Emily Carr University Alumni Make a Difference in Schools
The university's partnership with the Vancouver School Board has enabled alumni to become artists-in-residence at the AIRS site in Mount Pleasant Elementary

In 2018, the Faculty of Culture + Community established a sponsored Artist-In-Residence Studio (AIRS) space at Mount Pleasant Elementary. The AIRS program, in collaboration with the Vancouver School Board, has featured a total of thirteen Emily Carr University alumni since its inception in 2015. The residency spots are awarded through annual competition.

The AIRS program as a whole works with local artists to support equitable access to the visual arts for all children, giving priority to schools that serve families with limited ability to fund arts programing in or outside the school. Dean Dr. Cissie Fu shared that Emily Carr University’s sponsorship of the program was sparked by the connection two sessional faculty members, Hannah Jickling and Helen Reed (BFA ’06), made with Queen Alexandra Elementary School during their Big Rock Candy Mountain research project.

“One thing that I definitely learned from this project is that there are multiple ways of knowing, with a plurality of access points and approaches that shift with age, perspective, and experience, all of which are best acknowledged and exercised through sustained and iterative practice,” said Dr. Fu about the collaborative nature of the project. These thoughts were shared as part of a day-long symposium, Field Stories: Community-Engaged Research in Times of Crisis, that explored a range of community-engaged research practices. Dr. Fu participated on the panel Research as Advocacy: Collaborative Inquiry Meets Material Practice, which also featured interdisciplinary artist Yeonoo Park (BFA 2021), writer and media artist Adiba Muzaffar (MFA 2018) and Maggie Milne Martens, Director of AIRS and a long-time art educator.

The AIRS program states that learning via the visual arts is essential for both academic development and the social-emotional wellbeing of all children. Students who participate in the visual arts have larger imaginations as the program promotes visual literacy, critical reflection, flexible thinking, and resilience through problem-solving. The benefits of being involved stretch beyond the intellect and impact the emotional well-being in children by building their confidence and self-esteem through “material engagement and authentic self-expression as it invites an attitude of careful, felt attention to the world we live in and the unique perspectives of others.”

Material Practice: work and remnants from Mount Pleasant Elementary on display at ECU from Jaymie's residency.

The first recipient of the Mount Pleasant Elementary residency was Jaymie Johnson (BFA 2015) in 2018-2019, whose residency resulted in an exhibition of the work in ECU’s Ground Floor Gallery. The collaborative exhibit showed work by the students of Mount Pleasant Elementary as curated by the artist-in-residence.  Since Jaymie’s initial residency, the list of alumni at Mount Pleasant Elementary has grown: Tim Bauer in 2019-2020, Aaniya Asrani (MFA 2019) + Annie Canto (MFA 2020) in 2020-2021, and calls for the next set of artists for all AIRS sites are currently open for 2021-2022.

Other AIRS artists who are Emily Carr University alumni are: Cole Pauls (BFA 2015), Alex Ruiz Ramirez (BFA 2012), Jack Kenna (BFA 2019), Megan Jensen (BFA 2020), Kristen Hatfield (BFA 2014), Augusta Lutynski (BDes 2020), Tami Murray (BFA 2002) Adiba Muzaffar (MFA 2018) and Nura Ali (BFA 2021).

Recently, AIRS adapted the 2019-2020 exhibition programming online due to the pandemic and as such, the young creativity inspired by alum Tim Bauer (BFA 2015), who participated during that academic year, can be viewed in much more detail and definition than usual.

“The interruption of COVID-19 in March posed a unique challenge, stretching artists to find creative ways to make art accessible for students in the context of physical isolation,” reads a statement by Maggie Milne Martens, co-Founder and Director of AIRS regarding the shift to a digital exhibition. “What is shown within this online exhibition represents just a small sampling of the depth of learning that took place for students across the year not only in art ways of thinking and knowing but also in realizing their own innate capacity for self-expression, connection and imagination through art.”

The Emily Carr University sponsorship for 2020-21 is currently supporting the virtual and hybrid placement of two alumnae at Mount Pleasant this academic year: Aaniya Asrani (MFA 2019) and Annie Canto (MFA 2020). The two artists have been activating community- and place-based art with elementary students since late fall 2020.

At other AIRS sites during this pandemic academic year, other alumnae in residency are Adiba Muzaffar (MFA 2018) who was selected for a media-focused AIRS residency and soon to be graduated Nura Ali (BFA 2021) who recently completed an AIRS mentorship with a set of anti-racism art workshops for learners in Grades 5 to 7.

“My current desire is that everyone involved in this project can articulate and realise future hopes for it.  It has been an honour and a distinct delight to amplify the impact of the AIRS program, with its many champions,” said Dr. Fu. “By widening the lens on this elegant and exciting injection of artists in residence in elementary schools, I hope that educators and education policy-makers in Vancouver and BC can refocus on the foundational elements of critical and creative pedagogy and reconfigure curricular and physical spaces for art-making.”

To learn more about the AIRS program, please visit the program website. The intake for the 2021-2022 year is coming up and there is an information session on April 26 and applications will be accepted between May 3 and 16. Learn more about becoming an AIRS artist here.

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