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Student recordings reflect on Indigenous art

December 20, 2017

​Ben Bengtson / North Shore News

North Vancouver school district French facilitator and teacher Julie Bertrand looks on as Grade 9 Windsor students Ann McQuarrie and Dayton Learoyd demonstrate the audio recordings their class developed to go alongside Artists for Kids’ Memory • History • Story exhibition. photo Lisa King, North Shore News

An Artists for Kids exhibition at the Gordon Smith Gallery has got a group of North Vancouver students laying down some tracks designed to pay homage to the art they’ve been appreciating.

The Memory • History • Story exhibition brings together works from Aboriginal, Métis and Inuit artists that are part of Artists for Kids permanent collection.

The goal of the exhibition, which has been running since late September and is in partnership with the Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh nations, is to explore the visual art of Canada’s First Nations artists, as well as provide students with a distinct way of learning about Indigenous perspectives through their art and culture.

Eight Windsor students and 16 Handsworth students have developed short audio recordings with the help of a professional producer that incorporates music and stories in a number of languages reflecting on the Indigenous art they’ve observed at the exhibition.

The creative recordings were officially launched at the Gordon Smith Gallery during a special event held Tuesday evening.

“We wanted it to feel like real life and I think that this project really did that,” said Julie Bertrand, a North Vancouver school district French facilitator and teacher whose Grade 8 and 9 Culture and Communication classes at Windsor and Handsworth developed the recordings.

“We’re really lucky that in North Van students are exposed to a lot of different opportunities where they can interact with Indigenous culture.”

The process started after a visit to the exhibition where students took a guided audio tour and learned about the revered Indigenous artwork of George Littlechild, Jane Ash Poitras, Xwalacktun, Kenojuak Ashevak, Robert Davidson, Beau Dick, and others.

Inspired by the pieces and the idea of making art in order to reflect on art and culture, Bertrand organized sessions with local North Vancouver music producer Loig Morin who helped the students develop original music and sound effects to accompany their recordings that can now be found on the gallery’s MyTours app.

“He’s a music producer here in North Van and he speaks French so it was really a cool way to connect with a Francophone community in North Van, which is really nice for French immersion kids to have,” Bertrand said.

In the last few years a district French immersion review committee ascertained that students craved a more interactive and communicative approach to learning French, Bertrand explained.

Coupled with an increased focus on incorporating First Nations education into the overall curriculum, the audio recordings project based on the Memory • History • Story exhibition was a perfect fit.

“We do a lot to Indigenize the curriculum. We’re fortunate that our students have been exposed to that a little bit. But this was just another easy, natural way to fit it in,” she said.

“What was really cool about this project was that it gave me a pretty clear idea of where the students were at when it came to Indigenizing their own thinking as well. We talked a lot about residential schools before going into the gallery. ... I have a few students who really went for it when it came to this one.”

Students were given a lot of leeway in the creative recordings they made inspired by the artwork they observed.

Windsor Grade 9 student Ann McQuarrie said she was particularly inspired by some of the mask pieces in the first part of the exhibition.

“I did a recording of what I saw in my mind when I saw the masks,” she said.
She added that seeing the Artists for Kids exhibition in person really added to the experience by letting them connect with the artwork in greater depth.

“A lot of the paintings told a story too, so we learned a bit of history,” she said. “I think we’re really lucky to have chosen this course for school. ... We’re so glad we did it because this gives us more opportunities to see the art gallery and just do a lot of fun projects.”

While Bertrand’s Culture and Communication classes chose audio recordings to reflect on Indigenous artwork, Artists for Kids director Yolande Martinello explained how the exhibition is open to all students ready to learn.

“Two or three days a week all year long we have classes of Grade 5 kids come and they spend an entire day at the gallery,” Martinello said. “They will spend the morning having a curated discussion about the exhibition. They will get to learn a lot about the art itself, the context in which it’s curated, and then in the afternoon they’ll apply that within a workshop setting where they will get to create something of their own that reflects their learning.”

Windsor Grade 9 student Dayton Learoyd recorded a rap based on Kenojuak Ashevak’s Songs of Spring. He said being there in person to observe the art firsthand made all the difference.

“You don’t really realize it but when you look at something on a screen you don’t really pick up on all the details,” he said.

The Memory • History • Story exhibition runs through April 26, 2018. The gallery is open Wednesday through Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. The recordings made by students from Handsworth and Windsor are available through the gallery’s MyTours app.

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