Ordinary/Extraordinary: Exhibition in a Suitcase. Coming to a school near you from Canberra Museum and Gallery (CMAG).August 14, 2002.
On a lonely luggage carousel, somewhere in the universe, an artful suitcase (or a suitcase full of art) circulates forever. No-one knows where it is, but we know where it came from. Way back in the 1970s Craft ACT's Inspiration program made this suitcase which then circulated to many schools, until the day came when it never came back. Maybe those garden gnomes who go on world trips visit it, but they never reveal the secrets of their journeys.
So, last Wednesday, Mr Bill Wood, ACT Minister for Urban Services and the Arts, the obvious combination for a lost suitcase, launched two more Ordinary/Extraordinary suitcases full of art into circulation, one red (with objects of design) and one blue (with objects of creative inspiration). Ten local artists have their works encased: Robert Foster, Anna Gianakis, Myles Gostelow, Gilbert Riedelbauch, Carrie Webster, Hamilton Darroch, Bev Hogg, Megan Munro, Jaishree Srinivasan and Indigenous artist Lorraine Webb. From Foster's computer generated Tulip Vase to Webb's literally Handpainted Child's Shoes, these objets d'art have already travelled through diverse cultures and now form a harmonious set of companions, setting off together on the road to education.
"This is an innovative, exciting and hands-on approach to learning, likely to stimulate active participation and dialogue among young people in schools," said the Minister. I found this to be the case at Gold Creek School, who were so keen to billet the exhibition that they have been using the two suitcases for a month already. Melissa Brodis makes sure the visitors are handled in a carpeted area, team-teaching in the middle school Years 6-8. With real art works to see and appreciate close-up, the Year 6 group I observed were learning design concepts beyond my expectation for their age. Then it was back to the art room to put the ideas into practice.
I asked, in view of concerns about teacher overload, how Melissa coped with the touring suitcases, but she explained she had less work to do because the art works spark teaching ideas for all kinds of classes, making preparation and motivation of the students so much easier. At CMAG, Education Officers Lisa De Santis and especially Megan Nicolson, who has taken on the main responsibility for Ordinary/Extraordinary, are getting prepared to be run off their feet. One suitcase disappeared years ago; two more have begun their journey: who can predict how many more will expect to travel in the coming years? Nicolson, Kate Murphy and Catrina Vignando have written a top-flight teachers' guide which fully justifies the grants for this project from artsACT and the Australia Council Audience Development program. I can see lots more grant applications ahead.
Behind the concept of Ordinary/Extraordinary - exploring the extraordinary nature of ordinary things - is the strengthening movement towards education by immersion. Over two decades or so, as researchers like Harvard's Howard Gardner show the many different kinds of intelligences we each have, innovative teaching has taken the students out of the classroom, into the environment where they can learn from more direct experience. Work experience, say, is a huge program across all states in Australia today, after a tentative Participation and Equity Program in the mid-1980s. Museum education - taking students to museums with interactive and dramatic exhibitions - is another aspect of this movement. CMAG's Suitcases take the exhibition to the students for a different kind of interaction.
Immersion doesn't mean drowning. Waving, not drowning, is what it's about: learning to swim in a new environment. It all sounds rather like a holiday - and why not? Why should children whose imaginations dance in the arts not have the opportunity to dive down under, hold their breath and discover new creations?
The initial concept of the travelling suitcase - the one that never came back - came from the Canberra Art Teachers' Association, Craft ACT's Fiona Hooton, Caris Tirrell and Jenny Deves. The Education Kit Teachers'Guide was designed by msquared and Kate Murphy, with Steven Murray's excellent photos. The suitcases, like theatrical roadcases with built in handles and wheels, are by Kenetic Flight Cases and Zeljko Markov designed the internal structure which enfolds the artworks so firmly and delicately. From the outside to the inside the suitcases are an exciting exhibition of art.
Schools in the Canberra region can borrow for free what Bill Wood said is "the sort of 'baggage'I'm happy to be associated with." What better recommendation could you get from the Arts Minister? All teachers need to do is ring Megan Nicolson at CMAG on 6207 1775. If you would like to talk to Craft ACT about more ideas, ring Catrina Vignando on 6292 9333.
If you're a parent, do your bit to encourage more magical mystery suitcase tours for your children - they'll appreciate the experience. And if you know where the original suitcase has gone, please send a postcard.
© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
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