Modern arts programs means no school is a cultural desert

Aug 2, 2015 by

Liz  –

programs and performances, including regional visits and online concert streaming, are bringing the arts to Victorian students.

A country prep school teacher fought back tears as she watched one of her students playing the part of the imaginary animal he’d invented during a workshop held at her school by Wodonga’s HotHouse Theatre.

We work to reduce barriers, including those created by geography, socio-economic status and regional disasters such as bushfires and floods, to ensure all young people can access and benefit from our programs.

Suzi Cordell, manager Regional Arts Victoria’s Education & Families program

The child had not spoken a word in class all year. And there he was. Talking. Laughing. Communicating with his classmates.

The workshop, part of the Regional Arts Victoria program to bring high quality arts productions to school children across the state, was preparation for a school trip to Warning: Small Parts – a play about an orphaned child called Syms Covington who loves collecting things. Eager to find new and different things to add to his collection, Syms stows away on the naturalist Charles Darwin’s ship The Beagle on its famous 1831 journey to Australia.

The play’s cast includes a range of bugs, a smooth-talking armadillo, a lazy iguana, giant tortoises, a platypus and a squid, as well as sailors, a mermaid and a Charles Darwin puppet. The preps in its audience can see how the fantasy animals on stage compared to the ones they’d devised in their preparatory workshops. The grade 5 and 6 students, meanwhile, get the opportunity to explore the real history of Darwin and The Beagle.

Launched at this year’s Horsham ART Is… Festival, Warning: Small Parts has been toured across the state by Regional Arts Victoria and seen by more than 1300 prep to grade 6 students from 18 schools.

It is just one of more than 20 different theatre, arts and workshop programs that Regional Arts Victoria’s Education & Families program will take this year to around 16,000 school kids, from prep to year 12, in almost 100 schools across Victoria – including schools in metropolitan and outer metropolitan Melbourne.

According to its manager Suzi Cordell​, the program, which is funded jointly by government and various private philanthropic organisations, aims to inspire and involve students of all ages – stimulating their creativity in ways rarely achieved by the old-style school “culture” excursion where students were simply bussed to a theatre and bussed home again.

“We work to reduce barriers, including those [created by] geography, socio-economic status and regional disasters such as bushfires and floods, to ensure all young people can access and benefit from our programs.

“There is great evidence to support arts in schools benefiting all children, raising their self esteem and improving school attendance. Engaging young people with arts programs can be life changing.”

Cordell and her colleagues have witnessed, and heard teachers talk about, “light bulb moments” when a show opens up a new world to a young person – such as the young teenage girl who had been previously disengaged at school and started writing, non-stop, after a playwriting workshop with actor and playwright Ned Manning.

Student involvement is a common feature in the Regional Arts Victoria schools programs, from Flak, Michael Veitch’s play about fighter pilots (aimed at secondary students) to the Fairytale Cookbook show, in which primary school students choose the themes and characters of a show that will then be improvised by actors.

“Cross-curricular” works with relevance to science are consciously included. Scale Free Network’s Drawing Water, for example, is a visiting workshop on water quality for years 3 to 9, and suitable for any school with a nearby lake or waterhole. Led by microbial ecologist Dr Gregory Crocetti and ecologist and artist Aviva Reed, students observe and collect samples, look at water microbes under the microscope and draw what they see, with the aim of creating art that is scientifically accurate.

The Circus Experiment, devised by a team that includes a teacher with a PhD in astrophysics, includes a Westside Circus workshop followed by a session in which equipment such as the mini-trampoline and the walking globe are used to help primary school students come to grips with such scientific concepts as the transformation and conservation of energy.

The Regional Arts Victoria program also features collaborations with organisations such as Polyglot Theatre, the Melbourne Theatre Company and the National Gallery of Victoria. Bushido: Way of the Samurai, is one such example, and includes a visit to the NGV, an illustrated talk on the warrior elite that ruled Japanese society for more than 800 years, a samurai helmet-making workshop and an online pre-visit video conference to introduce students and teachers to the program before they visit.

The NGV has its own “schools outreach” program, offering online conferences and visits by NGV educators to schools, and enabling regional and rural students to experience both the NGV’s permanent collection and its special exhibitions.

In June the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra also made a foray into online distance education, streaming its live, interactive Meet the Orchestra concert, in which conductor Benjamin Northey​ and presenter Paul Rissmann​ explored Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition on the ABC’s digital education portal, ABC Splash.

Meanwhile, 2015 marks the 10th anniversary of both Opera Australia and the Australian Ballet’s primary schools touring programs. By September this year, students at 85 primary schools across the state will have seen Hansel and Gretel, a special 60-minute opera performance for young audiences. The tour includes 11 performances for the deaf and hearing-impaired, using Auslan Shadow Interpreting (in which interpreters are on stage as part of the cast). Then there’s “Out There – the Australian Ballet in schools” program, which covers interactive demonstrations and workshops across 110 schools in Australia, with priority given to disadvantaged, rural and regional schools.

Back in Melbourne, the Melbourne Film Festival is celebrating the ninth year of its Next Gen program, with screenings of eight films selected for junior and senior secondary students. All films come with detailed study guides written by Australian Teachers of Media, a non-profit organisation of teachers and media industry people.

www.rav.net.au/education-and-families/our-program/

www.miff.com.au/program/streams/next-gen

www.mso.com.au

www.australianballet.com.au/education/in…/about_out_there

www.ngv.vic.gov.au/explore/education/programs/

Source: Modern arts programs means no school is a cultural desert

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