Artists study the art of teaching at York

Forty-two artists who present arts education projects in Ontario schools went back to class themselves this week for a new program offered by York University and the Ontario Arts Council (OAC).

They know their art – whether it is music or visual arts, dance or drama. This week, however, they studied the stages of child and adolescent development, as well as current issues in education such as how to teach in diverse classrooms.

“Many of these artists are established dancers, storytellers, writers, musicians and visual artists who have been taking their art into classes for years,” says Kathleen Gould Lundy (right), co-director of the Certificate Course in Arts Education, and a course director in York’s Faculties of Education and Fine Arts.  “This week we focused on what an effective classroom should look like, we discussed school policies regarding safety and the role that the arts play in education, and we highlighted examples of successful partnerships between artists and teachers.”

The Certificate Course in Arts Education was co-designed by Lundy, who taught much of the course along with colleagues Belarie Zatzman, associate dean, York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, and Steven Campbell, OAC director of community partnerships. The OAC’s Artists in Education program supports artists taking five- or ten-day arts education projects into Ontario schools.

The new certificate course at York attracted both artists who are new to the OAC program and those who are old hands. For years, Marie-Monique Jean-Gilles (right) has shared her program of storytelling, music and awareness of other cultures with francophone classes, guiding the children as they create their own performances. As one of the artists highlighted this week, she discussed some of her experiences with the group. Among other topics, Jean-Gilles spoke about her “Raconte moi ton histoire” (Tell Me Your Story) program and what she has learned from teaching in both small northern communities and in Toronto.

The Certificate Course in Arts Education also attracted young artists who have worked with students from kindergarten to Grade 12 in the past but perhaps not through OAC. Andrea Nann, a contemporary dance choreographer and performer who is artistic director of Dreamwalker Dance Company, worked in schools for years as a member of the Danny Grossman Dance Company. She plans to be in Toronto classrooms again this year, encouraging students to physically express their emotions about topics such as war, death or separation. Inouk Touzin, a dynamic Franco-Ontarian actor/director/writer, hopes to “turn on the lights” in students with his “25-hour creation kit” that helps them to shape their ideas and words into short stage plays.

Left: Andrea Nann

The artists who take the new certificate course – 42 this week, but eventually all 110 on OAC’s Artists in Education roster for schools – are being exposed to a level of professional development that has not been available in Ontario in the past, says Campbell.

“It is the teachers’ responsibility to teach the curriculum in schools but artists enrich the curriculum with their creativity,” says Campbell. “This new certificate course gives artists the tools they need to evaluate if what they are doing in schools is succeeding or not, and teaches them how to improve their programs.”

The Certificate Course in Arts Education is an interdisciplinary model of collaboration between institutions, according to Zatzman. “From exploring the arts as a form of literacy, to examining best practices in arts in education, this certificate reflects contemporary educational practices which provoke questions and acknowledge the complexity of teaching.”