Community from the perspective of an art facilitator
Concordia graduate student artist-educators obtained invaluable work experience this past spring when they explored creative practices from the perspective of a community art facilitator - a person who serves as a lens through which the visions of others are realized.
Students from the Department of Art Education's Studio Inquiry: Community Art as Artistic Practice class, which was held in May and June 2013, worked in small teams in one of three community-based sites, each facing particular social issues and challenges that were addressed through the production and exhibition of collaborative artwork in the form of murals or banners. The sites included St. Gabriel Elementary School, St. Columba House and the Carrefour d'éducation populaire, all located in the Montreal neighbourhood of Pointe-St-Charles, an area that has faced longtime social needs such as poverty, lower levels of education, social exclusion and stigmatization, and is now also contending with the stresses of gentrification.
Associate professor and class instructor Kathleen Vaughan, a resident of Pointe-St-Charles, says that she is particularly interested in the neighbourhood and generally tries to conduct much of her community-based activities and research in the area.
"It was important to me to use [the Point] as a locus of arts activity by our excellent graduate artist-teachers as a way of helping residents express their own potential and visions."
At St. Gabriel Elementary School, three graduate students - Stéphanie Harel, Jodi Simms, and Leigh Cline - worked on separate permanent murals projects, each with a small team of sixth grade children. The themes varied from mural to mural, were developed by the sixth-graders in collaboration with the artist-educators, and included viewing Pointe-Saint-Charles as a launching pad to the world, the importance of wild nature, and children's play through the change of seasons. The goal of the murals was to feature the children's visions in a prominent way, reflecting a current reality as a kind of counterpoint to the more historical narrative that will be created this summer on the outside wall of St. Gabriel School, where a professional mural celebrating the 350th anniversary of the Filles du Roy is being created.
At St. Columba House, art education graduate students Mélanie Tully, Ann-Lisa Kissi, and Julie Parenteau, worked on a single collaged banner that has been permanently affixed to the interior wall of St. Columba's gymnasium. The artist-educators created the background and context into which cutout elements created by the children were collaged. The general theme was the pride in the neighbourhood, with the recognizable structures St. Columba House and the nearby St. Charles Community Centre as front-and-centre images.
At the Carrefour d'éducation populaire, graduate students Judith Boily (Art Education) and Magali Henry (from the Department of Creative Arts Therapies) worked on multiple banners installed on the metal fencing outside the Carrefour building, an old school building owned by the Commission scolaire de Montréal. The Carrefour is one of six adult education centres across the island of Montreal, currently threatened with lack of funding and possible eviction by the school board. The new banners aim to raise awareness of the situation with the broader public and passers by, and to affirm the central role that the Carrefour has in the life of long time residents of Pointe-Saint-Charles.
The community art initiative was funded, in part, by MU, a non-profit organization that supports and promotes public art in the greater Montreal area, local business owner Harvey Lev of Techno-Lith, who provided material to create the banners, Rona Hardware in Little Burgundy, Lavoie Hardware in Point-St-Charles, and the Department of Art Education.
Vaughan says that all three projects were so successful that the community sites want more involvement from Concordia artists/educators and that she is looking at ways to support future collaborations.