ARTforLIFE creates lasting legacy for students and teachers alike

By: Sarah Ferguson June, 2014

Some believe imagination is more important than knowledge. However, a visual art-based education program at Saskatoon’s Mendel Art Gallery combines both, and is building a creative legacy that will leave a mark on teachers and students for years to come.

Launched in 2001, ARTforLIFE is a program that partners the Mendel Art Gallery with community schools. “Its main goal is to encourage strong, long¬term relationships and lifelong learning,” says Laura Kinzel, public programs coordinator and head, ARTforLIFE program, Mendel Art Gallery. This past year, the gallery welcomed its 11th program partner, Caswell Community School. “The one thing that’s really great about the program is that every single school partnership is different,” adds Kinzel.

The Mendel works hard to find a good liaison match for a school. “When I talk to the school, I say ‘what kind of person would you like to see?'" Kinzel says. The school always prioritizes someone who has a thriving art practice, and the Mendel strives to strike a balance of participation between the Saskatoon Catholic System and the Saskatoon Public School, and also between elementary and high schools.

Noreen Neu, arts consultant, Media and Visual Arts, Saskatchewan Arts Board, worked in the Mendel’s Public Programs Department during ARTforLIFE’s infancy. “We wanted to develop a program that went beyond what we were currently offering schools,” Neu says. She asserts that the program began by working with community schools that had issues like poverty, crime and drug abuse. “We thought we could make a positive contribution,” she adds.

According to Neu, the program benefits students and teachers alike as it provides sustained arts programming to an entire school for three years. “Teachers [in all disciplines] have an opportunity to develop some skills around the arts curriculum,” she explains. “Students also have the opportunity to benefit with a program that is not dependent on teachers in individual grades having arts education-related skills.”

Kinzel also emphasizes that the program would also be impossible without the support of Affinity Credit Union. The liaison between Affinity Credit Union and the gallery has existed since the program began, and has been so successful that it won the Saskatoon Community Foundation’s Strategic Alliance Award in 2006. The Mendel Art Gallery receives part of their operational funding from SaskCulture through the Culture Section of the Saskatchewan Lotteries Trust Fund.

Since 2012, Robin Adair, a Mendel Liaison, has worked extensively with the staff and students of Bedford Road Collegiate. The program partnership, which is now in the second year at the school, has received great feedback. “During a Visual Storytelling project, the Grade 9 Arts Education teacher expressed a number of times that it was great to have someone challenging the students, and getting them to think about art from different angles,” he says.

Kinzel remains optimistic about the ARTforLIFE program, even though the Mendel is currently undergoing a period of transition. “ARTforLIFE will continue as long as we have dedicated funders,” she says, adding that the gallery hopes to bring another ARTforLIFE school partner aboard in 2015.