educators bring two original pieces from Station Gallery’s permanent collection of First Nations and Inuit artwork. “We use these pieces to talk about the artist and what the work is about,” says our Education Manager, Natalie Kauffman. “It’s exciting for the kids, because we do an unveiling of the piece, and they get to see a framed, professional work of art.”

Students are then encouraged to create their own myth in a small group situation. “It’s like addressing a question,” Natalie explains, “such as why polar bears are white.” At the end of the workshop, students have the opportunity to create the animal on which their own myth is based, and to try their hand at printmaking.

Our Studio On the Go program features three different workshops from which teachers can choose: Seven Grandfathers; Watercolour Landscapes; and Comic Life in the Classroom. We bring the studio to the schools to give students an art experience that is tailored to their grade level and corresponding curriculum requirements. The need for this, we found, arose from teachers expressing to us that they didn’t feel comfortable teaching visual arts. “I don’t know how to paint or draw,” they’d say. They therefore did not feel equipped to instruct students.

It’s an unfortunate situation, because by missing out on an education in art, students are missing out on the opportunity to capitalize on all that art education has to offer. Believe it or not, there is a greater benefit to art than just creativity and joy—which, in our humble opinion, should be enough of a reason. “Art engages students,” Natalie Kauffman reminds us. “If you’re talking about students who struggle to stay in school, the arts in all their forms reach those students who might not feel they’re otherwise good enough.”

There are more tangible developmental aspects of art, as well, that many people don’t realize. Beginning in preschool, activities like learning to draw shapes and how to cut with scissors help children hit critical milestones in dexterity development. Discussing art with children, teaching them about colours and creativity and how to speak about what they’re seeing—these are important factors in language development. Creating art helps strengthen the decision-making process.

“More so now than ever, we’ve become a visual culture,” Natalie points out. “Children need to be visually literate. They need to know how to read symbols, logos, signs, even emoticons.” Think about that one for a moment: Emojis are used so casually in our digital communications, and yet they indicate complex human emotions. What else as relevant to our contemporary culture could be more closely linked to art interpretation?

It is clear that there is a need for programs which strengthen visual literacy and critical thinking in our children’s lives. This is at the heart of why we created On the Go. We’re not just coming into the classroom to have fun. The fun environment of SG classes encourages development and is aligned with the Ontario curriculum. We are partners in education, offering teachers helpful tools and suggestions to augment their teaching practice in the visual arts so that when we pack up for the day the learning and exploring continues way beyond our visit.

Art education is a right for all students. With our On the Go programs, we at Station Gallery ensure that children continue to have access to this imperative piece of the academic rubric—bringing our mountain of experiences to them when they can’t come to us.

A special thank you to our Education Manager, Natalie Kauffman, for everything she has done to expand and facilitate this program. Natalie, your life’s work makes all of us better!

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