“Arts for life: how to think artfully [and] how to negotiate the world.” Artist and instructor Jason Wright says this is his goal for students in the Visual Arts Teen Scholarship Program at Arts Umbrella in South Surrey. His aim is to get the students in his class to look at the world in a different way… an artful way.
Jason isn’t looking to lecture to his students, but to guide them on their journey to creating art and producing something for an art show. It’s a learning experience for the students, but for Jason as well.
The Visual Arts Teen Scholarship Program at Arts Umbrella in South Surrey is a 15-week, full scholarship program that prepares teen artists for a post-secondary arts education or other ventures in the arts. Roxanne Gagnon, Artistic Director for Visual, Applied, and Media Arts at Arts Umbrella, oversees the program. “The goal of this program is to give youth a voice in a safe all-inclusive environment,” she explains. “Where youth can investigate where their practice is at, with someone who is a practicing artist that can be a mentor. The focus is to have students think outside the box collectively, and to learn the importance of collaboration.”
“The program is unique as there is an end goal: an exhibition,” says Jason. “Final exhibition is not normally the intent of most art courses. Instructors normally teach certain skills and concepts, and students use their own ideas to create an art piece.” This program is also unique because students are researching, developing, and working with concepts, and then creating a public art exhibition.
Jason brings us into the classroom to get a sense of the program. “One class, we went on a walk to Home Depot,” says Jason. Going for a walk, as part of an arts learning exercise, was a new challenge for the students. “We walked through the outdoor mall, through the parking lot to Thrifty Foods. I wanted the students to focus on observation, to look at certain things: signs of display, use of language, the visual display, and the objects.”
Throughout the program, students were excited to see things in a new light, to find new interest in the everyday. It’s an example of how we teach at Arts Umbrella; we want students to see things in ways they haven’t before, to think, look, see, and imagine in new ways.
Jason also engages his students to work with various techniques. “My philosophy is to think differently, see differently, and have fun,” he says. “Creativity happens when one is having fun.” Jason also makes sure to give his students space to create. “I don’t spend time with demos. I don’t spend too much time leading. I let them go, and in their process of making then I can help them. I let them lead and I facilitate the process. I am not the kind of teacher who offers templates for students to follow and Arts Umbrella doesn’t do this. Arts Umbrella is known for having students create their own work.”
Jason inspires creativity through this instructional style. “I introduce students to a range of ways of making and allow them the space to play within that and decide for themselves which direction they want to go. I show them the possibilities of things, after that I take a step back.”