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September 30, 2016

Life is Story: Artists in the Classroom

Life is Story: Artists in the Classroom Grant

Today's guest blog comes from J Alfred Laird Elementary in Invermere, BC. During the 2015-16 school year, Grade 4 to 7 students took part in a large-scale creative project called Life is Story with their teachers and local photographer Kyla Brown, supported by an Artists in the Classroom grant. Read on to learn more about this creative project that combined photography, language arts and exploration of place. You'll also discover how YOU can bring the arts into the lives of young people.


J Alfred Laird Elementary is a Grade 4 to 7 school located in Invermere, BC. Our Artists in the Classroom project was called Life is Story. Students were to take photos—using whatever device they could get their hands on—of places, people, or things that are significant or unique to the Columbia Valley. They were then asked to write and share a story to accompany the photo. The hope for this project was for the students to recognize the many stories our community encompasses and how we are impacted or connected to this place. Furthermore, we believed this project was a great way for the students to learn about and share the power of story through visual, creative arts.

We recruited the help of a local photographer Kyla Brown to help us with photography techniques and skills during this project. We pitched our idea to our local art gallery and cultural centre, Pynelogs, and they were happy to let us to put on a two week public exhibit of the students' photos and stories.

This is our journey.

April 6, 2016

Kyla Brown, a local photographer, kicked off our project with a school-wide presentation in the gym. Showing us her many beautiful photos and some of the techniques she used, the students gained insight and inspiration for taking their own photos.

A highlight of the presentation was seeing how lighting affects an image and how we focus on our subjects or position ourselves can really change a photo.

April 12 to April 21, 2016

The students of JA Laird brought in tons of photos to share. Kyla made classroom visits for an hour in each class. She worked with the students to answer their questions and talked about the power of story in a photograph. Students were then asked to narrow down their choice of phots to two by the time we met again. Students seemed really engaged and were excited to share their photos with the class and Kyla.

April 26 to May 5, 2016

Kyla returned to the classrooms to help the students edit their photos in Photoshop. This was really cool for the kids (and teachers) because they got to learn how to manipulate their photos' contrast and colour using the 'curves' tool, edit the sharpness and focus using the 'lasso' tool and the 'sharpen mask' tool, and delete unwanted objects in their photos. Kyla's amazing patience and expertise were critical at this point as the students had so many burning questions.

A lot of the photos were enhanced and students didn't go too crazy on the editing. They kept things, for the most part, very natural.

At this point, the students had pretty much narrowed down their top choice for the photo exhibit and prints were made the following week.

Kyla and Ms McKinnon decided that they would purchase 190 standard black 8x10 picture frames from IKEA in order to help the hanging process for the exhibit. It was a BIG trip to IKEA, located 3 hours away from Invermere, and many of the employees at IKEA were intrigued by our purchase.

May 9 to June 3, 2016

The students worked hard at writing their stories to accompany their photos. Every student typed out their story and had it printed and mounted onto black construction paper. Ms McKinnon collected all the wonderful stories and taped them onto the frames using fishing line.

June 5 to June 18, 2016

On June 6, the seven teachers and the principal of JA Laird all gave up two and a half hours after school to help set up the exhibit at our local heritage building and art gallery, Pynelogs. We were a bit nervous about fitting 190 photos into the room, but managed to sort out a system and finished quite quickly. We were all ready for the opening night!

Our opening night was from 6-8pm on June 7. We had a variety of community members join us and a few students were brave enough to present their photo and read their story to the audience.

Since the exhibit has been open, we've received great comments from the community. The students' stories range from touching to insightful and historical to quirky. It has been so cool to see what the students came up with and how they documented and expressed their connectedness to the community.

After the exhibit is taken down, the students will donate their photos to various businesses around the community. It's a great way for them to feel a sense of pride and know that a piece of their art is a permanent fixture in the community of Invermere, where they're from.

We truly appreciate the help from our local, talented photographer, Kyla Brown, who was a true inspiration and absolute pleasure to work with throughout this project.


Feeling inspired?

Here are 3 ways you can activate creative learning for young people...

1. Teachers and Artists — Apply for Artists in the Classroom grants!

The project you just read about was supported by an Artists in the Classroom grant disbursed by ArtStarts in Schools and funded by BC Arts Council and the Province of BC.

Artists in the Classroom Grants bring professional artists into your classroom for unique learning experiences. Grants of up to $3,500 for small- to medium-scale projects or up to $10,000 for large-scale projects are available.

The next deadline to apply is October 17, 2016. Learn more and apply now at

2. Teachers — Register for the upcoming Pro-D day at ArtStarts!

Stand Out! Putting Learning on the Centre Stage through the Performing Arts is a full-day professional learning experience for BC teachers on Friday, October 21, 2016 at the ArtStarts Gallery in Vancouver. This event will engage your creativity while exploring arts integration as an approach to teaching.

Take part in two hands-on, skills-based workshops in the arts that aim to nurture your creative confidence: Page and Stage with spoken word poet Dia Davina and Physical Theatre in the Classroom with theatre artist Susan Bertoia. The workshops will be followed by a plenary conversation, facilitated by educator Leanne Ewen, on how we can immediately put these newly learned art skills into action in the classroom.

Early bird rates are available until September 30, 2016. Learn more and register now at

3. Artists — Take part in the upcoming Arts Integration Learning Lab!

November 14 to 18, 2016, this 5-day professional development experience for artists of all disciplines is designed to build their capacity and position them to work alongside educators in schools. The cost for artists selected to participate in the Arts Integration Learning Lab will be subsidized and covers tuition, program materials and lunch. A subsidy for accommodation is also available. This opportunity is made possible through funding support from BC Arts Council and the Government of British Columbia's Creative Futures program.

Learn more and apply by September 30, 2016 at

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