Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Though school field trips are currently forbidden because of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, officials with the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) have come up with a way to continue art education.
Instead of having busloads of school children come to their Toronto facility, AGO representatives have designed a way to go to the students instead, via online Zoom discussions.
These 30-minute sessions, which began on Tuesday (Oct. 13), will continue Monday to Friday until December.
The programming, which is available to students who are in a classroom or to those who are learning remotely from home, includes an Indigenous Art and Artists section.
The programming also features various other themes, including Getting To Know Art of the African Diaspora, Art and the Environment, and Art and the Senses.
The programming is offered as part of the Ontario curriculum, but open to students across the country.
Students and teachers can choose how many of the sessions they wish to attend. They can attend just once if they want or can also tune in for all five days of programming each week.
Audrey Hudson, who is the AGO’s Elizabeth and Richard Currie chief of education and programming, said the idea of offering Zoom sessions for students was conceptualized in June, once it became apparent schools might not return to normal this fall.
“We thought it was a great idea for parents, teachers and caregivers,” she said of AGO’s online sessions. “We made it happen so quickly.”
Recognizing the various grade levels that would be interested in the art sessions, AGO reps are offering three different groupings for their daily presentations.
One is for students from junior kindergarten to Grade 3. Sessions are also available for those from grades 4 to 8. And one for those in grades 9 to 12.
This week’s Indigenous Art and Artists sections will be held on Friday.
All of the weekly Indigenous-themed classes will be led by Indigenous art educators. Thanks to a partnership that included the Toronto District School Board and the Urban Indigenous Education Centre, seven Indigenous art educators were hired by the AGO in 2019.
Hudson said it was important to include an Indigenous component to the Zoom sessions being offered to students partly because the AGO is on Indigenous land.
Plus, she’s hoping the sessions create greater awareness.
“It’s important to think that Indigenous people are here and present now and not only part of history,” Hudson said.
This marks the first time AGO has offered such free programming to students. Schools across Canada are currently dealing with many other expenses as they try to cope with the pandemic, Hudson said.
“It’s not the time to be charging for school programs.”
Early indications are the AGO programming will be a huge success. Details of what was being offered were first released in an educational newsletter last week. And a news release was issued the following day.
Within one day after that, more than 6,000 students had signed up for AGO sessions.
Since the programming is available online, Hudson said there is no limit on the number of students that can tune in each day.
Despite the overwhelming initial response, Hudson also said AGO officials will be spreading the message about its programs.
“We’ll be contacting school boards across the country,” she said. “And we’ll also contact (school) superintendents and school board trustees. We want to make it as open and accessible as we can.”
During each 30-minute session, AGO educators will highlight artwork and artists from the gallery’s collection. There will also be a few minutes for discussions and an opportunity to be interactive.
For example, Hudson said if an educator is talking about a blowing tree, students will have the chance to stand up and pretend that they are a tree, moving back and forth with the wind.
The AGO is one of North America’s largest art museums. Its collection includes more than 105,000 works of art.
Prior to the pandemic the AGO was attracting about one million visitors each year.
Those looking to register for AGO’s school sessions or those seeking more information on scheduling can visit https://ago.ca/visit/group-visits/virtual-school-programs
While all of the announced Zoom sessions are free, AGO officials are also willing to customize art education classes for schools or individuals for a fee.
Info on customized talks is available at https://ago.ca/learn/learn-and-make