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‘A lot of meaning’

The Rooms, Memorial collaboration maps enhances children’s voices

Campus and Community

By Ruzhica Samokovlija Baruh

As the largest cultural institution in the province, The Rooms is known for its work with schools and program development for children.

Its recent partnership with Dr. Anne Burke, a professor in the Faculty of Education at Memorial, is one such collaboration. The partnership embraces visual literacy, cultural stories, storytelling, STEAM education and engagement with augmented reality technologies.

Telling stories

Alongside primary teachers and children from two multicultural elementary schools in St. John’s, the International AdVost project with the University of Lapland Finland and Leeds Beckett University Carnegie School of Education U.K. focuses on enhancing the ways to listen to young children’s perspectives, to talk about artifacts and engage in various ways of making art to tell stories.

“This project is part of our strategic plan to build audiences and to build knowledge around museology and specifically about museum education,” said Kate Wolforth, acting director of museums and galleries, The Rooms. “And so, it fits our mandate perfectly in terms of also building partnerships with the community.”

Anne Pickard-Vaandering stands in front of artwork hanging on a darkly painted wall. A group of children stand in front of the artwork, back on.
Art educator Anne Pickard-Vaandering with children in The Rooms gallery.
Photo: Submitted

An identity mapmaking project with the support of Anne Pickard-Vaandering, an educator at The Rooms, enabled students from St. Andrews, St. Teresa’s school, Ecole des Grands Vents, Holy Cross and the Association for New Canadians to exhibit their works.

The project also included the participation of local artists assisting children to learn the art of letterpress printmaking, collage and shadow portraits, all focused around the theme of culture.

The students’ artworks, which communicated about their culture and identity, were featured at a MakerFaire event in June 2022, as the first public event since the pandemic.

“It has a lot of meaning for the children to have their work exhibited at the Provincial Art Gallery,” said Ms. Wolforth.

A poster with several smaller images combined to make one large image. A hand pointing at the image is visible.
An example of an identity map.
Photo: Submitted

More importantly, Dr. Burke’s research emphasizes the importance of experiential learning that honours the voices of children.

“The project really brought to the forefront the changing cultural landscape of our Newfoundland and Labrador fabric with The Rooms artists introducing teachers to new artistic approaches to be used in classrooms to explore children’s perspectives about their home language, cultural practices and celebration of family both here and afar,” said Dr. Burke.

Ms. Wolforth also says that seeing the world through children’s eyes builds awareness of children’s experiences and reminds people that they were children at some point, too.

“Children’s voices are really important and often they don’t have a voice that is loud enough. And we can help amplify them as a cultural institution and as an educational facility.”

‘Future opportunities’

The partnership has benefited the participating schools, local artists, The Rooms and the community at large.

It has also raised the profile of The Rooms, particularly in academic circles, where the institution has become a place for conducting research and a place to learn more about the role of art education in schools.

For instance, the latest collaboration between The Rooms and Memorial University is an exhibition dedicated to the half-a-billion-year-old Aspidella terranovica, “Newfoundland’s little shield” fossil.

First discovered in downtown St. John’s, Aspidella is the first fossil ever identified from the Ediacaran period. It is one of the earliest multicellular organisms recorded on the planet.

“We’ve had a lot of Memorial students come through here and do training and student placements and internships,” said Ms. Wolforth. “We always enjoy working with Memorial students. So, we are really pleased that Memorial is a willing partner in collaborations and we look forward to future opportunities.”

For those interested in building partnerships with The Rooms, contact the management team to present your strategy and goals.

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