An Artful Education

This month we focused on resuming routines and being back at school. We explored the complexities of learning and the compelling relationships between educators and their students.  But learning doesn’t always take place within the confines of a classroom and it certainly encompasses much more than the guidelines of a curriculum.

Extracurricular activities.  The mere mention is enough to make some recoil and others rush to registration, checkbook in hand.  It has been hotly debated lately (what hasn’t been when it comes to parenting?) with some taking the position that our children are over programmed and lack time for free play.  Others disagree and see extracurricular activities as vital to rounding out a child’s education.

Last week Leslie Foster’s Top 10 Reasons Your Kids Need Extracurricular Arts-Based Activities struck a nerve.  Perhaps it was because I was waffling on my decision to sign the boys up for more sports than I had intended this fall.  I had succumbed to their demands for soccer, swimming, karate, tennis and squash with nary a thought of exactly how I was going to transport all three boys to three different destinations at three different times and now my plate feels full.  Perhaps it was because each of my boys expressed sadness that they, in effort to minimize the intensity of a packed scheduled, were no longer enrolled in their respective art class/piano lessons/music and movement class.


In my haste to ensure they were registered and equipped for their team sports, art took a back seat.  More so than being surprised by their request to resume their arts-based activities, I was pleased that my boys recognized in themselves a desire to be creative and express themselves artistically.

And so I will reach deep into my pockets, get creative with the schedule and call in favors to make it work.

But what about the kids who are not so fortunate as to ask and receive?

Artbarn School, a not-for-profit art school in Toronto offers a variety of art classes for children and adults. From watercolour and oil painting, drawing, encaustic and mixed media, these classes are taught by dedicated, enthusiastic artists eager to share their passion with budding creative-types.

Linda McMaster co-founder and Executive Director of Artbarn School, was aware that not all children who have an affection for art but not the financial means to register for the courses.

McMaster got the idea to start the scholarship when approached by a recently widowed mother of three whose son showed great artistic potential but she did not have the funds to register him for classes. The student’s skills not only blossomed but he thrived under the mentorship of his teacher.

Raising Artists is an event dedicated to raising the designers, architects, artists and creative thinkers of tomorrow with all proceeds directed toward the scholarship.

Children can explore the studio and participate in a variety of activities while the adults enjoy live music, appetizers and bid on the artwork created by their children. The budding-artists proudly showcase their work while their confidence soars.


Many of our readers do not live in Toronto, but I hope you’re inspired by the initiative the Artbarn has taken to make extracurricular activities more accessible to families. Perhaps you’re inspired to get involved with your community organizations and improve the accessibility of extracurricular activities. Similarly, be sure to contact organizations to see if scholarship opportunities exist before deciding it’s not in the budget.

For Your Calendar:

Raising Artists

Artbarn School, 250 Eglinton Avenue West, Toronto

Thursday, November 20 from 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

Tickets are $20 and must be purchased in advance.



Explore Toronto: Eco-Art-Fest @Todmorden Mills

AU_no9_EcoArtFest_8036Last week, with intentions to squeeze every last bit of summer fun out of what remained of the summer days, Carol, Nathalie and I took our boys to explore no. 9’s Eco-Art Fest.

Just off Pottery Road in the Don Valley, is a tucked-away enclave sheltered by a canopy of trees where art and green collide. Andrew Davies, Executive Director, is a man with a vision. Having spent years in New York City working for the Museum of Modern Art in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Davies became enamoured with the emerging art scene that seemed to couple art and social consciousness so seamlessly. Upon his return to Toronto, he learned about the Evergreen Brick Works, at that time in its planning stages, and envisioned a place where art and the environment could not only flourish but also serve to inspire people to live more sustainable lives.

Drawing on his extensive art and architecture background Davies went on to found no. 9. It is an arts organization that uses art and design to bring awareness to environmental concerns through school and community based programs. Earlier this summer when I explored the Brick Works with my boys we were able to view My Sustainable City, a collaboration between no.9 and the Toronto District School Board that is on exhibit at Brick Works until September 23.

IMG_4848While My Sustainable City is an example of a school program, Eco-Art-Fest is an outdoor summer-long art festival held at Todmorden Mills until September 21 for the entire community to enjoy.

Davies and his staff of artisans offer daily programs for children. Our boys got their hands dirty throwing clay and enjoyed a water colour painting workshop where they learned about endangered animals and just how interrelated the creatures in our environment really is. We ended our morning activities with a guided tour of the various outdoor art installations by celebrated artists Dean Baldwin, Nicole Dextras, John Dickson, Sean Martindale, Ferruccio Sardella, Penelope Stewart, John Loerchner and Laura Mendes.


It was an enriching opportunity to learn how art is not just paint, paper and brush strokes. Art can be just as much about aesthetic and expression as a social message. In particular my boys enjoyed Sean Martindale’s installation of the word HISTORIES created from the earth, and depending on perspective history could be rising up from the ground or buried.

Saturday nights offer live music after 5 pm, delicious artisanal charcuterie boards that are works of art in themselves, and organic beer and wine all under the lights of Helliwell’s.


Nearly four hours passed before I looked at my watch.   The green space combined with the art, and the easy-going, light-hearted atmosphere was enough to make me forget that I was in the city, less than a few minutes drive to the centre and its hustle and bustle. It was four hours of appreciating art in many forms, learning about our environment and most importantly connecting with each other.

Time is running out to experience the wonder of Eco-Art-Fest this summer. The festival ends on September 21 but will return next year. To learn more or to register for the activities and tours please visit Eco-Art-Fest.

4 Mothers Remember

Photo credit:  foxypar4

1mother:  Marcelle Cerny

“Mommy, when I’m 18, will I have to go to war?”

The boys are learning about Remembrance Day at school.  Reciting “In Flanders Fields”.  Daniel will be taking part in the school assembly, reading a passage about how the war ended at 6am Washington time.

But Sebastian’s not thinking about that.  He’s snuggled up to me, head pressed against my chest, looking through long eyelashes for my answer.

I think of the thousands of boys who once snuggled up to their own mothers this way.  Little boys, who played at war and who tested their courage in little ways.  Who grew up to believe it to be their duty to defend their country, to show valour, and honour.

I sigh.  I cannot lie.  I cannot tell the future.  But I can pray.

“I hope not, honey.  I hope you and your brother and no other boy or girl ever has to go to war again”.

He nods.  “Did Daddy have to go to war when he was 18?”

“No sweetie pie.  That’s why we remember those who fought in war, who fought for our freedom, so that your Daddy, and you, and your brother might never ever have to go to war.  We need to remember, and we need to say thank you”.

His mouth twists slightly, in thought, and then, “When did the first war start?”

I struggle.  Cain and Abel?  Do I reach back to the Bible?  Does he mean the first in recorded history?  I’m overthinking this.

He comes up with his own answer:  “I think the first war started when the first two people stopped talking to one another”.

2mother: Carol Chandran

Last week I heard of the distribution of white poppies by peace groups, to the distress of veterans.  I love to love peace groups, as I think the true potential of non-violent resolution of disputes is grossly underrated, not just for war, but for all interpersonal conflicts, including the ones that arise in parenting.  But when I read the newsclip on white poppies, my heart sank and I had just one simple thought:  “No, don’t do that.”

I suspect it’s significant that perhaps the only poem I can still recite from memory in full is John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields“.  Maybe the white poppy distributors are motivated to push their symbol because of the haunting call to arms that concludes the poem.  I find more moving the middle verse:

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie,

In Flanders fields.

There is a time for everything, including a certain humility and forebearance in the face of pain, the likes of which most of us blessedly know nothing about.  November 11 is not a time for a white poppy; the poppies of remembrance are red.  As my brother-in-law asked, “Will they protest at funerals, too?”

3mother:  Nathalie Foy

I remember the art that makes us remember.  When people make statements about art being superfluous, about its not being an essential part of our social life and our government spending, I think of passages of fiction and of the sculpting of monuments like these, lest we forget the labour that goes into remembering.

This is a passage from Jane Urquhart’s The Stone Carvers, a novel about Walter Allward’s memorial at Vimy Ridge.  It is a book I recommend highly.  She captures Allward’s passion and mania for his task so wonderfully.

Allward had watched the citizens of the provincial capital of Toronto stroll or hurry past his Queen’s Park sculptures of colonial founding fathers without a glance; in fact, he had not once seen a passerby pause to examine the bronze faces of these men who had so successfully imposed Europe’s questionable order on what had been their personal definition of chaos.  After the brief ceremonies of installation, these statues in frock coats had become as easy to ignore as trees, fire hydrants, or lampposts.  This would not—could not—happen with the memorial.  It would be so monumental that, forty miles away, far across the Douai Plain, people would be moved by it, large enough that strong winds would be put off course by it, and perfect enough that it would seem to have been built by a vanished race of brilliant giants. …  The names of the eleven thousand missing men were being collected and the complicated mathematics necessary to fit these names into the space available on the base was being undertaken.  The most recent set of figures had suggested that it would likely take four stone carvers two years to chisel the hundreds of thousands of characters into the stone.  Lines, circles, and curves corresponding to a cherished, remembered sound called over fields at summer dusk from a back porch door, shouted perhaps in anger or whispered in passion, or in prayer, in the winter dark.  All that remained of torn faces, crushed bone, scattered limbs. (268…274)

photo credit

It’s Hip to be Square

Fine German engineering….in a square chocolate bar designed in 1932 by Clara Ritter to fit into a jacket pocket without breaking.  Who else would have such a neatly organized stack of chocolate?  This Ritter Sport stack is my kind of cross-section!

Inspired by the images I had seen on Things Organized Neatly, I went in search of this picture of my favourite chocolatey square.  And I found so much more than I had bargained for!

Ritter Sport has a museum devoted to the square.  I kid you not. 

MUSEUM RITTER was founded for the wide-ranging art collection that has been amassed by Marli Hoppe-Ritter, the co-owner of the RITTER SPORT company. The museum opened its doors to the public in September 2005. The theme of the collection is the square in recent and contemporary art, while the goal of the museum is to exhibit the collection and bring it to the public eye. … As a private institution, MUSEUM RITTER is devoted to the presentation and promotion of chiefly geometrical abstract art.

Inspired by this find, I set out to make the square the centre of our art projects for today, with help from this great book:

Part of a series (You guessed it; circle and triangle round out the trilogy.), these are fabulous books to get the creative juices flowing.  There are step-by-step instructions for how to go from a square to a penguin (see cover above).  What I love about these books is their no-nonsense, low-error-for-margin approach.  A wonderful resource for inspiring your little da Vincis.

Grade-Eh Goodness

Part of the joy of living in a new neighbourhood comes from discovering new shops, artists and people to get to know and support. Last weekend, the boys and I visited the Danforth East Arts Fair, an annual event at Toronto’s East Lynn Park showcasing local artists.

I left totally smitten with Sara Deacon (of Grade-Eh Design)’s adorable handmade applique pillows, aprons, wall art and other housewares.  Made from eco-friendly materials like organic cotton and felt made from recycled pop bottles, Sara’s designs feature such iconic Canadian images as moose antlers, beavers, and that most Canadian of questions: “Eh?”.

Unfortunately, as I had two boys in tow (who were more interested in figuring out which artist was giving away free candy) I left the fair empty-handed, but I’m absolutely certain there’s a pillow with a canoe on it in my future. You can check out Sara’s handiwork online on her website.