This mid-April meeting (April 15th-17th of 2016), funded in part by a Quick Start initiative from the Office of Engagement -- and the Scholarship and the Arts fund at Grenfell Campus -- sought to unite art-educators in the province via a conference/symposium that featured guest lectures and specialized workshops/sessions. The conference -- coordinated and developed with the assistance of Stephen Mouland and Glenn Simms (art education Corner Brook Regional High School, and Grenfell Visual Arts student Kristen Thornhill) -- was also designed to provide background information and a forum to see if there was a common desire to create a provincial art education association. Newfoundland and Labrador is the only province in Canada without such an association, and this meeting of 33+ art educators (from various fields in the province, including art therapy, gallery education, the public, students going into art education, Visual Arts faculty, and a large contingent of elementary/junior-high and high-school art educators) sought to look at what such an association might look like. The conference also offered hands-on workshops and discussions on a number of art educational issues. A key-note address on Friday night by the nationally recognized art educator Dr. Mike Emme of the University of Victoria (editor of “Canadian Art Teacher” along with board member of the Canadian Society for Education Through Art) was titled “The Art of Inventing Yourself (Together)”. This talk looked at the stresses art educators often face and the positive empowerment of one’s personal art practice, along with the many different models of art education that exist -- and the part associations can play with regards advocacy. Dr. Emme, in his many roles as an art educator and social activist, along with broad experiences in both provincial and national art education associations, guided the later parts of the conference in examining what models might work best for this province, particularly given the relative isolation, and lack of support, many art educators face (including the paucity of funding to travel and meet with other educators). In fact the organisers of the conference were surprised that so many art educators from across the province were able to come to Corner Brook for the sessions; the only geographic area that lacked representation was Labrador, with a number of teachers from there expressing a strong desire to attend but noting the lack of funding to travel for such events.
Sessions over the weekend covered a variety of areas of interest, including presentations on art therapy practices and its role with regards education; advocacy on the future of art education in the province; discussions on unique projects; issues regarding employability in the arts; models of gallery art education and opportunities for teachers and students including, public educational outreach work by gallery student assistants; along with a workshop in making photo-novella books. Broader discussions and networking over coffee breaks dealt with personal experiences, and the troubles and successes art educators often face within the education system (the myth of a lack of jobs, art’s secondary role, and positive personal stories).
There were opening and plenary sessions/discussions examining issues in art education in the province, with some headway made in creating a society. A round table discussion on this topic on Saturday provided a focus for the art educators in attendance to look at different models and discuss the benefits and short comings of having such an association. It was noted the national association (CSEA) had a strong desire to see an organization in the province to cement a cross-Canada alignment of art educationalists. A decision was made that the subsequent potential organization would be called the “Society for Arts Education Newfoundland and Labrador” (SAENL) as a more inclusive name, and that initially the organization should work on an ad hoc and informal basis till more solid funding/resources could be found. It was suggested that Grenfell Visual Arts Programme might make a good home initially for the society, with Grenfell VA students who were going on into education being hired part-time (under university funding) to help develop the organization. There was also a real interest in working with the Grenfell Art Gallery to have a show of art works being produced by art educators around the province at some point in time as a strong first step in recognizing the artistic endeavours of art educators themselves. As well there was discussion on having a further meeting with more practical workshops (including working with natural found pigments). A highlight for many in attendance was the Sunday morning opportunity to visit, prior to its final closing, the “Lyric-Cranium Museum” operated by Prof. David Morrish of Grenfell Campus in its own unique building in Curling. It featured a unique collections of oddities that mirrors the foundations of historical collections leading to the contemporary museum and art gallery, and provided a final moment for a number of the attendees (with a high proportion being former Grenfell VA graduates) to end the conference by look at artwork as an creative ongoing installation and personal vision.