Arts et etudes: creating community through art
“To be honest, it hasn’t worked. Not yet.” … “The French just can’t make mistakes, at least not in public. They can’t take the risk. Being humiliated is one of the worst things in the world for us, and yet we do it all the time – in schools, in homes, in work places. We point out mistakes, we ridicule others, we make fun of them for not being, well, perfect.” … “We are in the business of catering to and priming an elite. Look at how we educate – educating the top 5% of the population. Look what happens to the other 95% – and the outliers, including the gifted and the learning disabled. The majority is marginalised. And many are unsatisfied, unfulfilled, unable to believe in and achieve their full potential.”
Little did he know, François was speaking to the converted.
I met François and his colleague, Caroline, some weeks ago, when a friend mentioned a great little art atelier I should take our son to.
“You should check it out,” she said, “Go and visit. You’ll like the feeling of the place – they do all kinds of art activities for kids and they’re doing one next week on ‘land and sand’. Just go visit.”
That first week of school holiday, our son ended up going every afternoon. François had met him during our pre-visit and told him that if he didn’t like it the first day, he wouldn’t have to come back. As a mother, I appreciated Francois’ sensitivity to our son’s hesitation. “We just want you to be happy here. If you’re not happy, don’t come back.”
That first week of art afternoons was a boon. The week was about going out into nature and creating temporary art – art that would not last and that could not be taken home (except via photos – see the slideshow here). The first few afternoons, the children (6-10 years old) went to various beaches and created sand art. The last part of the week, they created land art. They painted coconuts, they built things out of sticks. And in quiet moments, they drew. Caroline could see that Pablo enjoys drawing and encouraged him. She encouraged him to keep coming back, to keep learning, to keep trying. And the next week, he joined the atelier on Keith Haring for a couple of mornings. He learned that Keith Haring kept going in his art. He didn’t stop and rub things out. He kept going.
That’s what Arts et etudes seems to be all about. Supporting kids through the tough stuff (homework, repetitive, rote learning, lack of confidence in themselves and their work) and lifting them up through art.
Art et etudes is an after-school and holiday programme for kids aged 6-17 in Nouméa. The accent is on “etudes”, which is the after-school support for homework during the week. And art is the why you come. It is for the creative (and I think François and Caroline would agree with me that every human is creative) and for those looking for a little extra support. Rather than a population of latchkey kids (which I grew up with in America – we went home alone, hung out by ourselves, did our homework, did stuff around the house), Arts et etudes caters to and creates a creative community.
Art et etudes has been around since 2009. In addition to the after-school support (and Wednesday mornings and afternoons), it provides art classes and “stages” or ateliers in specific areas during the holidays (that happen every 7 weeks here), such as theatre, crafts, drawing, film-making, comics creation, body painting and more. (Take a look at the children and their work on the Art et etudes site for more.)
To boot, they welcome English-speakers, and there are a handful who come along. François opened it up to English-speakers a year ago, hoping to create a sort of cultural and linguistic exchange. But, as he says above, it hasn’t worked … yet. The French speakers are a bit retiscent, hesitant about speaking, making mistakes.
Part of me wishes I could go along and show the French speakers how many mistakes I make in French!
Arts et etudes is full for its after-school programme (there are about 40 kids and 8 teachers/artists) as are their Wednesday afternoon programmes (30-40 children, with 4-5 teachers/artists), but they do have room in their holiday sessions (and will be open during the summer).
As I spoke with François a few weeks ago, a number of interesting points came up in our discussion:
- François doesn’t hire teachers to help with homework. He hires artists, people passionate about their craft, their work. Through their passion, their art, they build a bridge to competency, pride of work well done, and pleasure in work. (Mind you, all of the artists are educated and can adequately assist with homework.)
- François is looking to inspire pleasure and a commitment to quality. All of the work the children produce is intended to be of a high quality, regardless of their skill or talent level. They are creating art that will be displayed not just in bedrooms, but in living rooms and kitchens (something that is far from second nature to the French).
- When children come for an atelier, the whole child is educated. Work is not just theoretical, but practical and fun. The whole spectrum of the art form is also taught along with its historical and cultural context. It becomes a truly rich experience for all of the learners – including the teaching learners.
- There is no curriculum, but the programme is based on the needs and interests in the community and the needs and interests in the teaching artists.
- There is no judgement of the children’s art as good or bad. They are encouraged to explore, experiment, apply themselves and learn through doing.
- François is starting up another location in Mont Dore in 2014. Slightly smaller in size, it will have the same objectives as the Nouméa location.
If you are interested in what François is doing at Arts et etudes, do get in touch with him and his team at firstname.lastname@example.org Personally, I think they are onto a winning combination for everyone. Don’t you?