Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Artists in Residence TRCC conference April 2008

The coordination of a small visual arts conference for early childhood and junior primary school teachers was one of the ideas discussed at the the Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Art Educators first ECE visual art network meeting in 2007. Consequently, the network approached the Teachers Refresher Course Committee (TRCC) who indicated they were keen for the suggested conference to take place. A planning committee from the network - Lisa Terreni (VUWCOE), Jannie Visser(MIT) and Kathy Sule (Lyall Bay kindergarten) - developed an exciting 3-day programme for a visual arts conference to be held in Wellington in April 2008, catering for 40 teachers from both early childhood settings and junior primary schools.


The marae-based conference, entitled Artists in Residence, provided participants with the opportunity to:

· Hear the latest research and ideas relating to visual art education in the form of key note addresses from artists, museum educators, and academics

· Listen to artists discuss their work and then participate in artist-run workshops

· Have guided, hands-on experiences with a range of different art media

· Examine issues of biculturalism and multiculturalism in the visual arts context

Local Wellington artists who provided conference workshops included: Debra Bustin, Kohai Grace, Margaret Tolland, and Deb Donolly. Three early childhood teachers from Auckland – Michelle Johnston, Lorraine Andrewes, and Carolyn Dugal also ran a workshop for participants. The workshops included: explorations with natural materials, weaving, felting, jewellery-making, and painting.

Many of the workshops, whilst employing different media, had a strong focus on sustainable art practice with an emphasis on recycling, use of natural materials and consideration of the environment. The extraordinarily beautiful setting of Hongoeka marae where participants were based for the three day conference also emphasised the need for teaching children to respect the environment when using the environment for artistic exploration.

Encouraging early childhood and junior primary school teachers to use museums and art galleries to extend the visual arts curriculum was the topic of a key note address by Lisa Terreni and Margaret Tolland. With the assistance of Pataka Museum’s gallery educators, participants were able to explore the galleries current Samoa Contemporary exhibition and consider how gallery collections can be used with young children.

Dr Jill Smith wowed participants with a presentation about her recent exhibition Talking my way through culture. Using the metaphor of the talking-stick to capture key themes from her PhD research, her exciting and sometimes challenging pieces emphasised the need for educators to consider issues of diversity and inclusion in visual art education.

Jannie Visser and Rebecca Brown concluded the three day conference with a powerful presentation examining aspects of both the early childhood curriculum and the new school curriculum. Both presenters emphasized the need to place the child and his/her world firmly at the centre of the curriculum by providing visual arts opportunities within the wider community.

Debra Bustin commented in her résumé for the conference programme “I believe that when people work together, engaging with the natural world around them to create something wonderful, the value of each person is nurtured, confirmed and validated as an integral part of the whole that is life. Such experience creates awareness of the creative matrix that weaves all aspects of life together.” Through the hands-on workshops and the key-note presentations participants at Artists in Residence were able to experience the extraordinary power of working collectively to engage in visual arts experiences. These experiences will undoubtedly have nurtured the teachers’ creative spirits. The challenge for participants is to take back into the class room and early childhood centre this special experience and use it to provide quality visual art education for young children.

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