Art of education 

By Russ Cooper

The lines defining art education, much like art itself, have blurred over the years. But that evolution represents a terrific opportunity for new ideas to discuss and focus on.

Held from Nov. 6 to 8, Concordia's Art Education department presented Changing Connections, Communities and Contexts – a national conference bringing together art educators, researchers and students to explore innovative examples of art education inside and outside the classroom.

Laurel Hart and Christina Thompson (right) presented their installation <em>Of Roots and Synapses</em> on Nov. 7. Magnifying glass

Laurel Hart and Christina Thompson (right) presented their installation Of Roots and Synapses on Nov. 7.

"There's a tremendous amount of change in art education happening right now. What kind of art we teach and how we teach it. It's a time of great flux," says art education professor and chair Cathy Mullen, who also served as conference co-chair. "The goal of the conference was to get people together and to learn from each other."

Roughly 150 artists, researchers, teachers and students partook in the conference, coming from all over Canada, the U.S., and as far away as South Africa – a sizable and diverse crowd that surpassed expectations.

"It made for an active conference, a wonderful exchange of professional knowledge and practices, and an exceptional learning experience for students," says Mullen. "The comment we heard over and over again was, 'what a rich and high-quality range of presentations.' Our program was packed with amazing stuff. We were really pleased."

The crowd came to engage with nearly 80 presenters in 60 sessions exploring the role of art and art education in society today. Coming from different universities, private and public schools, and community-based programs, presenters took an interdisciplinary approach to topics ranging from gender differences to sustainability to new media in the classroom.

"We live in a complex culture where we encounter visual imagery all the time," says Mullen. "So as art educators, we are continually asking ourselves, 'what is our role and responsibility in educating students to become active and critical participants in this culture?'"

Some of the presentations included MA students Christina Thompson and Laurel Hart's Of Roots and Synapses, a performance/installation piece exploring collaborative life history research, as well as PhD student Hilary Inwood’s The Greening of Art Education, investigating how art education can intersect environmental and sustainability education.

Outside of the parameters of the conference, the Art Education department also organized an alumni reception. However, the timing provided the chance for many alumni to speak and take part in conference events, saying nothing of being able to revisit their alma mater.

For Mullen, seeing her former students and younger colleagues take art education in brave new directions gives her a positive sense the field is moving further into inspirational territory.

"As we look at the changes happening in our field, I'm picking up wonderful ideas from our younger colleagues," she says. "To see those who have just begun their careers and their creative thinking and commitment to teaching, they are really changing the way things are done.”


Concordia University