In the process of identifying community arts projects, resources, organizations and programs throughout Canada, ArtBridges kept coming across ArtsSmarts projects. Many were found in rural and remote communities where arts services or opportunities seemed to be very limited.
ArtsSmarts was founded in 1998 by the J. W. McConnell Family Foundation on the premise that engaging young people in artistic activity is critical to their evolution as creative thinkers and that a creative intellect is a crucial asset for young people as they navigate their way in the new knowledge-based economy of the 21st century. This valuable national organization continues to bring arts into schools across Canada today.
Over the past decade, the ArtsSmarts model has evolved from a focus on the effects of learning through the arts to capturing the potential of the arts as a way of learning. Creative projects across Canada have demonstrated the potential of the ArtsSmarts model to inspire innovative teaching and learning that supports the achievement of provincial learning outcomes and the development of a wide range of 21st century competencies, which create a framework for success.
In classrooms, the ArtsSmarts model is designed to engage students in creative inquiry about topics that span many different subject areas of the curriculum. At the core of this project model is a sustained collaboration between an artist-teacher team. The practicing artist and classroom teacher plan together, work together in the classroom and modify their actions based on joint reflection and assessment. ArtsSmarts projects require the artist and teacher to share learning, ownership and control, and adapt to new ways of collaborating. Tailored to the context, and designed as a process, the artist-teacher team works together with students through the process of inquiry-based learning to answer the BIG questions, produce their own ideas and solutions, and reflect on their work. Students take ownership of their projects and take the risks necessary to answer compelling questions, solve problems, and make their learning visible through different art forms.
ArtsSmarts has changed the way that teachers see the role of art and creativity in education; 78% of teachers agree that they teach differently now (by combining arts with core subjects), 85% would continue to work with artists in the future. ArtsSmarts has made a positive difference within schools by increasing engagement and learning.
ArtsSmarts is neither a program delivery model nor a centralized model. ArtsSmarts facilitates partnerships to ensure the best chance of sustainability; each community partner raises funds for their own project. On the ground, it is the partnerships who bring the ArtsSmarts model of teaching and learning to life. ArtsSmarts doesn’t deliver its approach in schools; its partners do. In 2009-10, more than 22,042 children and youth in 138 communities across the country had an ArtsSmarts experience.
ArtsSmarts works in schools grades K-12 through collaboration with 16 partnerships and more than 80 organizations across Canada. These partnerships, which can be local, regional or provincial, coordinate ArtsSmarts projects with local schools and artist-teacher teams. Historically, approximately 42% of ArtsSmarts projects took place in rural or remote communities, several of which are located on reserves.
ArtsSmarts partnerships are formed from various fields and sectors such as arts education, school boards, art galleries and government ministries. ArtsSmarts’ role is to bring together these uncommon and unlikely partners in order to generate conversations, activities, and support around the transformative power of the arts as a way of learning. Each community prioritizes, sets their own objectives and program targets, then selects the schools that they will work with. For example, in Durham Region, the partnership focuses on student success initiatives and working with students at-risk. In New Brunswick, the francophone partnership works to promote and maintain Francophone/Acadian culture.
The bilingual organization has two full-time staff who support partnerships as well as offer an annual learning symposium and coordinate research on the ArtsSmarts program. The head office is based in Ottawa.
ArtsSmarts’ goals this year are to develop a tool kit of the ArtsSmarts model, harmonize program delivery, host a learning symposium in October 4-6, 2010 in Montreal, look at formalizing and achieving 100% participation in their student engagement survey, design a new strategic vision to guide the organization, and, improve the design format of qualitative research.
Their strategy is not to expand by adding more projects rapidly, but to go deeper into each community they are already working within in order to provide better programming. They continue to work on a rubric which is an evaluation and measurement tool for their projects.
ArtsSmarts’ challenges this year are to achieve goals within their budget and to fundraise in order to maintain their half-million dollar budget.
ArtBridges interview april 19 2010 Annalee Adair, Executive Director
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