When it comes to the Art Gallery of Alberta, coverage usually revolves around its countless exhibitions and displays, the quarterly Refinery parties and even its on-site restaurant, Zinc. But many people may be unaware of the educational component of the AGA—in fact, there’s an entire department dedicated to it. The first floor of the building is known as the Singhmar Centre for Arts Education, and it features three studios as well as an Education Gallery that provides an interactive learning environment for children, youth and adults.
“There’s lots of research to suggest that art education is a really important component, and it enables the gallery to touch audiences in a different way,” explains Dara Armsden, education programs manager for the AGA. “When there is an art-making component then not only are you engaging people on a conceptual level, but also giving them opportunities to play, to make and to do.”
As part of the AGA’s mandate, the arts-education programs provide a point of entry into the AGA and current exhibitions by offering public-learning programs that encourage creative expression and visual literacy. Visual literacy—the ability to interpret images and construct meaning—is at the core of the AGA’s education programs.
“We want to offer unique programming that allows people to connect to not only the art that they are seeing, but how that art relates to their lives outside of the gallery,” Armsden says. “The gallery is very interested in that dialogue.
“[Participants will] be exposed to something they’ve never done before, something that they can’t do at home,” she continues “We have this really playful approach. We talk a lot about experimentation and exploration of art materials. They don’t have to make a masterpiece; they can just explore the material and find out what they like about it and what they don’t like about it. Or they can use or think about an idea that maybe an artist was engaged with and how they respond to that same idea. You don’t have to have all of the skills in order to participate.”
The AGA offers three types of adult studio classes: drop-in, registered and Art Express, all of which do not require participants to have previous arts knowledge or skill to join. The classes are held in the Singhmar Centre for Art Education and provide participants with all of the materials necessary for that particular workshop. The drop-in class takes place every Wednesday night from 7 pm to 9 pm and explores art in a playful and casual two-hour session. The cost for the class is $18. Some of the workshops for summer include clay figure making, working with 16-mm film, relief painting and outdoor drawing. The registered course is a six-week in-depth exploration of either a conceptual topic or of an artistic medium that is offered on a seasonal basis. The classes are three hours in length and cost $200 for those who do not have an AGA membership. Art Express offers a hands-on arts education course for adults with developmental or physical challenges, and costs $48. Each course, whether drop-in, registered or Art Express, explores an exhibition currently on display at the AGA. However, the class might not always be a direct how-to session.
“When it’s connected to exhibitions, it’s a balance of what the artist is good at or comfortable with or interested in, [which] all plays a factor in what gets presented,” Armsden notes. “It’s not an interpretation, but an exploration. So the artist or educator will look at the key messaging of the exhibition, pull out themes that they might find interesting and then develop a class around that.”