Without a doubt, the 2020 school year will be one for the books. From in-class learning to graduation ceremonies, practically everything has been disrupted due to the ongoing pandemic. But when it comes to arts-based learning, at least one local gallery on the province’s West Coast has found a way to keep students engaged and entertained during these strange times.
In June, the Grenfell Art Gallery, located at Memorial University’s Grenfell Campus in Corner Brook, officially launched “Isolate + Create,” a public outreach and educational initiative that’s been helping students and others to keep connected to their creativity. The series of videos are hosted by Lorna Conquergood, a visual artist and graduate research assistant with Grenfell Gallery, and consist of at-home art activities (including crocheting, printmaking and stop motion animation) that incorporate curriculum-based art skills, inspired by the art and culture of Newfoundland and Labrador and beyond.
“All the activities were developed in response to NLESD curriculum and inspired by contemporary artists, the majority of whom have a connection to Newfoundland and Labrador in their practice or the ideas that they engage, including Nelson White, Barb Hunt, and Jerry Evans,” says Matthew Hills, Director of the Grenfell Art Gallery.
In this week’s Spotlight, we speak further with Hills and Conquergood to learn more about this excellent initiative.
Business & Arts NL: Can you tell us more about how the idea for Isolate + Create came about?
Matthew Hills: March to June is usually the time which our public programs and outreach activities are most focused on school programming and connecting with classrooms on the West Coast. Under normal circumstances, this time of year Grenfell Art Gallery would have more than 700 elementary, middle, and high school aged students in the gallery to engage with our exhibitions and collection. Those visits are often some of the most fun and dynamic times in our exhibition space and public studio. We missed the energy of those young creative minds engaging with our programming and it made us conscious of the challenges of many of the families in our community and province to find curriculum-related activities that were engrossing for a variety of ages, while remaining accessible in every sense. It was important that material for Isolate + Create be readily available while in self isolation. We also wanted to be conscious of remaining accessible across a variety of platforms and levels of Internet access. This is one of the reasons why we have included a PDF on our website along with each activity, that breaks down on a step-by-step basis the whole activity, materials required, background on the inspiring artist, and related curriculum points.
Lorna Conquergood: Isolate + Create developed over the course of a few meetings to fill a void, since the Grenfell Art Gallery’s public programs and classroom outreach was not going to be possible during times of isolation. The PDF was developed first and then Matthew talked me into filming the videos!
Business & Arts NL: What’s the overall goal of this project and what kind of response have you been getting?
MH: The overall goal was to provide accessible, but rigorous, at-home art activities that planted the seeds for advanced fine art techniques for families and individuals of all ages. Grenfell Art Gallery is the only art museum in the province solely focused on the visual arts, so it’s important that we share how inspiring the visual artists of our province are. The response thus far has been really positive.
LC: In our initial discussions, Matthew and I were also interested in assisting teachers who were going to have to deliver curriculum responsive (and engaging) online content that is accessible to all. I’m an arts ed teacher in Saskatchewan and I had an idea of how frustrating this could become for some.
MH: Yes they are, as well as the associated PDFs for each activity on our website, which are printable and include step-by-step breakdown of activities, material list, and background on the artists and curriculum connection. It is really important to us to make Isolate + Create as accessible as possible.
Business & Arts NL: What other kinds of videos are coming down the pipe?
MH: The next Isolate + Create will focus on painting! It is inspired by the work of St. John’s-based West Coast artist, Nelson White. Nelson is a member of the Flat Bay First Nation Band (No’kmaq Village) and we’re working with him on a national touring exhibition and publication in partnership with Prince Edward Island’s Confederation Centre for the Arts. Nelson’s show is tentatively scheduled to open later this summer before touring out of province.
Business & Arts NL: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about Isolate + Create?
MH: We’re really thrilled with the success of Isolate + Create. It’s part of a larger effort of the gallery to pivot towards content rich digital public programming and outreach. We’re committed to supporting the work of professional artists and artistic excellence. It’s important to us that our digital programming meet that standard as well. None of this would be possible without the support of the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts, both of whom provided crucial operating support for Grenfell Art Gallery public programming.
LC: A big thank you to Emily Clark for video layout, editing and design. Also, I’m grateful for Matthew’s leadership and direction. I feel very supported by the Isolate + Create team, which I believe speaks to the overall positive responses to the project. I’m very excited for the next modules and beyond!