Where has all the ‘grassroots’ culture gone?
Cultural Ramblings – By Glen Turner
Much of the talk about “Culture” in this society has to do with “The Arts”, as I’ve mentioned before.
In fact, the layman’s definition of “Culture” seems to be solely expressed in those terms.
One of my many areas of personal interest is Drama and Theatre, best known in this region because of tremendous successes in places like Stratford (The Stratford Festival), Niagara-On-The Lake (The Shaw Festival) and London (The Grand Theatre).
Wonderful places also exist in Petrolia (Victoria Playhouse) and Windsor (The Capitol Theatre – although it’s been going through some terrible times lately).
Ever wonder where the people come from to do all the things that happen in these facilities? … and I don’t mean the audiences.
They come (many of them) from local schools.
At the University and College levels, from schools of Fine Arts.
Many of them go into Schools of Fine Arts directly from local High Schools.
And the High Schools do their best, offering (mandatory) Arts courses for Grade 9. Did you know that in most High Schools in Ontario, kids have to take an Arts course in Grade 9? Options are usually Visual Art, Drama or Music.
After that, they’re optional courses.
What about the Elementary schools?
Well, things are different at that level.
Before the days of the long-discarded “Transition Years”, we used to have specialists in our Elementary schools. Specialists in Art, specialists in Music, and occasionally a Drama person.
What happens now? All long gone.
The Arts specialists were discarded in favour of the “generalist” Grade 7 and 8 teachers, and Art, Drama and Music had to be taught by regular teachers, with limited or no experience in any of the fields. They tried very hard, and did their best, but many secondary programs suffered because the kids coming out of Grade 8 just didn’t have the skills that their predecessors did. Ask any Music teacher in today’s High Schools, anyone who’s been around for a while, about how it changed.
I had a conversation today with a family – their kid is really into “The Arts” – and they were quite put off when the school principal informed them that the school only does a theatrical production every two years, and that this was school policy.
I wanted so badly to ask them what the other parent’s reactions would be if they were told that the school Sports teams would only run every second year.
To their credit, the Elementary Principals and teachers do the best that they can. If they have any discretionary funds at all, they’ll try to bring in a touring Children’s Theatre company, a music ensemble, or an Artist for a workshop.
They’ll also offer Enrichment kids some Drama, Music or Art sessions, sometimes even for a whole day! (sarcasm off)
Last year, the schools got “Program Enhancement” funding, and some brought in artists, artisans, drama people and musicians. Sometimes for even four or five days! (sarcasm off again!)
But, when ‘push comes to shove’, it falls back on the teachers to organize any cultural activity in the school, and so may do it with such limited training, backgrounds and funding. More power to them for trying.
I’ve said it so many times, to Superintendents, Principals, VP’s and teachers… that it’s not hard to see where the priorities lie in any new school built, or any school built in the last few years.
Big beautiful gym, and not a thought given to arts programs.
I expressed it this way.
“I know it’ll never happen in my lifetime, but someday, a School Board will build a great performing arts space – and then they’ll attach a gym to it.”
Look at your local Elementary school. Nice gym, crappy little stage as part of it.
Great Phys. Ed. Equipment, even an electronic scoreboard… but no real lighting, no sound equipment, crappy stage, no room to build, to fly or to even store.
Take a look at the Secondary system here. Compare it to other Boards in the area. Ask your trustee about the Schools For The Arts in other local Boards. They exist, ours doesn’t.
The local Board blew it badly when they closed CCI (Chatham Collegiate Institute)… you know, the old school with the THEATRE in it?
What a School For The Arts that could have become.
The next question for the trustee – “If other Boards can operate a School For The Arts long-term, why can’t we?
I can already predict the answer.