May 18, 2017
In recognition of Canada 150 and the anniversary of Confederation in 2017, Professor Rita Irwin of the Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy is overseeing an artists-in-residence program and art installation at Pierre Elliott Trudeau Elementary School in Vancouver.
The project, O Canada!, funded by Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), aligns artists-in-residence with teachers and students to discover how the Canadian identity can be better understood through art education.
Artists-in-residence, Dr. Natalie LeBlanc and Alison Shields (PhD candidate) have been working with teachers and students from Kindergarten to Grade 7 at Trudeau Elementary for the past three months on “Postcards Canada,” an abstract art project that served as the backdrop for the school’s Canada 150 Celebration today.
LeBlanc explained how the artists discussed with students abstract concepts such as “place” and “identity.” The students experimented with different materials including watercolours, food colouring and pastels to create self-portraits and landscapes or places of interest to them. LeBlanc then took each student’s photo in front of a green screen, and later replaced the background with another artwork created by the child. The end product — an abstract self-portrait, masked behind their postcard, yet immersed within it.
“Abstract art is about asking open-ended questions,” says LeBlanc. “Postcards Canada asks the viewer to imagine who is holding the postcard and to wonder about the place it shows. Every postcard, like every person living in Canada, is unique. When seen together, they are a celebration of our differences.”
Dr. Irwin notes that abstract art pushes the teacher and student to understand that it’s okay to be open-ended and inquiry driven.
Ms. Alison Diesvelt, a Grade 6/7 teacher at Trudeau Elementary, effuses about the artist-in-residence program — how it has fostered creativity among her students and inspired her colleagues.
“The kids loved having a real artist coming into the school and loved working with watercolours,” says Diesvelt. “They were very excited about the digital elements, seeing how you could superimpose photography onto hand-crafted images using digital art technology.”
She noted colleagues also were very keen to engage students with art and technology.
“Our staff are very enthusiastic about having someone to enrich their understanding of how to teach the arts, especially abstract art; many consider the artist-in-resident an immediate and very accessible source of professional development,” says Diesvelt.
“Our work contributes to a better understanding of how education through art leads to social change,” says Irwin. “It has the potential to improve teacher education by helping teachers appreciate their power to make a difference with learners and foster a culture of compassion for people of different races, ethnicities and cultures.
These self-portraits collectively show a very diverse image of what it means to live in Canada. They help us break down stereotypes and celebrate all.”
At the end of the Trudeau Elementary’s Canada 150 Anniversary celebration, the students thanked Drs. Irwin, LeBlanc and Shields for helping them gain a better understanding of their sense of identity and place.