New Zealand’s first Room 13, an international art studio network, has opened in Dunedin to the sound of children lining a corridor playing ukuleles and singing a moving waiata or song.
As parents and friends move around eating kai and admiring artwork in the large, light studio at Bathgate Park School, youngsters excitedly film for their school blog and offer hospitality.
South Dunedin isn’t a materially rich community, yet the school’s warm welcome and abundance of creativity are like gold.
“It’s basically a child run art studio space,” Artist in Residence Janet de Wagt says of Room 13.
Children work out what they want to make and how to do this, often using relatively cheap materials, some donated or recycled.
“We try to re-purpose materials, re-art it”
Initiated by primary school students
Room 13 International began in Scotland in 1994, when a group of primary school students established their own art studio. They ran this as a business, raising money to buy materials and employing a professional Artist in Residence to work with them.
Organically and gradually, Room 13 has established a network of creative studios and community of young artists around the world.
The Bathgate Park School corridors are filled with student artwork. At the opening earlier this month, almost every space in the studio displayed some creation: cork art, cardboard telescopes, colourful paintings, wood and wire sculptures, animals built from jigsaw pieces.
Janet points to an impressive model about two by two metres, which took one class two school terms to make. This was after they’d discussed the Red Cross and United Nations global goals for sustainable development.
Using recycled materials, the children first made a model of a war zone, then in their scenario, the refugees left, peace was declared and the students had to plan and build a new city out of the devastated one.
“The first thing they did was bury their dead,” Janet says, pointing to the burial ground and memorial.
She also points to a sewerage plant, which the children decided should have water so clean that it could be pumped back into a lake.
As we speak, two girls pass by, food in hand.
“See you later Janet. These are delicious,” one says of the food. Throughout our conversation adults and students interact with care and mutual respect.
One of these is Lesley Hirst, who was the school’s art teacher for 13 years and initially set up the art room, which has an adjacent art gallery and outside sculpture courtyard.
School arts coordinator Lisa Yorke says that when Dunedin South MP Clare Curran officially opened Room 13, this was a result of years of work and interest in the arts at the school.
Lisa says the Room 13 network allows students to develop links with other artists in the world; to recognise and value their and other schools’ diversity; to celebrate successes; encounter new ideas; and learn how to run a studio.
“Most importantly, it recognises that creativity can lead to a career as an artist, a thinker, an entrepreneur, as well as enrich and nurture our inner beings,” Lisa says.
Artist in Residence
This is Janet’s third year as paid Artist in Residence at the school, working two days a week with only a classroom teacher as support in an art room bubbling with students aged 5 to 13.
She enjoys working with children because they’re “so alive”.
They’re hungry for creative experiences and also, I think, want to be listened to. You can fire them up with their imagination.”
Art helps children learn to solve problems, she says.
“We don’t live in a monolithic world.”
Janet has been a Community Artist for 35 years, working also in Britain and Europe. She works with a variety of people on a variety of projects.
Asked about the benefits of art, Janet says that for her art breaks down barriers.
“And it gives people an equal platform…we’re talking creativeness and we’re all sitting at the same table. We’re all contributing in our own way.”
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