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Forging the creative spirit with Artists in the Schools

By Angela Long

Published June 14 2016

A bag of clay. A palette of paints. A professional artist. These are the ingredients for sparking the creativity of a room filled with elementary school students.
Professional ceramist Lisa Barry one of many choices for the Artists in the Schools program run through the Arts Council Haliburton Highlands stands at the front of the J.D. Hodgson classroom shaping a ball of clay.
She looks out at the 25 restless Grade 4 and 5 students fresh from recess.
“The pieces you make today” Barry says “will be around for hundreds of thousands of years.”
The class goes silent.

Barry begins to roll the clay into a snake then shapes it into a coil.
“I’m sort of making a clay donut” she says.
“Cool!” a chorus of students exclaim.
“But not an edible one.” The class laughs.

Barry describes what clay is made of the firing process the types of glazes (“Is that what you put on to make it shiny?” a girl asks). All the while she transforms the clay into the base stem and bowl of a chalice a historical drinking vessel Barry tells the class once decorated with symbols important to the people who used them.
“Can we start now?” a student asks eyeing the tray filled with clay balls.
This is the kind of look Barry likes best.
“I like when I see that lightbulb go off” she says after the workshop as she washes paintbrushes. “They have this wet malleable material in front of them knowing they have the power to make something they can drink out of.”

The Artists in the Schools program aspires to unleash such powers. For each 100-minute session local children receive hands-on arts experience with professional artists. The workshops range from batik to Ghanaian drumming to medieval folk dance. This school season the program taught 41 workshops to 731 local elementary school students. Some of those children might never have had the opportunity to experience the arts otherwise Barry says.

Artists in the Schools’ education co-ordinator Charlene McConnell pitches in with the clean up. She picks up a cloth and starts wiping tables.
McConnell says their program allows something that’s rare in today’s world of “video games TV and organized sports.” The arts provide what she describes as “something tactile physical – an alternate and accessible form of learning.”
Barry and McConnell push in the chairs. Barry places the chalices in a container she’ll transport home and fire in her kiln. Each chalice is different. One sports a ballet slipper another James Bond. One is a Stanley Cup another pays homage to a student’s Scottish-Finnish roots.

Taylor Consack created a chalice in the image of his great-grandmother’s face.
“She moved here when she was very young and didn’t speak any English” he says. He will give it to her as a sign of his respect for her struggles.
This is when a fusion occurs stress Barry and McConnell. Between the creative spark and a tangible object whether it be a chalice a dance move a melody. Creativity forges emotion memories passion. The arts still have that power.
The arts both “uplift the spirit” says McConnell and “slow things down” says Barry.
The Artists in the Schools Program delivers a taste of this world classroom by classroom spark by spark.

For those interested in helping the Artists in Schools program continue into their 14th year Charlene McConnell is “gratefully accepting donations of household items and curiosities” at the Arts Council Office 710 Mountain St. Monday through Thursday: 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. for the June 18 Trash n’ Treasures fundraiser at Head Lake Park.