The Literacy Project at the McMichael Canadian Art
From spring to fall 1995, a collaboration took place between the McMichael and two community groups, East Mall Community Services, Etobicoke, and North Albion Creative Kids, Rexdale. Its purpose was to respond to the interests and preconceptions of first-time visitors using the idea of 'place" as a catalyst for understanding. In anticipation of their visits to the McMichael, learners first worked with Mary Breen from Storylinks, the CMA's literacy partner, to create a story quilt about place based on their personal histories.
During their visit to the McMichael, participants were informally asked how often they had been to cultural places, such as art galleries. only one learner indicated having been to such a place, i.e., the Hockey hall of Fame. The two groups were then introduced to what a museum is and about collecting works of art. McMichael staff also emphasized that while museums are often perceived as elitist environments, they are for everyone.
Following these discussions, the groups made four gallery visits and looked at works by the Group of seven and First Nations and Inuit artists. They were encouraged to bring their own experiences to the art works in order to provide a framework for interpretation. They were also reminded of how their personal histories contributed to making the quilt. Relying on these experiences, recognizable images and objects contributed to each learner's perception of the art works. The development of a personal relationship with the art and the theme of the place, which was emphasized in all three visits, were key components in encouraging comfort and literacy in the museum.
Each visit also had a component to encourage individual creativity. During the first visit, each group produced a series of collaborative drawings about their ideal place. During the seconf visit, participants worked with self -hardening clay to create an image of a personal spirit. The intent was to further explore personal history through a three-dimensional visual presentation. The works varied widely and each group had an opportunity to see how each person visually represents the same theme using very different forms.
In the third session, participants painted images of themselves within their real/ideal environment - the McMichael grounds overlooking the Humber valley. the emphasis was not on technique, but once again on visual communication. Working outside also provided a connection to the working style and ideas expressed in the art of the Group of Seven. During a final visit in October, both groups had an opportunity to see their creative efforts exhibited and to talk about their impressions of the project.
Then project was a positive experience for the museum and the literacy learners. there was a significant shift; at first, each group expressed trepidation, but in the end all learners were involved. Almost all participants expressed a desire to visit other museums and cultural institutions. this change spells success and is a strong indication of the effectiveness of the project.