Through the kind invitation of a dear friend, I ended up at the Calgary Catholic Retired Teachers Spring Luncheon at the Calgary Elk’s Club the day following my birthday. Thank you to Ruth, Pat and Emelia for the gracious planning.  I felt so blessed by the renewed connections and the warm embrace of the educators in my circle.  It was an absolutely magical afternoon.

Sitting on my right, was Joan.  In 1979, weeks after the birth of my first child, I took a bus from Lethbridge to Calgary, to interview with this person.  Little did I know, at that time, what a powerful inspiration Joan would become, in my teaching, but also in my way of seeing life and the world…visually…but, in so many other ways.

Last Tuesday…she gave me something more to think about….IS-NESS…the experience of being completely present in this moment.  It’s common to talk about the optimal state of ‘being’, living for this moment only.  There are many ‘gurus’ among us. “There is no past.  There can be no future.  There is only ‘now’.” These run the risk of becoming mere platitudes.  I think we all know what’s really going on…and it’s what the world is telling us is important, not what we know to be important. (sorry to be speaking for all of us here…maybe I’m wrong)

During my life, I’ve driven forward more than anything.  In youth, I thought that I needed more.  I set huge goals for myself. The wheels were in spin and forward I drove!  (when I type the word, DROVE,  an image comes up for me…a huge wind pressing at my face and the full weight of my body pushing against it). I dedicated myself to the work of that…the industry of that.  I taught full days, but didn’t wind down, painting well into the night and rising early in the morning.  I tasted what the FUTURE might be, but never really grasped it.

At some point, I opened the door, and rolled out of the speeding vehicle that was the life I had created and landed safely beside the freeway traveled by all of those around me. For the first time, I noticed what ‘other people’ were doing while I was painting, teaching and raising three children. I looked at my life through the rear view mirror and came to a lurching halt. I saw, for the first time, what it meant to stop….not to slow down, but to stop.

I am not writing this post, in judgement of my choices in youth.  If one looks at the accomplishments of ‘the greats’, one knows that their achievements came to be through commitment, dedication and mostly, sacrifice.  It is no wonder that I spent most of my life seeking success, recognition, accomplishment, production, money. These are the false promises of the human construct.

I am listening to Chris Cornell’s album, Higher Truth, as I type.  I just listened with a new ear to the song, Dead Wishes. While it is not for me to question why, at the age of 52, he took his life, it is for me to explore what it is in this human heart…every heart…that aches, struggles and seeks to be MORE.

One blessing of my life was to sit down with my children and gather for Sunday dinner; another, to seek to communicate and connect. I was rich for the opportunity to see, write, learn and experience art, music and performance…for the opportunity to be still with nature, make observations through all of my senses.  Joy came with walking my dogs, Max-man and Laurie-dog before him.  It came with sitting in the church when it was quiet.  Gratitude came with writing a poem. Magic was to hold my mother’s hand when she slept, warm under her blankets, her Buddy-dog curled into the circle of her back.  Freedom was and continues to be to turn on my favourite music and to paint in my studio, in the same way that the other might dance, with no one watching…for me alone.  IS-NESS….articulated by a dear friend.

(of course, I came home and looked through my documentation of years gone by…the photographs, mere snapshots of times shared…so much wisdom and joy contained in the flashes of light)

I was hired on with Calgary Catholic School District #1 in 1979.  My experiences for the following nine years at Holy Cross Elementary/Junior High were life changing.  This is where I learned the value of the person, above program.  To nurture a love for reading, learning, creating and self ultimately leads to enthusiasm for content, practice and consistent attendance.  I was blessed when opportunities in my career, led to both St. John Fine Art’s School and the Fine Art’s Center (in two different locations).  There, I met some of the most amazing people…educators who fearlessly impacted the district with the truth of the matter…and that is that experiences of art, music, drama and dance teach the brain in new ways, enhance all learning and create well-rounded human beings, prepared for a world that requires problem solving and new ways of seeing!  I went on to take everything I had learned to that point and participated in the opening of Cardinal Newman, a school in the deep south.  There, I continued to work as an advocate for the fine arts and to dream that they would be honoured within the curriculum.

In the following photographs, I’ve captured just a very small sampling of those educators, my mentors and friends. As Alberta is deliberating about and writing new curricula, I’m pleased to recall that I participated in the implementation of the art and drama curricula all those years ago.  It was wonderful to meet up again, with friends, and to share some stories…to speak of life and art and books and Is-ness.  Thank you.

Big Brushes! Big Paper!

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about  the Alberta Art Curriculum and where it concerns Division One students, including Kindergarten.  Division One, for those readers outside of Alberta, Canada, are Grades One, Two and Three.  Within the framework of the Expression Component of the Alberta Art Curriculum, there exists a language that, since 1986, when the curriculum was written, published and implemented by teachers,  is becoming more and more distant and misunderstood.

In the 1980s, I was blessed to be a part of the Fine Arts team under the inspiration of our Fine Arts Supervisor, one of the Supervisors in our District Program Department.  That team included a Music Consultant or two?, a Drama Consultant, and a Visual Arts Consultant/sometimes Visual Arts Specialist.  Today, I feel like writing about ‘the best of times’ in our District when Fine Arts were well-supported, vibrant, inspiring and growing!  Professional Development was offered on a very regular basis where teachers had opportunity to share ideas with other teachers in the District, learn techniques, share lesson plans and observe demonstration lessons being delivered by professionals in the field.  For many years, there had been a Fine Arts Center, a place where students were bused on a regular basis to have experiences in Art, Music and Drama.  It was an amazing time for Fine Arts in Calgary!

When the ‘NEW’ curriculum came out for Visual Arts, the schools were assured that expert teachers became familiar with how to use the document and feel comfortable with designing lessons, and further mentored non-specialist teachers to the point where they became comfortable with delivery of lessons and program.   Resources were updated, including textbooks and large visuals, in order to support the Reflection Component.  If teachers were struggling with ideas or implementation, a specialist booked one-on-one appointments and traveled to schools to explain, support, observe and assist with ordering media/resources or teaching.  This was happening in core subjects as well, but not to the detriment of Fine Arts education.

Somewhere during that process, our department developed a list of indices for administrators…these described what an administrator would see if, in fact, the curriculum outcomes were being met.  For example, walking down a hall, a person might look at the walls and be able to quickly identify what quality art works would look like at each Division.  Photo copied and cloned or teacher-made works, for example, would optimally, not be presented as student art work.

Not meaning to sound stuck up or arrogant, but truly, ‘perfect’ art is not ‘child made’ art.  Child made art is perfect because it shows the true schematic development of each individual child.  Somewhere along the line, adults, over the years that I’ve been teaching have somewhat imposed their fear of ‘not being able to draw a straight line’ onto children.  They sometimes fail to celebrate the wonky cutting and ‘out of control’ line that is imperative to developing fine motor skills.  Congratulations to those of you who treasure these discoveries.

All of these experiences and initiatives, I see as valuable and imperative to the life of the arts in schools.  It seems, however, that since then, this DISTANCE between educators and the arts, at least visual arts, has been growing larger and this concerns me.  I believed then, as I do now, that Fine Arts are essential to the healthy development and well-rounded education of children.  The parts of the brain used in each of the experiences of visual art, dance, drama and music must not be left unexplored.  Creatives are the answer to so many of the world’s challenges right now.  These have always been my beliefs.

So….what are the realities in schools today?  What are the pressures being put upon an authentic visual arts experience…for the sake of this rant,  and authentic visual arts experience for the youngest of our children?

Occupational health and safety guidelines now require that only a certain percentage of bulletin board space may be covered in paper.  Now, we see the art works, even by Division One children, shrinking.  We see their tools becoming smaller.  But, THIS IS A PROBLEM!!  We can not sacrifice who our young people are and what they need to experience based on the numbers of works that we can display at any given time.  It is possible to observe the safety requirements and still address the actual art curriculum, that also, is required.

Because of their little fingers, young children need large brushes and large paper.  If you have to rotate their works of art over a month long period, to be fair, I think that is a possibility.  Their fingers are not ready to hold tiny water colour brushes, or to manipulate lines and shapes, with paint in an 8 x 10 picture plane.

I’m ranting…let me see if I can find a little video or something that supports anything I’ve written here.  Well, HERE is a write up titled, YOUNG IN ART by Craig Roland, outlining and illustrating the natural progression of making symbols and then images.

You may want to mute the next video.  I know that I did.  Sometimes music distracts.

I think teachers of art will be less frustrated and children will be less frustrated if they can enjoy art experiences that challenge, but do not frustrate.  Somehow, it’s important for teachers to identify the stages of artistic development that exist within their classrooms.  If a student struggles with fine motor skills, media needs to be selected that will ease that struggle.

For young children, I recommend BIG brushes and BIG paper.  Drawings can easily be accomplished with a piece of white chalk.

My thoughts on Pinterest?  Did anyone ask? I’m laughing here.  Truly, this post is a rant and not anything but.  I have to say that Pinterest is both a blessing for a visual arts educator and a curse!  To generalist and specialist teachers alike, I pose these questions. Do you understand what the curricular outcomes are that are being met by each Pinterest ‘idea’?  Are the outcomes appropriate for students at your grade level?  Are you including in your art experiences, lessons in Reflection, Depiction, Composition and Expression?  Are the end products the driving force behind the lesson or is the experience the child is having while creating them, the most magical?

All things to think about…

I think that we have done a disservice to teachers cutting back on professional development where it includes topics with direct impact on teaching.  I think that these are the days where we focus most on technology, assessment and inclusion to the detriment of self-reflection, lesson and unit planning and professional sharing opportunities.  In ‘the trenches’, there is very little time to explore.

The cost of art materials is, I’m certain, escalating.  The time on the schedule is diminishing.  Visual arts education is slowly being absorbed by other subjects and being called integrated visual arts.  If students use crayon pencils and markers, there is some thought that they are practicing art.  This, in my opinion, is a fallacy.

Anyway, I feel like I need a drink after all of this.  Good for you, if you read to this point.  I hope that you know that I’m behind all my readers and I certainly use my opportunities, as a guest teacher, to explore the art curriculum with kids simply because I love it!  Sometimes the kids call me Painter Lady.  That makes me happy!  What better way to learn, create and explore ones mind, but to dip a big brush into a buttery bucket of paint and then to watch that paint flow out onto a surface?  For those of you out there, with kidlets, have fun with them.  They appreciate any opportunity you give them to roll up their sleeves and get into those gritty aspects of learning!

Valentines…a lesson, or two.

Valentines this year…Grades Three and One.



Love Art in Calgary: Red Line Gallery

At the Red Line Gallery, Harold Pendergast greeted us in typical good cheer.  A very diverse exhibit was curated by Steward & Creative, Redheaded Champion of Artistic Expression. The space that was both warm and intimate.  It was the perfect first pit stop for the Love Art in Calgary tour, lovingly planned by our fearless leader, Wendy Lees.  As is her impeccable style, again, we started our day with hot coffee and home made coffee cake.  Members of the tour group were treated to a variety of art magazines and ‘things-about-town’ reminders.

Coffee CakeThis was a very relaxing start to the day…moments filled with little conversations about art and life and reconnect with our Love Art friends.  A lovely space and home for the Oilmens Review.

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Love Art In Calgary: cSPACE, Reid Henry & Phantom Wing

Wendy Lees of Love Art in Calgary planned another fantastic tour day on Saturday, September 21!  First…

…it is a magical thing to land in a spectacular ‘arts dream’ first thing on a Saturday morning…hot coffee, home made coffee cake and Reid Henry, first President and CEO of cSPACE projects…a yummy combination!  Thanks to Reid for giving his personal time to tour us about the cSPACE and for sharing ‘the vision’.  There is an extensive and mind-blowing website that I think MUST be journeyedHere, my readers will be able to see the trip that has brought Calgary arts and residential interests together, a unique explosion of concepts fired up in what used to be the King Edward School.  A huge architectural undertaking, the concept of providing for new artistic vision in our city is of paramount importance to Reid Henry.  That is obvious.

Our presenter has over 16 years of experience working at the intersection of urban, cultural and economic development, with a focus on non-profit real estate projects.  Evidenced by his session, he clearly articulates his passion for a collaborative and multi-disciplinary practice.  His vision, as a part of a collective of other equally-inspired partners, will redevelop this three acre, inner city site, including the 45,000 square foot King Edward School built in 1912, to serve and include a diverse and creative community.

Eventually, this facility will become a mixed use, multi-tenant arts hub and incubator.  It was a delight to hear and watch reactions expressed by various members of the tour group.  We were captivated by the presentation AND the concept,  mouths dropping as we rounded each corner.

While I wasn’t fully prepared to write today, it had to be done…so, perhaps, more to follow.  A huge event is just around the corner at the cSPACE in the form of Phantom Wing, an event that precedes the official demolition of a wing, one big step on the way to a whole journey of steps.

Directly from the Phantom Wing archive

PHANTOM WING is organized by independent Artist-Curators: Matthew Mark Bourree, Caitlind r.c. Brown, Jennifer Crighton, Shawn Mankowske & Natalie MacLean, with special thanks to Brandon Dalmer, Andrew Frosst, and John Frosst.

PHANTOM WING will be open to the public from September 24 – 29, 2013, as part of cSPACE’s showcase event also featuring YYC Fashion Week, Pecha Kucha #17, and Terry Rock’s Going Away Party.

Address of King Edward School: 1720 30th Avenue SW, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

“Here’s the thing: when you’re offered a pre-demolition space to make art in, it’s extremely hard to say no, despite your best intentions. When Deeter asked us to create a WRECK CITY at cSPACE King Edward School – the future home of a massive Arts Hub & Incubator intending to unite many of Calgary’s Artist Run Centres into an uber-mecca in 2016 – my initial response was “that’s impossible. WRECK CITY was all about independence and anti-institutionalism. How could we possibly repeat it?” It became more complicated when we began to discuss our responsibility to counter-culture, the necessity of independence, and the importance of letting the seed we planted with WRECK CITY germinate and grow – ya know, become it’s own thing.

However, the allure of checking out the space was too much for myself and my colleagues, and so we bit the bullet and went to see it. Of course, that was our first mistake. Our second mistake was allowing Deeter, an extremely charming and thoughtful fellow, to be so damn convincing. But we still weren’t entirely committed…


Deeter Schurig (cSPACE Project Manager) showing me the King Edward School space

Shortly after exploring the abandoned wing of King Edward School with Deeter, the Artist-Curators sat down as a collective to discuss the prospects of the project. Almost immediately it became evident that another WRECK CITY would be impossible… but a new project would be entirely within the realm of imagination. After all, to be frank, we’re essentially opportunists. Plus, WRECK CITY wasn’t our first pre-demolition project and it won’t be our last (see The Leona Drive Project and The House Project). PHANTOM WING will be its own thing, with a healthy awareness of its origins and a mischievous/playful relationship with The King Edward’s institutional background. In the spirit of the future Arts Incubator, PHANTOM WING will work as an intimate, process-oriented opportunity, allowing a small selection of Artists/Curators a vast amount of space to think and work and build. And if it faintly echoes some of WRECK CITY’s awesome sense of community, then hey, who can complain?”

I wish to thank Reid Henry for his generous introduction of this space.  I was overcome with a nostalgic feeling as we traveled the empty school hallways, but also filled with a feeling of anticipation and excitement at such a glorious development in our city.  I am so grateful to the residents and the City of Calgary who have lived this process and made things happen, along with the initiatives of the visionaries.  Thanks to Wendy Lees of Love Art in Calgary who seems to unbutton and reveal to us new and exciting things in the city all of the time!

Looking forward to attending Phantom Wing and other exciting projects.  Following, some images that I hope will capture a sense of the unbuttoning…an art space to be watching as its development unfolds over the coming years.

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Excited Hands

Excited Hands

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Gorilla House LIVE ART: August 22, 2012

As I drove home, I rolled down the windows and turned off the radio.  I felt one of those Douglas Spaulding summer moments.  The breeze was cool and the air smelled like sweet grass.  It was one of those times that a person would like to capture in a bottle of Dandelion Wine to enjoy during the cold days of winter…sip, by precious sip.

I feel almost giddy when I leave the Gorilla House Art Battles because the people are so genuine and the act of making art in such an immediate way is so fulfilling.  It also helps to not have the attachments to the work, but to truly glean, from the process, everything that there is or will be.

Tonight there was an additional surprise because my artist-dancer-daughter was doing a performance piece along with three other dancers throughout the evening and throughout the gallery/studio space.  It was great to finally share the experience with one of my children.

The concepts for the challenge tonight were very symbolic and ‘conceptual’…there wasn’t much that one could take literally…so I decided to be very playful with this piece.  I began by adding gilded text as a ground, sharing a narrative about the creation of the Gorilla House and how it feels to confront a blank panel in such an immediate way each week.  Then we were given these three inspirations.

1. From a book of Mythology by Joseph Campbell, Sisyphus.  (He’s the dude he perpetually rolls a boulder up a mountain only to have the boulder roll back down…and so it continues.)

2. From the book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, the concept of formal composition and creating events in a visual space that create a child-like balance.  We were told to re-capture the whimsy of our childhood for this one.

3. The Sixth Sense

I definitely went for a very mathematical approach to this piece, while at the same time, using the media playfully.  This week I incorporated the use of chalk pastel, painted into with gloss medium.  I wanted to capture the prism…I also wanted to use triangles to represent compositional stability.  The circle also provided a strong compositional element.  Jan purchased my piece at the auction and I’d like to share my gratitude for that.  I hope she enjoys her new acquisition and look forward to a more accurate photograph capturing tonight’s event.

I think that tonight’s challenges were just that…several people struggled with this one.

The best style is the style you don’t notice. Somerset Maugham

Thank You for Your Class: Visual Arts Galore!

The ARTS are Alive and Well in some schools!  I’d like to applaud the work of the teachers and students of St. Alphonsus Fine Arts School in Calgary, Alberta!  It is a ‘magical’ thing to step into your space!  Pick up some more art ideas, please, people!  And…Happy Valentine’s Day

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Thank You for Your Class: Journeying the Halls of a Fine Arts School

I have such a passion for beautiful art in schools.  Now that I am a guest teacher and the pressure is off…for assessment or data collection and recording, accountability and frustrating meetings…I am able to simply pleasure in the TEACHING and make observations and soak beautiful moments up…slurp them up…magical moments spring up easily these days.  I would like to give credit to the wonderful teachers who guided these activities, but I do not know their names…so, for the anonymous teachers who lead your students to beautiful experiences, I applaud you!  Perhaps these products will inspire other teachers to the PROCESS…the part of art that is everything!  Annie Smith would have highest regard for the fact that so much of this work is rooted in art history!

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Arts Advocacy: Canada

Recently, I got into quite a rant about an interview by Krista Erickson with Margie Gillis, a well-established, seasoned and important Canadian dancer and arts advocate.  I’ve since, settled down and I’m enjoying a variety of responses by Canadians who run the gamut from one political/social extreme to the other.  I like to NOT get into stereotypes or negative references in order to defend my  position on Canada Council Grants and the place of fine arts in Canada.  However, I’ve read many references to the LEFT and the RIGHT during this discussion, not really seeing that these labels are effective in the discussion OR even relevant.

I’m not posting the SunNews interview that got this ball rolling; I will leave this up to the reader to ‘google’.  I don’t want this particular link on my blog as it doesn’t represent my way of ‘doing things’.  I thought that this Winnipeg dancer did an awesome job responding to the interview and she articulates the ‘truth’ that the arts RETURN to Canada, economically, socially and spiritually!

On one of the facebook discussion threads, Jane Alison McKinney has stated,

‘I’m not sure what “suck off the Tax Payer” means, since artists are tax payers but here are some facts.

In 2007, The Conference Board estimated that the economic footprint of Canada’s culture sector was $84.6 billion, or 7.4 per cent of Canada’s total real GDP, including direct, indirect, and induced contributions. Culture sector employment exceeded 1.1 million jobs in 2007, so about 7 per cent of the workforce

According to Canadian Heritage, the federal cultural funding totals “$1.51 billion for the fiscal years from 2010 to 2015”, which amounts to an average of about $300 million a year. (Canadian Heritage – News Releases/ Statements. 2009.)

The Canadian federal budget expenditures totaled $276 billion in 2010.

So, as you can see artists are not “leeches.” The government invests a small amount (about 0.1087% of the total budget) in art and then art gives back to the economy. Yes, you are entitled to your opinion however having an opinion like, we don’t benefit from the arts, is kind of like having an opinion that 1 plus 1 equals 5. You are free to say it, but people will probably tell you that you’re wrong.’

My own daughter is the writer for Alberta Dance Collectors and has been intensely involved with dance and movement since she was a wee girl, competing in National level Rhythmic Gymnastics.  She has danced and choreographed in the city of Calgary, but without real payment.  The dedication and work ethic of dancers is so devalued in our society!  To see opposition to arts funding in Canada,  exposes a root problem in how we view a diverse society with many facets.  It is important that we educate ourselves about how the arts benefit both the individual and the collective!