Popular touring workshop engages artists and Saskatchewan students

By: Michelle Brownridge February, 2014

Every fall, for nearly 30 years, a troupe of Saskatchewan artists has jumped aboard a van and hit the road to provide arts workshops to students in schools all across the province thanks to the support and direction of the Saskatchewan Cultural exchange society (SCES).

The Workshop Tour Program, organized by the SCES, hires artists from all disciplines, including visual arts, music, dance and drama, to travel around the province to schools and provide instruction to students in their areas of expertise. In 2013, the artists hired were Tyler Gilbert - a musician, Dawn Bird - an actor, Bamwesigye Evans - a dancer, Janine Windolph - an interdisciplinary artist, as well as tour manager and poet Kelly-Anne Riess.

"The Workshop Tour Program is a great way to help schools get the arts into their curriculum,” says Janine Windolph. “For some schools, arts appreciation is an important foundation, but for others the SCES Workshop Tour is one of the only ways that students get exposure to professional artists and arts activities."

Tyler Gilbert explains, "The first week was mostly up in Northern Saskatchewan, so we would be travelling and staying in hotels, but as the tour progressed and we moved back down south. Sometimes we would also be making day trips.”

Each artist conducted four, hour-long workshops per day, two in the morning and two in the afternoon. Gilbert explains how his workshop was all about song writing. He would talk a little about himself and what it is like being a musician in Saskatchewan, and then he would introduce the different parts that make up a song. Finally, the students would be encouraged to write a group song using the ideas developed throughout the workshop. "The students really loved singing their group song," he says.

Margaret Fry, executive director, SCES, says, "It's very important to us that the tour reaches as much of Saskatchewan as possible and that includes the north.” In 2013, the program visited 17 communities, including Canoe Narrows, Pinehouse and Sandy Bay in Northern Saskatchewan.

Sandy Bay was a particularly inspiring place for Gilbert. "Right after the workshop a group of students returned on their recess break to talk to me about music and being a Saskatchewan musician,” he shares. “I could really see the inspiration within them. It reminded me of the inspiration I had myself as a young student who was eager to start a career in music."

Dawn Bird learned first-hand from the tour that even a brief experience with the arts can be a powerful and transformative experience for students. "After one of my sessions, I had a teacher come up to me with tears in her eyes to tell me about one of the students who had experienced a lot of trauma in his life. These traumatic experiences had caused him to close up and become, for the most part, unresponsive. She was amazed that he had willingly participated in my workshop. She felt it may have opened a door towards his recovery and a personal connection with the world around him. Hearing this brought tears to my eyes!”

Having the opportunity to teach such a large number of workshops to such diverse groups of students was also a great learning opportunity for the artists. According to Windolph, "The Workshop Tour Program allowed me to hone my teaching skills and after each class was done I would assess how things went and apply the things I learned to the next class. This allowed me to become a stronger, wiser arts educator.”

She adds, "For me, each day was a chance to interact with the next generation and hopefully inspire them to consider the arts as a career, and if not that, at least encourage them to appreciate the power of creativity."

The SCES and the Workshop Tour Program is supported with funding from the Saskatchewan lotteries Trust Fund for sport, Culture and Recreation.

For more information about the SCES visit www.culturalexchange.ca or find them on Twitter at @theexchangelive.