I’m an unabashed fan of the arts. My family is full of musicians, writers and visual artists, and it’s pretty hard not to appreciate the arts when you grow up in such company. I have to say upfront, not much of this artistic talent has found its way to me. I can’t carry a tune, have to lip Sync “Oh Canada” to avoid throwing the whole room off key, and my drawing never went beyond the stick figure stage.
The kindest thing my family can say about my singing is, “At least you know you’re off tune – that’s something.”
So maybe it’s best I ended up a bureaucrat – no drawing or singing necessary. My family may think it’s off the beaten path, but it is what it is. Happily, in the last month I’ve had some great opportunities to experience the artistic talents of our students in a vicarious way.
My first stop was the Cambie Secondary Fine Arts Evening on April 18. What struck me first was that the place was bursting with happy, excited students, families and staff. We were drawn into an Art Walk scenario right inside the front door, and the overall theme was “The Journey is the Destination”. Now that’s a theme to live by. Once you figure that out, life becomes much easier.
In keeping with the journey idea, the halls were full of art events, and we were invited to stroll along and experience it. There was lots there, from live music to improvisation theatre to amazing photography, sculpture and drawings. It was clear that the staff had put a great deal of work into making it all happen. Overall coordinator is Terry Foster, Art teacher at Cambie. Terry says that the kids start asking her each September what the theme for Arts Night that year will be, and they can’t wait to find out.
I also got the chance to stop by Ferris Elementary’s Celebration of the Arts on March 28. The focus was on music, though there was plenty of visual art, and again, most of the action was in the halls. One image that lingers for me was a very young boy, wearing black pants, white shirt and a red bow tie, who was filling the halls with absolutely stunning classical piano music. It seemed so unusual, and yet so right. Our students have tremendous artistic gifts, and creating the space to let them share these gifts with us is important. Harold Kruk, school music man, and the staff did an excellent job of this.
For something completely different, I got an invitation to Boyd Secondary’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” on April 29. I’ve always had a weakness for this play, from the ridiculous love spells to the equally ridiculous Pyramus and Thisbe, the “Play within a Play” about the star-crossed love of Pyramus and Thisbe. Shakespeare takes this Babylonian version of Romeo and Juliet and makes it into a hilarious tragi-comedy. Boyd’s young thespians made the most of this, complete with a mincing cross-dressing Thisbe and an exit scene for Pyramus that must have set a medical record for a lingering death. Drama teacher Peter Wilson and cast have done an amazing job of making the “play the thing” at Boyd.
Burnett Secondary had a Fine Arts Night too, and here the emphasis was on sudden eruptions of dance and drama in the halls. Again the art was impressive, accessible and exciting, with visual arts displayed throughout. Many ex students came back for this evening, which is a s true test of how important and significant the arts experience at Burnett is for students. Marco Soriano, drama teacher, had quite a hand in the pop-up performances, and he was as excited as the kids about what was going on.
I finished up with Rich City Idol, a annual singing competition featuring the most talented young singers in town. These kids don’t mess around, and take on difficult songs by Alicia Keyes, Beyonce, James Brown and Cyndi Lauper with equal aplomb. The singing talent at the Gateway Theatre that night was extraordinary, along with the stage presence of the performers, many of whom were 13 and 14 years old. And the winner? Hugh Boyd Grade 8 student Robert De Guzman, who knocked it out of the park with his rendition of Beyonce’s Impossible.
Fine Arts provide all the ingredients of learning that count – personalization, connection, innovation, interpretation, communication, discipline, and most of all, absolute student engagement. This is what lights the flame. The Arts are no add on; they hold the essence of what it means to learn, and it’s exciting to see this kind of learning thriving in Richmond.