In the classroom, I combine a decade of support work with homeless and at-risk youth and my experience as an internationally exhibited artist. Since 2003, I have created and facilitated community-based art programs for all ages. As a Youth Care Counselor at Urban Native Youth Association, I spent three school years developing a trauma-informed arts program out of Cedar Walk Alternative School (VSB/VASS). Our 2018 banner won first prize in a VASS contest. Building on my work experience and a formal education in fine art (BFA, Emily Carr), my education practice centres on playfulness and attentiveness. I challenge the idea of being 'not good at art'. Meeting students where they're at, I ask questions, suggest options, and encourage efforts. I guide them through their own intuitions and interests, celebrating every stage of their development. I encourage disengaged students by assessing personal motivations, uncertainties and needs. I build on whatever a student has to bring.
Please accept my wholehearted endorsement of Dan Siney. In addition to being one of the most gifted and capable youth workers I have ever worked with, Dan is a skilled and trained artist. Each time Dan called students to the Cedar Walk art room there was a surge of excitement followed by a wave of creativity. Young people who were reluctant to express themselves created piles of finished work. He is an excellent AICD addition. Omar Kassis, Teacher, Grades 10-12, Cedar Walk Alternative School, VASS
Dan has a rare ability to engage with youth in an authentic and encouraging manner. He is able to collect their thoughts and energies and direct them towards a project that represents each youth individually and as a cohesive group. Dan's unique experience as a celebrated artist and dedicated youth worker make his classes enjoyable and accessible for a large range of students and teachers. He brings joy, and leaves a lasting impression. Amy Mitchell, Manager, Urban Native Youth Association, Cedar Walk School
Dan is not only a talented artist but a skilled youth worker. He brings a quirky, creative style to his art classes with the students that lend to a warm and inviting environment. He is approachable and gentle and I have witnessed him successfully engage with students previously resistant to the idea of art-based activities. Dan's art classes have been a wonderful complement to our alternate program. Jenn Sather, Urban Native Youth Association, Aries Alternative Secondary School
Collaborative drawing games are my students' favourite way to get to know each other and themselves. These engaging, fun and therapeutic sessions work as drop-in classes or as part of longer programming. A combination of play and creative problem solving allows participants to let go of their "outside" lives. Youth explore their inner worlds in whatever way motivates them: pure enjoyment nourishes and restores; personal challenge builds confidence, self-worth and skill; and exploring one's thoughts and emotions encourages self-discovery and growth. My favourite go-to games are: "Exquisite Corpse", and "The Scribble Game". In these "pass-the-paper" games students contribute 'blindly' to group drawings. This eases anxieties and encourages students to engage freely. The enchanting, unexpected results make everyone laugh and get excited together, as students open up to their own contributions and those of their classmates.
This program builds on a graduated series of approachable, achievable challenges. Students 'draw' a 3-5 letter word of their choosing, with direction to, "just play with the shapes of the letters". Students then select a word for their banner's centrepiece. Directed by the students, I structure and trace their centrepiece word onto a 5' x 9' canvas. Everyone adds to it, street-art' style. Through curiosity and persistence, students develop or discover their own visual creativity. I challenge everyone to further explore their interests. Students expressing being 'not good at art' find abilities in unexpected places. More confident students I assign to leadership roles so they can encourage others. Youth learn to verbalize their personal discoveries, expressing confidence in themselves. We study the forms, culture and history of 'street-art'. This includes discussing a celebrated documentary on grafitti's origins; and a slide show of artworks by male and female graffiti artists. In 2018/19 Cedar Walk students produced a banner, "CEDAR". A silhouetted raven atop a cedar tree-line, is backdropped by a four-colour sunset gradation. 'CEDAR' fills the lower third of the canvas in expressive shapes. A Nisga'a youth's, 'Eagle Head with Pearl', design integrates with the 'R'. Monikers, collaborations and spontaneous contributions fill the remaining space.
This project starts with a discussion of "Do It Yourself", and "For Us By Us" philosophies, and their roots in "Western" subculture. I adopt a supervisory role, maintaining a safe, welcoming environment, and propose that students can contribute meaningfully by just being themselves. During weekly meetings I encourage participation, and set flexible goals. I collect ideas and help organize individual and group pursuits. If asked for, I give specialized instructions such as photography lessons, which may include fieldwork, handouts and slideshows. Students discuss their personal experiences and perspectives; develop their own creative writing and research projects; and create multimedia collections of drawings, paintings, and photography. In collaboration with students, I lay out the publication and liaise with a printer. The first attempt at this project took place in 2019/20 at Cedar Walk Alternative School. Students of Indigenous descent decided they wanted to make a project about, "being young and Native in Vancouver". I expressed feeling honoured to collaborate with them. Teacher and staff all contributed their support. Final projects included, among others: matriarchy in Native societies; language loss; the "personality" of contemporary Native culture; counting to 20 in Cree, urban vs. 'rez' identities; and the politics of dating white people.