Queen's Gazette | Queen's University

The Magazine Of Queen's University

Search form

The artist as educator

The artist as educator

ACE students take part in a dance workshop. Students explore art forms outside their own specialization in order to give them an understanding of all arts.

Thirty years ago, the Queen’s Faculty of Education introduced its unique Artist in Community Education (ACE) program. The goal of ACE was to provide practising artists with the teaching tools they needed to pursue classroom, community outreach and arts leadership careers. “The program was started by Martin Schiralli, whose field was aesthetic education, and David Kemp, then-associate dean of Education [and former head of Drama],” says program coordinator Aynne ­Johnston, a 1986 ACE alumna herself, and associate professor in the Faculty of Education.

Of the impetus to start the program, David Kemp now says, “it was the sense that there were a large number of creative artists with tremendous work experience who could contribute greatly to the education system.” From the start, the program was deliberately small and its programming multi-disciplinary. “I liked the idea of a medieval university,” he says, “when one’s studies ranged across a number of disciplines. When you specialize too early, you lose that breadth of understanding.”

“The program still is the only one of its kind in Canada. It recruits talented professional artists and certifies them to become artist educators,” says Johnston. “A student coming into the program may be a highly talented musician. But he may not necessarily know how music translates into the classroom,” she says. The program attracts primary-junior and intermediate-senior teacher candidates, as well as artists who wish to explore career opportunities outside the classroom. ACE ­remains small, usually accepting no more than 25 students each year.

ACE students come into the program trained in visual arts, drama, film, creative writing, music or mixed media. Because they come from a variety of backgrounds, they receive intensive training in aesthetic education. “If you come in the program as a writer, you will leave having learned about painting, dance and other art forms from your classmates, the instructors and the artists-in-residence. Introverts learn from extroverts, and vice versa,” says Johnston. “The artists form strong bonds with each other, becoming a close-knit community.”

The bonds reach across the years as well, she says, pointing to an active ACE Facebook group that helps current and past ACE students network, share project ideas and connect each other with career opportunities.

Strategizing for the job they want is something ACE students practise in the classroom. Johnston prepares them with an exercise she calls “rejecting rejection.” Students open up to their classmates about their dream jobs, and then experience ­being rejected, often in very colourful ways.

“I’ve often used Shakespearean insults to make the exercise more creative. The ­students get rejected eight times by their classmates before they finally get accepted,” she says. By then, firmer in their convictions, they can better articulate their goals and refine their pitches.

Students have found the exercise good practice when negotiating practicum placements as well as in their later job searches. “Our students have acquired placements at some of the most prestigious arts institutions all over the world. They have worked at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Lincoln Center Institute, the Canadian Opera Company and the Shaw Festival, to name just a few,” says Johnston. These placements help students understand the type of work they can do as artist educators, give them practical hands-on experience and often launch their careers in new directions.

Read more about ACE when Andrew Stokes, Artsci’13, MA’14, interviews ACE grads Ju-Hye Ahn, Jo-Anne Lachapelle-Beyak and Dean Armstrong.

[Queen's Alumni Review 2014-3 cover]