Keitha Clark coordinates the Artists in the School program. She’s been impressed by the creativity the artists in the program have brought to re-imagining their workshops for online delivery.

The Artists in the School program delivers hands-on workshops to students in every school in the Yukon. It’s been operating for more than twenty years. In some communities, it’s the only access to arts programming that students have.  Under normal conditions, artists list possible workshop offerings in a catalogue, and each school receives a set number of hours, which they can use to bring artists into their schools. Most Artists in Schools workshops happen in the spring. Consequently, the COVID-19 related school closures had a large impact on the program.

Clark is grateful to have the support of the program’s funders at Yukon Government to take the program online. She sent out requests for artists to propose adaptations to their programs to an online format.

“We got some really great innovative responses,” Clark explains.

She was impressed by the range of online-ready programs offered by Maya Rosenberg. In particular, Clark admired her project to work with students to create pop-up art cards to thank essential workers for their services during the pandemic. 

Leslie Leong proposed a program where students would create swans out of milk jugs, especially geared towards teachers missing doing their annual field trip to Swan Haven with their classes. 

Poet Tom Lips also proposed a group poetry writing workshop, so the offerings spanned both visual and literary arts.

“The artists created engaging workshops they could offer using materials available in the students’ homes, in a straightforward online format,” Clark explains. 

At time of writing, three schools had already booked programming, which they had received one week before. She hoped to receive many more bookings before the school year wraps up June 12.  Maya Rosenberg had to “push through” the heartbreak of art workshop cancellation. 

The active art teacher not only teaches through the Yukon Arts Centre and Artists in the Schools, but also has one-on-one art students, whom she taught in their homes before the pandemic constraints. This offers a way for students to advance rapidly. The students she teaches in their homes also learn how to set up and clean up. Consequently, they are much more likely to practice between sessions with Rosenberg. With Artist in the School Rosenberg works with teacher requests, tailoring her programming to the specific grade, topic and theme. 

She likes working with the same class in a sequence of sessions, so they can dive into subject matter and skill, building on the previous week’s work. She taught her very first online class at the beginning of the current COVID-19 situation. It was hard not to be able to see her students in person. 

“As an art teacher I am supposed to be creative. What happens if I put that creativity into how I teach my art, make it into something we could not have done before,” she says. 

For the new version of Artist in the School, Rosenberg has to work with the materials students have at home. Some students have markers, other pencil crayons. “Kids are so creative, if you make flexibility and adaptation a goal.” Rosenberg strives to help students bring out what they have inside them with whatever medium they have on hand.

Leslie Leong with one of her clever milk jug swan creations

At time of writing, Leslie Leong had not yet taught art online. Environmental issues loom large in Leong’s practice. In her own work, she likes to use recycled materials as the most substantial part of her pieces.

The idea to make the milk jug swans came from a previous workshop Leong offered at a Whitehorse school. The teacher wanted to connect the artmaking to Swan Haven. Leong looked at a milk jug, and said to herself, “We could probably make swans out of that.” 

Her swan pattern keeps developing. Now they have legs, and their feathers have become more realistic. It uses the whole milk jug except for the lid. The handle becomes the head, the spout the body’s structure, the round sides the wingspan. 

This got Leong going with milk jugs. Her favourite piece is a wearable (though uncomfortable) dress, made entirely of milk jugs and pop rivets.

Leong also dreamed up a workshop inviting students to make “charms” for their shoelaces out of the recycling building up at home.

Creativity will find a way.

On her own initiative, Rosenberg has also begun small Zoom-based group painting classes for children aged eight to twelve. You can find out more about that here: https://www.mayaart.ca/events.

Bringing live performance back to the Yukon