Background

In 1996, the Foundation convened a roundtable to consider the role of arts education in preparing young people for life in a post industrial economy. The meeting took place at a time of increased emphasis on ‘education for competitiveness’ and a decline in public support for arts education. The participants proposed a new arts-in-education model, made up of a community development approach linking schools and communities, coupled with a teacher development model supporting teacher-artist partnerships.

In 1998, ArtsSmarts was launched with seven partners1 and the Canadian Conference of the Arts as secretariat. By the end of three years, some 58,000 students had had an ArtsSmarts experience, and funding was provided for a second phase. Three new partners joined ArtsSmarts2 at this time, bringing the total to ten.

Over the next decade, ArtsSmarts would repeatedly demonstrate its positive impact on student engagement and teacher practice in participating schools. This drove home the need to start influencing the larger education system.

A number of developments helped establish ArtsSmarts’ credibility in this domain. First, work at Caslan School and other locations demonstrated ArtsSmarts’ value in creating successful educational outcomes for Indigenous learners. Second, the Canadian Council on Learning appointed a researcher-in-residence to study ArtsSmarts’ impact on student engagement and third, after a year-long review, the 19 partners3 and the Foundation agreed that ArtsSmarts should become an independent charitable organization with its own Board of Directors and a Partner Council.

The Foundation provided a grant to ArtsSmarts to support this process, and has representation on the Board. ArtsSmarts became a stand-alone charitable organization in 2009.

Nearly 500,000 students have taken part in ArtsSmarts since it began in 1998.. Last year alone, the network undertook 281 unique ArtsSmarts projects impacting 27,236 children and youth.

  1. Art Starts in Schools (BC); Calgary Arts Partners in Education Society; Community Foundation of Ottawa-Carleton; Newfoundland & Labrador Arts Council; Nova Scotia Arts Council; Portage and District Community Foundation (MAN); Saskatoon Foundation.
  2. Districts Scolaires # 1 et #11, Nouveau Brunswick; Fondation du Grand Quebec; Riverside School Board, Montreal
  3. See www.artssmarts.ca for a current listing.

About

ArtsSmarts brings together artists, teachers and students to explore the formal education curriculum using an art form as a means of discovery and co-learning. For example, music might be used to teach mathematics, or mural making applied to the study of history. This approach to learning has proven its significant and beneficial impact on student engagement and teacher practice over the past decade.

ArtsSmarts is also a network of arts, educational and community organizations at the local, regional and provincial levels. It serves as a forum for research, an idea and mentoring exchange, a means of securing private, public and academic participation and a source of innovative educational practice in schools.

ArtsSmarts envisions a sustainable, inclusive educational system that nurtures students’ development as critical thinkers and agents of change by engaging them in learning as an ongoing creative process.

While grounded in local collaboration between educators and artists, it proposes to all of Canada a community of learning and practice dedicated to continuous innovation in education.