HSBC is the definition of people power. In September 2015, a group of about 20 employees rolled up their sleeves at Arts Umbrella Granville Island to clean up our hallways. They dusted and scrubbed to help us get ready for a busy school year. But it’s truly every day that HSBC and their staff help Arts Umbrella and our students – by supporting the HSBC Arts Umbrella Environmental Arts Program.

“Through media arts and drama, I learned that everything you do leaves a mark on the world,” said a St. Augustine’s School Grade 6 student, who attended the innovative program that tackles important environmental issues through artistic mediums such as visual arts, media arts, and theatre.

Up to 30 students from Grades 1-7 take part in the weekly program at Arts Umbrella Granville Island and South Surrey locations. Over the course of the day (“HSBC day” as it’s known at AU), the students explore how humans interact with nature, ranging from learning about shrinking bee populations to understanding the plights of urban wildlife.

“I learned art can be actions,” wrote a Grade 3/4 student from Franklin Elementary. Many of the school kids are first-time Arts Umbrella visitors, but they are soon comfortable creating colorful puppets, layering digital images, and playing theatre games. And in just one day of creative workshops, the change in students can be profound.

“It was hard and I’m not really good at art but you guys made it sound like it’s okay to make mistakes,” wrote a Grade 4 student in a thank you letter, reflecting on her Arts Umbrella experience. Our teaching artists quickly establish the studio as a safe space for the students, and by fostering a supportive environment they help kids unleash creativity.

“I learned how to relax and that it wasn’t actually so scary performing in front of people,” said a Grade 4 student. Another young artist echoed the same experience: “I find yoga really helps you when you’re a little nervous.”

Teachers also report back about the positive experience for their students. A Grade 3 teacher from Gilmore Community School shared this about the theatre workshop: “They all participated so well and even the more reserved students came out of their shell. I think the instructor really made the room safe for everyone to feel comfortable, which allowed the kids to open up.”

For Arts Umbrella staff, one of the best parts of the program is seeing the pride students have in their artwork.

“I hung the art I made on the bulletin board in my room and everyone admires it,” wrote a Grade 4 student. And it’s also special to see the kids practicing gratitude for the sponsored field trip. “Dear HSBC: I’m really glad you were able to support us,” say so many of the teachers and students.

Schools and their students are also thankful for access to the arts, as a Tecumseh Grade 6 student beautifully shared in a letter: “Thank you for teaching me to be open-minded and creative when doing art.”