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Lesson Plans


CELEBRATING PLURALISM: Multicultural Approaches to Art Learning

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
Graeme Chalmers (gfchalm)
Thu, 16 Jan 1997 13:34:42 -0800 (PST)


I hope that you've been able to take a look at CELEBRATING PLURALISM at
http://www.artsednet.getty.edu/

Our panel met again this week. I asked each of the members (Amir, Daun, and
Gail) to share a "real" learning activity or project that they have been
involved with that "celebrates pluralism." We hope that you find these
projects interesting. We'll describe the projects in 3 separate postings.

(Daun [a high school art teacher] upon seeing what Amir [a museum/gallery
educator] was laying out on the table) "This is amazing. Where can I get
it? It's gorgeous. It's incredible. Imagine what this has done for some
of these kids?"

(Graeme) Read on and we'll tell you at the end of the posting how to get
more information.

(Amir) In 1995 and 1996 I had an opportunity to work with a teacher and her
class to curate an exhibition for the Children's . . Gallery at the Surrey
Art Gallery in Surrey, B.C. The resulting travelling exhibition WE ARE ALL
RELATED was stunning. The works made by 8-12 year olds at G.T. Cunningham
School in Vancouver reflected the cultural diversity of the students and
their communities and were of a high quality that suggested a long and well
planned "unit." The work also reflected a sustained study of First Nations
culture and traditions. [First Nations is the preferred Canadian term for
aboriginal persons or "Native Indians."]

Teacher Sharole Brown, who masterminded and oversaw this project,
collaborated with several different people and institutions to realize, not
only a professionally curated and presented exhibition of the work, but also
a full color publication that documents the writing and art work of the
students. Work with the First Nations Education Department of the Vancouver
School District gave Sharole access to a First Nations curriculum guide: ALL
MY RELATIONS, and access to First Nations Education specialists who came in
to work with students [and the] teacher. An Artist-in-Residence program
provided students with access to . . . Alison Diesvelt, who worked with
students to develop familiarity and skills in a variety of art media and
processes, including printmaking, collage, and hand-coloring photographs.
The work of Cree artist George Littlechild was a primary source of
inspiration and ideas for the children. Students also visited Littlechild
at his exhibition of recent work in a commercial gallery.

(Sharole [Elementary Teacher]) "Volunteers shared their art, stories,
games, and history of their cultural heritage. First Nations values of
respecting ourselves, others (especially elders), and the environment, were
shared by a Chief, an author, and a graduate student through their language,
legends, music and family stories. Elders, parents and family members
played a crucial role."

(Amir) The Surrey Art Gallery was approached to take the material produced
by the class, including their writing, and present it as an exhibition for
children, families and educators. The final traveling exhibition included
George Littlechild's ANCESTORS (1993) which celebrates the artist's own
ancestors. Sharole Brown worked to attract sponsors for her idea of a
publication, and finally convinced Polestar (Vancouver) to publish the book
WE ARE ALL RELATED.

The project was truly interdisciplinary and cross-cultural. Students wrote
responses to questions such as "What does 'We are all related' mean to you?"
Their responses have been published both in English and the languages spoken
in their homes and families. They were also asked to interview an elder in
their own family and ask them to finish the statement: "I would like young
people to learn from me . . ." Students were asked to describe and explain
their finished mixed-media collages in written statements. . . . [C]hildren
learned about First Nations history, culture and art; they also learned
about art and art making, and explored their own (and other) cultures and
families.

(Graeme, Daun, and Gail) To what extent were the students just copying
Littechild's work?

(Amir) This was an 8-month long project . . . In curating this exhibition
. . . I was struck by the similarity between the work made by the children
and the artist George Littlechild. The formal strategies of using
photographs in collage, use of bright colors, borders, and personal imagery
. . . were also used by the students. Littlechild's contemporary art
practice is focused on examining history, both personal and shared, and
reflects a search for and construction of identity. . .

(Graeme) So the real focus was on using art to examine personal and shared
history and seeing how artists make art to reflect and construct identity?
George's art helped to show these concepts, but the students who came from
many different cultural backgrounds were making their own art?

(Amir) Littlechild's use of photographs . . . and a narrative style seemed
to be easily understood and accepted by diverse students. Children were
able to relate to this work because of their access to a living artist who
examines cultural identity, who lives in their city, and who struggles with
the cultural pluralism of present society. This project led to a larger
exhibition of Littlechild's work at the gallery where I worked.

The project to create a retrospective of Littlechild's work (and new
experimental work) was a collaboration between the artist and myself. The
resulting exhibition and catalogue has educational as well as artistic
goals. Through the work of a contemprary Cree artist, it was possible to
bring into view specific issues related to representation, whose version of
history do we believe?, cultural hybridity, transformation, and
re-claimation . . . [Amir then went on to talk more about George
Littlechild's work and concluded] . . . I think that his work can be
important for art educators interested in dealing with cultural pluralism .
. . An art curriculum that seeks to be sensitive to cultural pluralism must
look to contemporary as well as historic art practice.

(Graeme) Why do you think the project was so successful?

(Amir) . . . First of all it was a project that looked at art seriously and
in a manner that was interdisciplinary. Reading, listening, discussing,
playing, experimenting were all part of the process of creating the final
work. The idea for an exhibition or publication was not a pre-determined
goal . . . it was an idea that emerged . . . The educators and the students
were aware that they had to be sensitive and open to the unexpected, and
hence new possibilities.

Several different lenses (as suggested in CELEBRATING PLURALISM) were used .
. . Students engaged in art history (context), art criticism, aesthetics,
and art making throughout the project, through their access to experienced
"experts" in these different areas, including artists, art educators, oral
historians, and First Nations educators. Also the students were placed in
the position of experts/teachers when talking about themselves and their
families . . . or when choosing and interpreting images and symbols from
their own cultural heritage. This was empowering for the students because
their own experiences and families were validated . . .

. . . The art was made sequentially. Before the multi-media work was
tackled, students were exposed to lessons and concepts that gave them
experience with the variety of media and techniques they would eventually
use. Lessons on composition, line, color, [and] contrast were built upon as
were experiences with printmaking, painting, hand coloring prints, collage,
and pencil crayon. I had several teachers and students marvel at the high
quality of the students' work in the show. They couldn't believe that the
work was done by children. . . . [But] This wasn't a one or two week project
tacked on to "cover" multiculturalism. It was a project [that] spann[ed]
time and subjects; the teacher was committed to celebrating pluralism in her
work with these students.

Although an artists work was used to inspire and guide students, it was not
just mindlessly copied . . . They were guided to develop their own images
and symbols to use in a manner and for reasons similar to that of the
artist, but in the end it was the student's own work. The work was
interpreted and treated respectfully; it was not appropriated.

Finally the work made by the students was treated respectfully. It was
carefully framed and matted and professionally installed as an exhibition in
a series of public spaces, along with the text written by students and
members of their families. The opening reception was attended by students
and their families, many of whom had never set foot in a public art gallery.

(Graeme) We will try to put some of the students' and George Littlechild's
images on the web-site, but how can teachers get more information?

(Amir) They can contact me at <ama> The book WE ARE ALL
RELATED, which documents, in color, all the works made by the 28 students .
. . as well as their writing can be ordered from Polestar Book Publishers
through their web page <mypage.direct.ca./p/polestar> Copies of the color
catalogue of George Littlechild's exhibition at the Surrey Art Gallery can
be ordered via e-mail <artgallery.ca> Sharole Brown may be
reached via "Snail Mail" at G.T. Cunningham Elementary School, 2330 East
37th. Avenue, Vancouver, B.C. Canada V5R 2T3.

(Graeme) Watch tomorrow for projects described by other members of the panel.

Graeme Chalmers
Graduate Adviser
Department of Curriculum Studies
University of British Columbia
Vancouver, B.C.
Canada V6T 1Z4

Tel: 604 822-4842
Fax: 604 822-9366