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March 16, 2017

We Need Creativity to Inspire Change: Student Nellie Sun on the Power of the Arts

We Need Creativity to Inspire Change: Student Nellie Sun on the

At this year's ArtStarts Showcase, delegates were treated to a special speech by Nellie Sun, a Grade 10 student at Churchill Secondary in Vancouver.

Nellie is young, but she is a a longtime advocate for the arts. In a recent class, Nellie was challenged to create a not-for-profit organization with a mission and mandate, and plan an event to raise funds for a like-minded organization. Along with her classmates Lydia Sochan and Ann Ping, Nellie formed LiveWritePaint. They organized an art show, selling student work, and generously donated the proceeds to ArtStarts. We interviewed this dynamic trio for our Next 20 series, which features strong voices from the community who are looking ahead to what the future might hold.

At Showcase, Nellie got up on stage with Lydia, and addressed the delegates to share her personal feelings about the importance of the arts and how creative experiences have impacted her the way she learns, how she chooses to spend her energy, and how she sees the world. We wanted to share Nellie's powerful speech with you here...


Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen,

It is my honour to speak at this conference of teachers, artists, and students. First and foremost, I would like to thank you for the dedication, the blood, sweat and tears you put in your teaching.

I know we have one common goal today, and that is to prepare students so they have enough skills to walk towards their bright futures. I truly believe art is a medium that can help us achieve our goal.

One of the areas that schools and education systems have ignored in the past is the development of creativity. Yet, that is one of the most important and valuable skills our society asks from me and my generation. From the phones in your pockets to the structure of this stage, everything in this room was a result of someone's bold idea. In the future we need to be able to see into different paradigms and challenge the fundamental rules where our beliefs lie. We need to be able to approach problems with different lenses. We need creativity to inspire change. And that is where art comes in. It allows a student to explore with freedom. It provides an environment where we can learn about the real world, where rules don't really apply. You can use any colour you want for a piece, you can interpret a piece of music in a thousand ways, there's a million ways to write a metaphor that captures the emotion and thought. Art teaches one there is more than one way to do something, and more than one destination one can go. Creativity leads to innovation, and that's someone every child should discover. That's what my generation needs to succeed.

Art also helps students succeed because when integrated with other subject areas, it changes the way we learn. There have been so many times where I have studied a few pages from a textbook, went to the exam the next day, then forgot all about it. But when we develop interdisciplinary projects for students to complete, it asks that they synthesize the knowledge. Art is a wonderful medium to explore this idea because it's so open and versatile. When art is integrated into other subject areas, it will allow students to understand the information fully then to create something meaningful and impactful either through music, visual art or even interpretive dance. True knowledge is not memorization, it is learning how to use skills in an effective manner.

A wonderful project of this kind of integrated learning is actually the reason why I'm standing here today. In Grade 9, my applied skills teachers, Mr. Olson, challenged us to open up a not-for profit organization and donate to a charity. He wanted us to weave all the the math, art, English skills we acquired during school into something bigger and more amazing. My group and I held an art show and raised a lot of money. We decided to donate to ArtStarts because I was once Grade 7 student who came here to explore the music wall display they installed in the past. I was inspired by how ArtStarts was able to teach students science and math through the arts. But most importantly, I was grateful how ArtStarts gives to students, students of all ages, students from different places in BC. Students they have never met. Throughout this entire process, Mr. Olson was very supportive of our project. Unfortunately, he passed away two months ago because he had cancer, and there was no cure.

But I know, someday, someone will use their creativity to find a cure, we will use our creativity to slowly find solutions to all these problems and to heal the world. We are all geniuses, and we are all creative. Sometimes, we just need someone to rekindle that fire. Thank you to everyone at ArtStarts and to everyone in this audience for being that person.

—Nellie Sun


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