A new work-integrated learning project had 40 first-year Studio Arts students thinking big. Really big.

With help from the university’s Careers and Experience office, Elisabeth Belliveau, assistant professor and program coordinator for Studio Arts, transformed an assignment that originally had students creating five different collages into a community-focused mural project. 

“It was a bit of an experiment,” says Belliveau. “In most arts programs, students don’t work with community partners until much later, but I really wanted students to see how their personal sketchbook-sized assignment in class relates to the bigger world and to think about how what they are doing goes beyond the classroom.”

Each ARTE 111 class each worked with different community partners – one partnered with the Bennett Centre and RECOVER Urban Wellness, while the other teamed up with the North Glenora Community League and Green Violin

Presentations by the community partners helped students understand each organization’s mandate and vision, and some partners even had students come for a tour so they could see the space and imagine the possibilities. 

Then, using supplies provided through a CEWIL Canada iHub grant secured with help from Careers and Experience, students set out to create a series of five collages that were tailored to meet each community partner’s needs. At a critique event in November, students shared their work with the partners, who Belliveau says were incredibly generous and enthusiastic, spending hours speaking with students and reviewing their collages. 

Now the four organizations are in the process of selecting up to four students who will be commissioned to turn their work into a painted mural this summer. 

Although only a limited number of students will officially extend their learning from this project into another year, there are takeaways for everyone involved, says first-year Studio Arts student Shyla Pellandini.

“This experience really made me think about how what I was doing in class was applicable to real life,” says Pellandini, who chose RECOVER Urban Wellness as the partner for her project. “Our city has such a problem with homelessness right now, so working with a partner that supports people who live their lives differently and that does something so important for the community gave this project extra meaning.” 

Pellandini says that working with RECOVER also helped her to see that there is real diversity in what artists can do. “We think of working in galleries or in illustration, but there are other opportunities out there. This project helped me see how doors are opening for artists in smaller organizations.” 

Pellandini’s observations are exactly what Belliveau had hoped for.

“For many students, this term was their first time really being downtown and this project quickly got them thinking about how artists connect to the world around us and how we take responsibility for being creatives in this place and time. It was exciting to see several students taking the initiative to follow up with partners outside of the project and to start developing professional relationships.” 

One of those students happens to be Pellandini, who was invited by RECOVER to write a blog post for the organization’s website after her passionate presentation during the critique event. 

“Throughout this project, I learned the value of staying positive and focusing on what we can do to make things better – in our own work as artists and students, and in addressing the issues in our communities. It’s important to go beyond pointing out what is wrong in our communities and to think about what we can do about it.”

Recover, reimagine, repeat
A few days into creating the pieces of art for RECOVER, I was walking my dog, Mulder, behind the Alberta Avenue Community League. It is not unusual to see tents, shopping carts, syringes, or debris from a rough night scattered in this area.
Shyla Pellandini Read Shyla Pellandini's full blog post

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