The Canadian Schools Art Education Program

Although unknown to many, the work of Canadian artists—such as Paul-Émile Borduas, Prudence Howard, Molly Lamb Bobak to name a few—provide a valuable documentation of Canada’s history and cultural identity. With the vision of bringing these talented artists to classrooms across Canada, the Art Canada Institute, which was founded by Old Girl Dr. Sara Angel (Class of 1988), recently launched the Canadian Schools Art Education Program. Available in both English and French, the program offers easy-to-use guides that help primary and secondary educators teach a wide range of topics through the use of Canadian art.

Returning to Havergal last spring, Angel presented the work of five female Canadian artists at Upper School Prayers. “Her poignant and accessible presentation helped the audience understand that Canadian art serves an essential cultural purpose that many people in the Brenda Robson Hall had not considered previously,” says Dr. Michael Simmonds, who helped author one of the guides.

Following the presentation, Angel asked Seonaid Davis, Vice Principal of Teaching & Learning, and Rachel Read, Junior School Music Teacher & Integrated & Arts Coordinator, to help build a vision for the program and a template for the guides. “I felt so inspired by the wonderful work of the program and it is closely aligned with my role as integrated arts coordinator,” says Read, who was asked to join the program’s team in the capacity of Curriculum Executive.

Since its inception in 2012, the ACI has published 37 ebooks in hopes of making Canadian art accessible to a large audience, regardless of their proximity to a bricks and mortar gallery. “We no longer have the physical limitations of not having a gallery accessible to us,” says Angel. “Whether you know anything about art or not, you are able to self-educate.”

By bringing Canadian artists to classrooms across Canada, including at Havergal, the ACI is able to reach the youngest audience possible: primary and secondary students. “The main reason that we decided to create the education program is that we received a tremendous amount of requests from high school and primary school teachers,” explains Angel. “They found the books too hard to make into a lesson plan for their class.”

From teaching environmentalism through the art of Emily Carr to multiculturalism through the work of William Kurelek, the program covers a wide variety of topics that tie back to Ontario’s curriculum. Each guide includes individual and group assignments and discussion topics, which can be adapted to suit a wide range of grade levels. “Students are enriched when they think about concepts and ideas in new and creative ways,” says Simmonds. “The educational resources accessible on the ACI website make different approaches to exploring what it means to be Canadian possible, in the knowledge that we all have a different story to tell.”

Much like Havergal’s new spaces made possible by the Limitless Campaign, the program will help to encourage interdisciplinary thinking by connecting a variety of subjects, such as art, music and STEM (science, technology, engineering, music). For example, Read looks forward to using the work of Bertram Brooker—a Canadian artist whose work was heavily influenced by music—at Havergal to help her students explore the innate connection between sound and visual art.

“Students are naturally drawn toward art as a way to express ideas and emotions,” explains Read. “It is our hope that students will not only be exposed to and learn more about Canadian artists but also understand their significance and place in Canadian history.”