Students explore their creativity on an art adventure.
Article written by Martha Perkins, Editor of the Echo..


Before choosing what colour to paint her puppet, Caitlyn Cook
is asked by Fay Wilkinson to imagine what type of world the
puppet would live in, while Krista Patterson works on her creation.


Art is supposed to liberate our creative spirit, but all to often we're afraid to set ourselves free. After all, with every act of creation, you put your ego on the line. Will other people like this? Will they laugh at what I've done? Can I dare to experiment with something I've never tried before? What if it doesn' work out?

But inside a classroom at J. Douglas Hodgson Elementary School there's a quiet revolution going on. Armed with paints, glue, colourful bits of cloth and paper, a group of students is restoring art to the exciting adventure it's supposed to be. Eleven year old Krista Patterson says that in this room, "we get to respect each other. It doesn't matter if you're good, you just do what you can." "We're free to express our feelings," agrees Samantha Russell, who's painting black wings on her bird puppet.

Across the table, the youngest student in the room, nine year old Brandon Tripp, has chosen a peacock's array of colours to paint his puppet with its long yellow nose and purple and blue eyes. "No one judges you," he says, twirling his puppet's single leg in front of him as he marvels at what he's been able to create.

And art is more than just paints and shapes, eleven-year-old Andy Nesbitt says. It's about who you are as a person. "You can express your feelings by making something."

On any other afternoon after school, you'd find most of these young students at home watching television or playing on their PlayStation - passive recipients of someone else's creativity. But on Tuesdays, they get to be the ones who put on the show. These students - and eight others at Archie Stouffer Elementary School in Minden - are among the current batch of young people benefiting from the Art Adventure program. Using money from the federal government's child benefit program, Family Services of Haliburton County offers four such programs a year.

In a few weeks, when programs at JDHES and ASES wind down, new programs will start at Wilberforce Elementary and Cardiff Elementary. Family Services provides a recreation co-ordinator - Sue Ferren in Haliburton and Cindy St. Pierre in Minden - to support the artist who spearheads the program. In Haliburton Fay Wilkinson has volunteered to spend seven of her Tuesday afternoons teaching the students how to find their inner artist, while in Minden, Michelle Pierson is doing the same thing on Monday afternoons. (Karen Phipps, who runs the local healthy snack programs, makes sure there are lots of nutritional munchies on hand to get the students through till dinner.)

The goal is to provide an environment where they feel safe to be themselves, says Wilkinson. She believes that everyone is creative, only some of us have shut that part of ourselves down. Maybe our earlier efforts were criticized or corrected. Maybe our art classes at school were too regimented, taught by people who weren't comfortable with themselves and this whole creative thing.

By setting the tone of mutual respect and support early in the adventure, Fay's helped the students feel comfortable with their creative side. "When they first get together they're apprehensive," Ferren says, noting that in the first week, some of the students declined taking part in the "sharing time" that opens each session. "The program takes them out of their comfort zone." Within a few sessions, however, the students are quite at ease about explaining that, in one example, their mask represents a hunter who paints his face the same colour as the animal he just killed. And if that happens to be a yellow deer, then his face is yellow.


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