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Richmond Art Truck becomes essential learning vehicle

By Hannah Scott, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Published 11:52 PDT, Fri May 15, 2020

Last Updated: 3:47 PDT, Fri May 15, 2020

Winding its way to several Richmond schools in late April, the Richmond Art Truck provided a vehicle for expression.

While most students are learning remotely, the children of essential service workers attending programs at Gilmore, McNeely, and Brighouse elementary schools were recently engaged in special visual and dramatic art activities.

Crafted in part by cultural development manager Camyar Chaichian—one of the drama instructors—the engaging project also includes physical literacy and healthy eating. It aims to engage kids with additional school outreach, and normally travels to six schools per season.

After the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of all schools, the program had to pivot. And with Richmond having just launched the #RichmondHasHeart campaign, Chaichian thought it was a great time to bring the Art Truck back into play.

At the same time, the school district was looking for a way to expand its arts curriculum.

“One of the most powerful things in all of our lives is the arts,” says assistant superintendent Lynn Archer, who is in charge of overseeing the three sites. “It can really help us understand ourselves and help us in our development of community.”

Archer reached out to school district fine arts administrator Catherine Ludwig, who suggested the city’s art truck. From there, the partnership blossomed.

The Richmond Art Gallery offered additional support. Ludwig worked with art teachers from the gallery and the city’s arts centre to access supplies and create individual packages for each student.

The Art Truck ran three sessions in schools between April 27 and May 1. Chaichian credits teachers and staff for creating a safe environment for the program to thrive.

The frustration children are experiencing as a result of the pandemic was helped by drama exercises that allowed them to express themselves. Students also created visual art pieces that focused on heart and confidence. 

“The instructors were engaging, active, informative and fun,” says one of the teachers on site. “The dramatists were especially full of energy, breaking us out of our comfort shells. The artists were informative (portrait pointers) and innovative (salt crystals on watercolours). The two days the Art Truck graciously appeared were tremendously welcomed by all.”

The recent activities came together quickly after just a week of planning.

“It just shows how much heart the city has, not just in providing the resources to the Richmond School District, but in contributing full heart, full hands, full spirit,” says Ludwig. “Every time I came to watch the students, there was a huge increase of engagement in their activities. The arts can help people learn to say what they can’t say (aloud).”

Following the Art Truck’s guest spot in schools, more teachers and staff have been inspired to continue the connection and incorporate similar activities. The district is co-ordinating more arts programs in the coming weeks, including three sessions each with a dance, choreography and hip-hop instructor and a music teacher.

“We don’t want it to stop—we want to do more arts,” says Ludwig. “Arts teaches students that small differences can have large effects in life. In walking around and talking to some of the students about art and watching them express themselves, you can see the need and the want to just be able to communicate something. This experience has allowed them to do that and to be seen, to be heard, to be recognized.”

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