Queen’s Teacher Candidates Prepare for Art Extravaganza

Artist in the Community Education, ACE, Queen's University, Faculty of Education, Aynne Johnston, Kingston, Ontario
Do you ever write a song to help yourself learn something? Draw a picture to explain a concept? Jot a journal at the end of a long, hard day? Then mark your calendar for Feb. 2; the Art Extravaganza at Queen’s Faculty of Education at Duncan McArthur is for you.

The annual showcase features the work of 26 student artists who want to be teachers; but not just teachers of art. These students of the Artist in the Community Education program at Queen’s come from various artistic backgrounds, and go on to careers in conventional public school classrooms, non-profit organizations and private firms. Applying creativity to problem-solving is their raison d’etre.

“Playing with concepts is what helps us be flexible,” explained Aynne Johnston, ACE program instructor and co-coordinator, in explaining how art can used as a learning tool. Songs, patterns and designs help children learn math, she said for example. “(Art) is a more appealing way of memorizing and remembering.”

Anna-Gail James, a 23 year-old Visual Arts major from the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) in Toronto, is enrolled in the ACE program this year. She applied art-school techniques to teach grade six science this fall, during her first semester’s work placement in Scarborough. She asked students to visualize their way through classroom science experiments before getting started.

“Kids read the instructions for a science experiment or a math problem,” she said, “but the language is difficult. It’s often very technical. Closing your eyes and mentally walking through it, or tyring to act it out in advance helps kinds understand and anticipate problems.”

All Faculty of Education teacher candidates complete several in-school placements, or practicums, during their one-year program. For ACE students the final practicum occurs at an alternative venue of their choosing. Johnston encourages students to seek positions far and wide, and challenge their teaching or artistic abilities.

“I had one student travel to Greece for her alt-prac to improve her skills as a sculptor,” Johnston said. “She was on an island, learning from a man who didn’t speak English, so he taught her to carve marble by sound, listening to the tools against the stone.”

Other former students have found placements at the Lincoln Centre for Performing Arts in New York City, the Globe Theatre in London, and here in Ontario at the Stratford, Shaw and Luminato festivals.

The “alt-prac” has proven so beneficial, Johnston said, that it’s now standard to all teacher candidates at Queen’s, and increasingly popular at other universities. But the concept was completely unique to ACE when it first started 30 years ago.

Kristen Nixon, another one of Johnston’s current students, is heading to Toronto for her alt-prac, where she’ll teach drama to under-privileged young people with the non-profit Lorraine Kimsa theatre program. Alt-prac begins March, but for now Nixon and her classmates are absorbed in preparation for the Extravaganza.There are 26 performers, writers and exhibitors participating this year, offering an original play, a gallery exhibit and liaised performance by nationally-acclaimed, musicians the Arrogant Worms. Band-member Trevor Strong is also enrolled in ACE this year. His band’s 20th anniversary celebration coincides with the Extravaganza week, happening at Duncan McArthur on Feb. 5.

“We’ll open the door from the auditorium to the gallery during the show,” Johnston said, “so when the performance breaks people can walk through the ACE exhibit as well.”

Meanwhile, ArtIgnite festival running at Queen’s from Jan. 28 to Feb. 12 will draw art-lovers to campus to see featured local artists. McArthur offers the chance to meet not just artists, but up-and-coming stars in the teaching world as well.

“It’s the only program of its kind in Canada,” Johnston said, who notes that her grads are in high demand.

James feels the ACE program has curated a truly dynamic mix of individuals, she said, who’ll be offering a “different” kind of art show.

“Each artist is so unique and has a perspective worth taking notice of. But we’ve all come together from our separate disciplines, and collaborated for this show. These are very passionate people,” she said, “and they aren’t just teaching what they’re passionate about; they’re living it.”

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