Arts Matter Learning Projects

What’s Proposed:
Arts Matter Learning Projects are collaborative initiatives between students, teachers, researchers, and artists for developing students’ engagement in the arts and their understanding of the importance of the arts in their own lives, in their school and local community, and in other communities across Canada and around the world. A key aim is to develop a life-long valuing of the arts, a rich and diverse awareness and understanding of the importance of the arts in people’s lives, and the capacity to communicate meaningful messages about how the arts touch people’s lives and bring about social and personal change.

It is a new way of thinking about artistic learning that brings together meaningful, engaged learning, student-led initiatives and multi-arts education. The projects use inquiry-based methods to encourage students to identify key issues and problems that matter to them in relation to the production, promotion, and performance/exhibition of the arts in a particular setting and context. Students use the arts as both an expressive means of discovery, exploration and reflection on these issues, as well as a way of representing and communicating meanings or important “messages” about the value of the arts in people’s lives. Learners also explore ways to help them connect these messages with their intended audience (other students, teachers, parents, artists, local community) in dialogical and meaningful ways.

How it is carried out:
Arts Matter Learning Projects are not a prescribed program of work. They offer a series of models and approaches that can be personalized by teachers and students. Projects are based on the belief that through inquiry, reflection and action aimed at understanding the importance of the arts in their own lives, students will become more engaged in the arts, more aware of the impact that the arts have on people’s lives, and better able to express and communicate the value of the arts to others. They will also enhance their understanding of the value of artists in society, and recognize how the arts contribute to their own social, educational and personal development. Meaningful, engaged learning is based on the pedagogical approach known as experiential learning or “learning by doing.” It is also related to transformative pedagogy, which emphasizes ways of facilitating a critical capacity within the classroom while promoting the integration of students, families, communities, and the wider world.

Student-Led Initiatives
Student-led initiatives help students learn more about their self, develop leadership skills, engage in activities that make a difference in their school and local community, and get to know students better in other grades and with different interests. They promote inclusiveness, ownership, empowerment, innovation, and leadership skills development through expansive learning opportunities that help students feel connected, prepared, and engaged in the arts. The process involves experiential and student-centred learning, inquiry, critical reflection, emergent curricula and transformative pedagogies. Arts Matter Learning Projects focus on building critical thinking skills in relation to students’ arts engagement, and introduce students to foundation skills for research such as inquiry, observation, information gathering, reflection and presentation. It also offers opportunities for getting to know more about different artists and art forms. Through student-led participatory action research activities, students also learn about arts advocacy by engaging in activities that will help to strengthen connections and bring about positive change. They explore why the arts matter through a participatory process involving community-building activities that deepen understandings about how the arts connect with our own lives and help people to connect and communicate with others.

Multi-Arts Perspectives
Multi-arts activities are artistic works, practices and events that use two or more artistic disciplines in co-existence, either in relation to each other through dialogue or through blending, blurring or braiding each artistic discipline in the creation, production and presentation of artistic work. Arts Matter Learning Projects encourage students to deepen their awareness and understanding about the value of the arts through a multi-arts approach. It offers students the opportunity to engage in multi-arts representations of the importance of the arts in their lives, as well as in their student-led initiatives to support particular action outcomes. It provides students with opportunities to learn something new or develop a new perspective based on their multi-arts experience, and to gain experience of the ways that multi-arts can be used to communicate meaningful messages to others.

Pilot Study
The first Arts Matter Learning Project involved 15 students in grades 8-12 focusing on different arts disciplines (visual arts, dance, language arts, music, photography), researchers, and teachers from a Fine Arts School in British Columbia. The researchers and students met for eight sessions over the course of several months to explore knowledge and develop shared understandings about why the arts matter. Activities focused on dialogue, reflection, student‐led participatory action research, and multimodal representations of the “messages” that the students thought were important for increasing awareness and understanding about the value of arts engagement, particularly within their own school culture. The students worked on a variety of projects that enabled them to identify and express key messages about the arts that were important to them. Their key messages emerged through the students’ growing recognition of the valuable role they play in mentoring younger arts students (the school has students from Grade 1-12), and the expansive artistic and positive growth they experienced when engaged in integrated or multidisciplinary arts activities. The students also participated in a dialogue session with arts students in teacher education and a presentation of their diverse artistic representations of why arts matter. In this study, we were particularly interested in the opportunities, constraints and key processes that emerged in developing and implementing this project. This research will inform future iterations of this work and help us develop directions for future projects to encourage integrated music and arts, and whole school involvement in inquiry, reflection and advocacy to strengthen connections between arts subjects and between the school and community.

Why it matters:
The Arts Matter Learning Projects aim to enrich students’ learning by helping them make connections between their own arts engagement and what matters to artists in the “real world” outside of the classroom, as well as the impact the arts have on people’s lives. It helps students discover the diversity and complexity of ways that the arts matter to deepen their understanding of the importance of the arts in their own lives and the lives of others. It also helps students develop a language for communicating these values in ways that are meaningful to others, and to engage in activities that enable them to be:

  • responsible for and energized by their own learning
  • self-regulated and able to define and solve problems
  • creative problem solvers, strategic thinkers, and critically self-reflective
  • collaborators with others to achieve something that matters
In Action:
Arts Matter Learning Projects focus on purposefully created experiences that are rich in the potential for learning. Inquiry, critical reflection and youth-led action – all part of the process students use to make meaning of their own and others’ artistic and musical experiences. The projects offer different ways for students and teachers to get involved by bringing different art forms and artists together and through learning opportunities that encourage a pluralistic understanding and a dynamic sharing and exchange of information about why the arts matter between young artists, arts educators, and professional artists in their community and the wider world.

At the heart of the project is the commitment to:
• Find ways of engaging all students in the school in creating meaningful artistic representations of why the arts matter.
• Make the work and performances of visiting artists relevant to all students, regardless of their grade or artistic discipline, and help foster connections between their own ways of valuing the arts and the ways that artists talk about and communicate meaning through their own artistic practice.

  • Provide opportunities for student-led initiatives to develop leadership skills, group work experience, dialogue and communication skills, and advocacy/action outcomes.
  • Implement research that will document both the processes involved in developing the project, the long-term learning benefits and engagement of the students, and an evaluation of the effectiveness of different curriculum approaches and strategies created for the project.

Arts Matter Learning Projects Handbook
A key planned outcome of this research is the publication of a Handbook that will outline a program of study and pedagogical approaches that are grounded in the research and learning initiatives. The Handbook will include lessons and activities for engaging students in learning projects that explore the importance of the arts, the role of the artist in society, and the impact that the arts have on people’s lives in their school, community, culture, and the wider world.

Arts Matter Learning Projects Workshop for Teachers
This full day professional development workshop is available for elementary and secondary teachers in general arts, dance, drama, film and photography, language arts, music, and visual arts. The workshop introduces teachers to the principles and practices of the Arts Matter Curriculum Project and the Arts Matter Student-led Initiatives. Teachers will have the opportunity to develop their teaching practice by examining new content and teaching strategies that are designed to foster greater student engagement in the arts, strengthen the arts culture of their particular school, and build community relationships in and through the arts. Teachers will share their own perspectives on why the arts matter and how a focus on the role of the arts and artist in society can create real-world opportunities for students to make meaningful connections between arts as a means of exploration (e.g., self, ideas, values, societal issues) and as a means of expression and communication.

The workshop also provides an opportunity for teachers to examine the process of bringing different art forms and artists together and on effective learning opportunities that foster meaningful connections and partnerships between different arts subject areas. The workshop will provide teachers with ideas and materials for addressing the components of Arts Education as specified by the B.C. Ministry of Education (creating, performing and exhibiting, responding) or curriculum in other parts of Canada and the world to foster expansive learning opportunities and student engagement in becoming part of an arts community. Topics will include: Incorporating Explorations of Why the Arts Matter into Arts Education; Enhancing Student Engagement in the Arts: Sharing Research and Practice; Forming and Sustaining Successful Community Artist Partnerships; Creating Student-led Participatory Action Research and Advocacy Projects.; Ways to Strengthen the Arts Culture of a Classroom and School; Building Partnerships Between Arts Subjects.