Final Report

Premier’s ABN AMRO Creative Arts Scholarship

Sydney (Aust) – Halifax – Sydney (Can) – Montreal – Toronto – New York

Fiona Steel

The Arts Unit


Teaching and Learning Visual Arts Effectively through Cultural and Social Partnerships



‘We are all born artists but the problem is how to remain an artist as we grow up’  Pablo Picasso


Are we educating our children out of creativity?

A creative person uses their mistakes as a learning tool. So if, as some experts propose, we have stigmatised mistakes in our education system and students are not prepared or allowed to be incorrect, then we must ask if they are being offered the best opportunities to develop their full creative capacities and thereby to come up with anything original. Students learn in a myriad of ways and all educational models strive to develop the full potential of students but what value do these models place on creativity?

My study tour sought to investigate K-10 visual arts programs that offer stimulating and responsive learning experiences (educational) through successful partnership programs with galleries (cultural) and hospitals (social). These programs assist children to develop their creative capacities and to learn through the arts. Through observation and assessment, I explored the potential impact of innovative programs throughout Canada and the United States that offer teachers opportunities to support students to develop their creative potential and to develop, clarify and practice core values through visual arts.


These programs assist students to confidently develop knowledge and skills in appreciating their own artworks and those of others, reaffirming the integral relationship between making and viewing and understanding the roles of artists, audiences and how the world can be interpreted’. 

                                                                                                         Creative Arts K-6 Syllabus



I am the current coordinator of Operation Art, a unique Australian education program that values creativity and recognises the teachers’ role in providing contemporary practice and learning processes employed by visual artists as fundamental to enriching student creative learning. It utilizes visual arts connections between educational, social and cultural institutions to offer clarification and practice of the core values of excellence, respect, care, cooperation and participation through visual arts skills development.

Visual Arts programs established between educational, social and cultural institutions support students’ learning within the four dimensions of ‘Productive Pedagogy’: 

Higher Order Thinking     Deep Knowledge     Deep Understanding     Substantive Conversation 

Knowledge as Problematic    Metalanguage

Intellectual Quality recognises that knowledge isn’t a fixed body of information and encourages students in higher-order thinking skills. Students develop a problematic approach to knowledge and are engaged in complex understandings and seeing the ‘bigger picture’.


Connectedness to the World  – Problem-based Curriculum  – Knowledge Integration  – Background Knowledge

Relevance (Connectedness) helps students to make connections between different aspects of school learning as well as connections to the world beyond the classroom. Students are encouraged to be creative, cooperative, work academically and to become aware of community and life-long learning.


Student Control  – Student Support  – Engagement  – Self-regulation – Explicit Criteria

Social Support is about creating an environment that has high expectations of students and which encourages them to take risks in learning. Mistakes are a practical learning tool in creating visual arts and not an indignity.


Cultural Knowledges    Inclusivity     Narrative      Group Identity     Citizenship-

Recognition of Difference encompasses inclusivity and positively recognising differences and group identities. Social integration is supported through celebrating cultural heritages and offering opportunities for the exploration of identity.


‘…if learning outcomes are the goal, then teaching with a focus on context, relevance and connectedness is going to be your most effective approach with Gen Y’  Michael McQueen



Focus of the Study

The focus of my study tour to Canada and the United States of America was to investigate the efficacy of visual arts education connections between schools, hospitals and galleries. I observed similar programs to Operation Art and was concerned to understand their origins and impact upon participating students and communities. I also exchanged ideas with teachers and coordinators on expected learning outcomes. All programs build on current teaching and learning practices using techniques that best develop students’ skills, knowledge and understanding. Exhibition opportunities which assist students to develop a critical perspective about which is more effective and why, were available over a range of developmental stages with some regional and funding variances impacting upon programs. Many of the programs studied offer innovative and practical approaches to building community relationships with hospitals and other health facilities while others offer diverse, culturally rich and imaginative learning experiences that contribute to students’ understanding of the value of visual arts in a contemporary society.


‘In general the arts are valued by society but this does not extend to arts education that takes place in the school system alone. This is reflected by the fact that the arts are the first subjects to be neglected or dropped whenever there are cuts’. UNESCO World Summit on Culture/Art in Education



This report was prepared by recording consultations on education and arts learning in educational, social and cultural institutions following a broad agenda and involving wide-ranging discussions. During my tour I visited an array of programs where creativity, accessibility and quality in arts education strengthened the role of arts and learning. Comments may be abridged and sometimes are grouped with similar comments.



Visit Synopsis




ArtReach, Nova Scotia, Canada 

ArtReach is a series of exhibitions and arts workshops that utilizes original artworks for inspiration to educate students, teachers, and community members across the province. Through practical artmaking sessions offered in gallery studios, participants identify devices used by artists and are equipped with a range of ideas for the classroom. I was particularly interested in how this program utilizes regional venues and the talents of local artists to develop lessons that link the school curriculum to its touring exhibitions.

Partners: Nova Scotia Department of Education, Canada Council for the Arts and the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia


ArtSmarts, Canada

This national program maintains that engaging young people in artistic activity is critical to their evolution as creative thinkers. It aims to build long-term partnerships at the local level between professional artists and schools, inviting the artists to collaborate with classroom teachers to make art part of the learning environment by integrating it through core subjects. Students are encouraged to think critically, analyse creatively, explore their talents, develop research skills, work cooperatively and discover community. This program complements current teaching and learning practices, building the confidence of disengaged young people and creating enthusiastic and active learning by challenging students to learn in new ways.

Partners: The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, Provincial Ministries of Culture, Education and Arts Councils.


When they’re asked to create art, the almost universal first response of both students and teacher is “I can’t”. This response always changes over the course of an ArtsSmarts project. Not only do students start to see their own and others’ strengths in making art, they also become more fearless risk takers in other aspects of the work as well.           Engaged In Learning – The ArtSmarts Model

The Feather Project 


Arts Express, Halifax, Canada – Flight Dreams: The Feather Project

This collaborative project gave students their first opportunity to work with an artist, Halifax-based sculptor, Miro Davis in the classroom. The objective was to integrate art into the Grade 11 Physics curriculum, so a 6 metre long clear acrylic feather became the basis for student-made sculptural artworks that depicted the timeline of flight in an evolutionary

Partners: JL Ilsley High School, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia – Halifax


“… eventually we arrived at a point on the road where science meets art, where equations ran into imagination and theorems encountered creativity. What an exciting place to be!”       Head Teacher, Science Department


Learning Through The Arts (LTTA) Canada

LTTA is a national program that claims to be the largest full-school intervention program in the world and reaches over 100,000 children in schools each year. It encourages teachers to make learning and teaching participatory, active, and connected to a student’s personal interests and learning style. It sets up partnerships between teachers and trained artists and effectively assists in achieving academic, social and personal development in students through direct, hands-on experiences. LTTA promotes collaboration, risk-taking and continuous learning and appeared to be extremely successful in participating schools. However, during the last focus shift to numeracy and literacy, some regional coordinators held concerns for its growth while it remained non-mandatory. During my observation of teams in the Greater Toronto Area and Nova Scotia, these concerns appeared to be negated. With minor regional variances being noted, both teams indicated strong growth in partnerships in schools.

Partners: Royal Conservatory of Music, Regional School Boards 


Teaching Children’s Rights Through Art, Sydney, Canada

A curriculum resource written by Diane Lewis using the arts to teach children aged from 10 to18. I visited this dynamic teacher at Greenfield Elementary School and discussed her resource and methods to engage students. The Foundation for the Atlantic Canada Arts Education Curriculum learning outcomes assist students to explore the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child articles and to make their art making more meaningful.

Partners: Cape Breton University’s Children’s Rights Centre, Heritage Canada, UNESCO, NSDEd


Creative Arts Learning Partnerships, Ontario, Canada

These partnerships provide opportunities for teachers to gain confidence in teaching the Arts. The coordinator explained that through first-hand experiences, teachers build on their repertoire of strategies for the classroom and are assisted to understand the importance of the Arts in improving student successes. Teachers explore the curriculum through hands-on opportunities under the direction of art experts or attendance at public arts events and build on their knowledge and expertise. Each session with participating arts organizations covers the Ontario Arts Curriculum expectations and teachers acquire practical tips on how to apply what is learned.

Partners: Regional School Boards, Participating Arts Organisations eg: Art Gallery of Ontario




Art For Healing Foundation (AFHF), Montreal, Canada

An inspirational program that began in 2002 when two compassionate art buffs didn’t just discuss a problem but found a solution and acted. Now Earl Pinchuk and Gary Blair are managing to positively affect the lives of patients, staff and visitors in hospitals by placing artworks on the walls of these facilities through their foundation. I toured several health facilities and observed artworks of sights, sounds and tastes familiar to the patients, along with abstract images open to interpretation. At the Maimonides Geriatric Centre, a state-of the-art teaching hospital where the AFHF had installed artworks after recent renovations, I discussed with staff and families what they believed to be the effects of these artworks on the patients.


‘Viewers react positively when they connect a personal memory to an artwork’    Recurring Reply


Research shows that art improves the healing process and most people understand that art creates a reaction within us. When a picture is first viewed, the action is to say whether you like it or not. A life devoid of action isn’t a life at all. Children need opportunities to make art for other children in hospital. It is in the action of connecting memories for their peers as patients that each student learns the core values of excellence, respect, care, cooperation and participation. While visiting the Montreal Children’s Hospital I handed over several Operation Artworks, created by young people, to become part of the permanent collection which included artists of renown.

Partners: Artists, Montreal Children’s Hospital, Royal Victoria Hospital, Maimonides Geriatric Centre


Living Through The Arts, Toronto, Canada

This outreach program brings artists into different Toronto social service agencies to deliver workshops on different art forms. It aims to reach communities and clients in need, nurturing creativity, building self-knowledge and self-esteem, fostering mutual respect, and encouraging the expression and celebration of creativity and identity. As a teacher, it was a pleasure to watch the wonderfully motivating artist educator Jennifer Polo work with a few students from the New Mentality Group, a group of youth raising awareness about the stigma and discrimination faced by those with mental illness. The students worked together in a group characterised by respect for each other and enjoyment for the visual arts experience but maintained idiosyncrasies that are not always respected in mainstream educational institutions yet are authentic to these individuals. When asked about their reason for doing art, many responded with ‘because I like it’. It validated them and encouraged them to accept themselves.

Partners: Central Toronto Youth Services, Royal Conservatory of Music


We’re here to help our clients make choices for themselves; they’re so used to being told what to do.’ City of Toronto Youth Services – Outreach





Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (AGNS) Education Programs, Halifax, Canada 

Throughout the duration of the inspirational Flight Dreams exhibition, writers, artists, dancers, scientists, and musicians were invited to bring it to life with performances, written resources, and workshops. Lessons were made available to educators on the AGNS website in physics, math, language arts, art, music, dance and the science of flight and young people were encouraged to sing, dance, write and create art.

Partners: Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, various artists


Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (AGNS) Art & Wellness Programs, Halifax, Canada

The AGNS initiated and established partnership projects with IWK Children’s Hospital in Halifax with an aim to raising the profile of the Arts in the healing process. The hospital is currently undergoing a capital works program and I visited a new wing with some recently painted murals, but their most exciting acquisition is a gallery space within the hospital. This space currently displays artworks by young patients but also artworks from another partnership program AGNS has developed with Provincial Autism Arts. It was my pleasure to contribute several Operation Artworks to their gallery space. These works had been created especially by Australian children for young patients in hospital.

Partners: Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, IWK Health Centre, Provincial Autism Arts


Alexander Graham Bell Museum, Baddeck, Canada        

Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone and? a dehusking machine, a manual finger language, voice simulators, a talking dog, a piano that transmitted music at a distance, an harmonic telegraph, a photophone, a phonograph, airplanes, hydrofoils, a metal jacket to assist breathing, an iceberg locater, an audiometer, a salt and water separator and air conditioning. He also translated the Mohawk language into visible speech, anticipated concerns for fuel shortages and industrial pollution, found uses for methane gas, suggested solar panels and invented a metal detector and composting toilets.


 ‘Leave the beaten track occasionally and dive into the woods.  Every time you do so you will be certain to find something that you have never seen before.  Follow it up, explore all around it, and before you know it, you will have something worth thinking about to occupy your mind.  All really big discoveries are the results of thought.’ Alexander Graham Bell


Bell believed that how he learned was important and he was one of the world’s most prolific inventors. He valued the arts and believed that children should be taught to think creatively. His museum carries on his legacy and encourages students to think laterally. I met Linda Watson, the Education and Public Programs Officer of this exciting hands-on educational space. Bell thought children should learn by doing and every child is offered that opportunity when they visit.

Partners: Parks Canada -Alexander Graham Bell Museum, Provincial and Territorial Curricula


Cape Breton Centre for Arts & Craft, Sydney, Canada

Creativity, craftsmanship, beauty, and function find expression in the work of Cape Breton artisans where their work is displayed in the Cape Breton Centre for Arts & Craft. The centre houses a pottery studio, glass and jewellery studio, weaving studio, an art studio and a multipurpose room which is used daily and nightly for workshops. The second floor gallery shows artworks for sale created by local artisans and the third floor will open soon as a travelling exhibition gallery space with their first exhibition from The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. I was given a tour of this fascinating centre by its Director, Carol Beaton, and it was explained how it is filling a vital gap between the ‘real world’ and artists. Often we encourage our children into the ‘art world’ but do not give them the means or knowledge on how to market themselves. Often these people are lost as they follow other careers from which they can make a living rather than a career in which they truly belong and may achieve more satisfaction. How many visual art teachers do you know who have their own art-making practice, but only as a hobby?

Partners: Nova Scotia Department of Tourism, Culture and Heritage, Canada Council for the Arts, Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Regional Schools


Montreal Museum of Fine Arts – Musée des Beaux-Arts            , Montreal, Canada  

I met with the Education and Community Programs Department and observed the Sharing The Museum program which is a collaborative educational programme for non-profit community organizations that work with senior citizens, youth at risk, disadvantaged families, cultural communities or people with physical or intellectual disabilities. It links the gallery to a variety of communities and schools with after-hours free programs for teachers regularly fully booked. The value placed on arts education is heartening, with most funding generated from the private sector.

Partners: Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Regional Schools


Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Canada              

‘A man paints with his brains and not with his hands.’  Michelangelo 

What an amazing experience! I met Colin Wigginton and discussed education programs in which teachers learn skills that can be integrated into the classroom and students are encouraged to connect personally with art and explore issues that are relevant to them. Practical sessions interpret artworks and other media with students in order to build visual literacy. The AGO celebrates creativity and has a diverse range of partnerships with artists, educators, instructors, specialised exhibitors and foundations.

Partners: Art Gallery of Ontario, Regional School Boards, Participating Arts Organisations


Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, USA      

A Year with Children 2009 was in the final stages of preparation during my visit and scheduled for exhibition after I left. It provides a platform from which to demonstrate learning outcomes from the Learning Through Art program. Similar to its Canadian namesake, this program places professional teaching artists in New York elementary schools to collaborate with classroom teachers and develop art projects that relate to the school curriculum. Learning Through Art seeks to encourage curiosity and critical thinking by actively immersing students in artistic processes. This involves transforming classrooms into studios and the students into artists. Students explored a variety of materials in response to topics and created works through a variety of forms including drawings, prints, photographs, found object sculptures, acrylic and watercolour paintings, assemblage and collages.

Partners: Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, Learning Through Art, Regional School Boards


Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York USA            

Carrie McGee is the Assistant Educator, Community and Access Programs from the Department of Education at MoMA in New York and she very generously gave me her time to discuss the diverse range of education programs run in partnership with community organisations. These programs serve children, adults, families and seniors, non-profit community groups, schools, continuing education, facilitators and camps while the professional development days for teachers off- and on-site link the exploration of the arts to key learning areas. All education programs are based on ‘an experiential, participant-centred model that emphasizes active, hands-on learning and the nurturing of skills based on the individual’s learning style and abilities’.

Partners: MoMA, Participating Community Groups, Regional Schools



All the programs studied on my tour throughout Canada and the United States of America are models of excellence that value education through the arts and strive to develop the full potential of a student’s creativity. These programs have impacted positively on students and teachers and continue to show growth, with some in their second decade. Research has shown that students learn in a variety of ways and I propose that disengaged students have missed being taught an appropriate thinking skill for their learning style. Students require opportunities to express themselves about issues that affect them directly and through methods that explore their innate creative energy. Teachers need encouragement to promote and nurture this creativity. Artists bring knowledge and prior learning skills using a range of tools and resources to engage students. Those teachers who work closely with artists can increase their repertoire of teaching strategies through varied approaches to effectively identify, monitor, evaluate and plan student learning.

I am committed to enhancing the quality of teaching and learning and for this to be achieved, I believe, we need to raise the profile of education through the arts and rethink the methods used to educate our children. The opportunity to think creatively is central to some individual’s ability to learn and from an early age, children draw, paint and build as they interact with their environment and understand their world. Active participation in the arts can improve student learning bringing them together to teach them cooperation, communication and tolerance while developing abilities to critically examine, explore the world through their senses and respond through reflection, description, analysis, interpretation and evaluation. Education through the arts provides opportunities for children to perceive, respond and to communicate and is essential to learning. If it is to be valued highly, I suggest that visual arts must be taught continuously and sequentially alongside learning in other areas of the curriculum. Every grade should have art classes that build on knowledge, skills and experiences and we need to research and pool collective resources in arts education to use specialised and passionate people, including artists, to create change.

This study will have significant outcomes through its ongoing impact upon Operation Art’s future planning and development. Perceived limitations of regional and metropolitan touring programs will be discussed and assessed, and practical links to galleries will be expanded and fostered. Based on effective modelling, professional learning materials and practical workshops will be written and developed by teachers and artists working together to provide enrichment and extension that challenges teachers with practical opportunity and original resources. Education through the arts can be sustainable by developing partnerships through structured collaboration. It is possible to offer every student the opportunity to develop creatively. Visual arts programs, like Operation Art, offer stimulating and responsive learning experiences through successful partnership programs with galleries and hospitals and assist children to develop their creative capacities and to begin a lifelong learning through the arts. This is essential if we are to produce a new generation of original and creative thinkers.


McQueen, M New Rules of Engagement: A Handbook for Teachers and Parents of Generation Y [Sydney]: Nexgen Impact, c2007


Final Report: Consultation on Arts and Learning for the UNESCO World Conference on Culture/Art in Education, Canadian Commission for UNESCO 2005


Scott, M (Editor) ArtSmarts: A Handbook for Artists and Educators published by the Canadian Conference of the Arts, 804 – 130 Albert Street Ottawa, ON K1P 5G4, Canada ©2003


Lewis, D Teaching Children’s Rights Through Art  Children’s Rights Centre, Cape Breton University

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