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March 23, 2015

Arts Integration Learning Lab in Prince George

During the first week of March, fifteen artists from across Northern British Columbia met each day, all day, to work together at the Two Rivers Gallery in Prince George. Drawings were made, music could be heard, bodies moved in unison and intense discussions were developed. Was an exhibition in the works, a performance, a new installation? No, this was a different kind of exploration...

The artists had come to Prince George to attend an Arts Integration Learning Lab, the third event of this kind to be offered by ArtStarts in Schools. The artists had assembled to learn how to bring their unique skills and ideas into classrooms – how to plan arts integration activities for students that emerge from their artistic practice. Two facilitators, Ewa Sniatycka and Miriam Colvin, guided the participants through a discovery process with the goal of positioning artists to be able to establish collaborative relationships with educators, to develop their professional practice, and to put arts integration into action.

Artists from Prince George were joined by their peers from Fort Nelson, Tumbler Ridge, Dawson Creek and Smithers. Disciplines represented included visual art, theatre, photography, music, poetry, carving and pottery. Some artists had extensive experience working with educators in schools, while some were preparing for their first collaboration. The hands-on, experiential nature of the Arts Integration Learning Lab allowed each participant to develop skills and understanding by building on their own prior knowledge.

Each session began with facilitator-led physical movement that grew in complexity and fun with each session. More than just warm-up activities, movement built group trust and exemplified themes explored throughout the week such as attention, non-judgement and collaboration.

Principles of arts integration were woven throughout the various sessions, encouraging artists to see the potential for curricular connections to their practices. For example, selected Grade 4 science learning outcomes were embedded in an activity where small groups were required to make an image using small random pieces of felt, and to compose a soundscape to accompany the image using their bodies (clapping, chanting, humming, etc.). The composition was to be based on a single keyword drawn from a hat. The keywords were based on Grade 4 content relating to the impacts of weather. The soundscape performances linked to both music and drama. Making curricular connections was modelled and demystified for participants.

An intriguing drawing activity was used to convey the concept of delayed closure. An object known only by touch (hidden in a bag) was the subject of a drawing exercise and story-building activity; participants spent time exploring the material, social and historical possibilities of their object before ever seeing it. In this way learning inspired by the object was not concluded prematurely by naming or identifying it. The activity gave participants an actual experience of open-ended sustained inquiry and demonstrated the importance of engaging a student's imagination in support of learning.

In the "Whatcha Got?" activity, artists participated in mock interviews where they answered questions about their practice that led to conversations about skills and ideas that they could offer an educator that they may have never considered before. Following this was a workshop on how to apply for Artists in the Classroom grants.

On the final afternoon artists met with two principals from Prince George for an informal conversation about bringing their art practice into a school. The artists' own words summarize the atmosphere of discovery and growth throughout the week:

"I feel empowered and inspired! …This experience has allowed me real room for personal growth as an artist and a learner. I loved exploring different learning methods..."

"It was wonderful to meet and connect with such a wide variety of artists and hear about their disciplines and practices. Participation in the Arts Integration Learning Lab has been an incredible opportunity and I feel like I have a vastly increased collection of skills in my arsenal of teaching skills, including lots of great ways to help connect learners to each other and course content."

"This experience made me a better artist, by challenging me personally and professionally."

"I love that the Arts Integration Learning Lab focused the learning on the students as active learners, and how art isn't its own subject but actively incorporates core subjects into the practice."

It was a week of exploration, play and active learning for everyone involved. In addition, artists from five communities across Northern BC have developed a new network of communication and new friendships. Thanks to Ewa, Miriam and each of the artists who made the Arts Integration Learning Lab an inspiring and meaningful event.

This opportunity was made possible through funding support from BC Arts Council and the Government of British Columbia's Creative Futures program.

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