||Creating sculpture out of a fungus that resembles skin, challenges Grade 11 students in Burnaby to examine their gut reactions to racism and discrimination.
Grade 5 students in Richmond become savvy critics when they create an intimate, mixed-media collage examining the fair representation of children in advertising.
Focused through physical-theatre techniques, Grade 12 drama students in Vancouver, confront each other with incidents of racism from their personal experience.
Catalyst, is ArtStarts in Schools’ residency program that brings artists into classrooms to explore social justice issues, through the creation and discussion of works of art. Students probe into antiracism, mass-media representation, the environment, and more through the creation of visual artworks, drama, spoken word, storytelling and dance.
Catalyst has taken root and developed through a three-year pilot that enabled ArtStarts to build a successful roadmap for artists and teachers working together to explore difficult topics. Over the past three years, Catalyst projects took place in 26 classrooms around the Lower Mainland. Now this program is ready to take on new, committed educators and a wide range of social issues to provoke self-revelation and creative social action through the arts in B.C. classrooms.
There is a long history of the arts creating awareness of social issues and leading to social change (think of Picasso’s Guernica, the musical Hair, or The Aids Quilt), but for the most part, the arts in our schools have drawn their strength from skill development and celebration. We rarely ask the larger question: What is art for? Thinking about the "whys" of making art, beyond the creation of pleasing objects and experiences, strengthens the links between the arts and teaching social justice, making them logical partners in the classroom. The arts stimulate and often confront intellectual understanding, and build connections on a spiritual and emotional level. The process of creating a work of art offers "a safe place to take risk" in examining personal emotions, beliefs, and actions, in light of the realities of everyday life and the difficult issues each of us faces.
Catalyst projects demand both self-revelation and creative action; they offer a place for students to reflect on their personal perceptions and understandings, articulate what they think, and act on their ideas and opinions. Each Catalyst project involves a strong partnership—artist/teacher teams, committed to social justice work, develop projects collaboratively. Working together, they provide students with the expressive tools for linking the personal and the political through the processes of creating works of art. Each project involves 15 hours of artist-in-the-classroom time, but many of the projects extend into other areas of the curriculum and become a catalyst in other subject areas, as students research, write, and build their understanding across the curriculum—motivated by the arts.
ArtStarts works with professional artists who consider social justice issues to be fundamental to their work. Although each project brings an excellent grounding in arts skills to students, the teachers who have worked on Catalyst projects are unanimous in their perception that students get much more from the residency than arts techniques. They felt strongly that the focus of the project, was not on the creation of an arts product visual art, stories, a performance, but on the marriage of ideas, opinions, emotions, and skills. Teachers were also unanimous in recognizing the value of bringing "real life" role models into the classroom, whose professional work connected so strongly to their life experience and personal beliefs. Catalyst projects are grounded in real-life issues linking artists, teachers, and students to issues in their communities and in the world.
This fall, ArtStarts is offering teachers around the greater Vancouver area the opportunity to explore art as a catalyst for social change. In recent weeks, ArtStarts in Schools has issued a call to teachers in Grades 5 to 12, across the Lower Mainland, who are interested in becoming part of Catalyst in the 2002–03 school year.
For more information about this program, check out "A Safe Place to Take Risk: Artists and Students Exploring Social Justice" at www.artstarts.ca.
To learn how to get involved, contact Marie Lopes, at ArtStarts in Schools, 888-878-7144 or email@example.com. The program will be expanding outside the Lower Mainland next year.
Last year’s Catalyst projects were funded by ArtStarts in Schools, participating schools, and The Ed May Social Responsibility Fund through the BCTF.