C/O Chloe Catena

Art Gallery of Hamilton staff and Hamilton art teachers come together to provide high school students with a platform to share their thoughts and feelings during COVID-19

Finding the right words to express yourself can be incredibly difficult. Sometimes you don’t have the words or the words you do have are not enough to represent your experiences. These are a few reasons why people turn to art to articulate and communicate their thoughts and feelings. However, artists need a space where they can not only share their art, but where their art can be supported and encouraged.

The Art Gallery of Hamilton’s programs and education department in conjunction with high school art teachers have gone above and beyond to provide a space for secondary school students to share their thoughts and feelings relating to COVID-19. Declaration showcases the talent and thoughtfulness of Hamilton’s young artists during these challenging times.

Every year, the AGH hosts Hamilton’s high school students’ art in their physical gallery. In the early weeks of the pandemic, the programs and education department at the gallery considered how they could adjust the exhibit for the new physical distancing protocols and decided to instead host it in a virtual space. The director of the department, Tor Lukasik-Foss, reached out to Hamilton high school art teachers, who submitted between six to 10pieces of art on behalf of their students. Then Youth Council and Studio Coordinator, Tyler Van Holst, uploaded them to the virtual gallery he created.

“It was such a huge group effort and the majority of the work, I would say, was done by the students and the teachers. From just the actual work being made and how much time and effort and care went into the crafting of all the artwork to the diligence [the] teachers had, to collecting and organizing . . .  I was just very touched to see the art teachers going that extra mile to support their young artists and their students,” said Van Holst.

“It was such a huge group effort and the majority of the work, I would say, was done by the students and the teachers. From just the actual work being made and how much time and effort and care went into the crafting of all the artwork to the diligence [the] teachers had, to collecting and organizing . . .  I was just very touched to see the art teachers going that extra mile to support their young artists and their students,” said Van Holst.

In the early stages of Declaration, there was a very strong sense of optimism. There was little if any commiseration about not being able to hold the exhibition in a physical space. Instead, the teachers expressed gratitude, appreciation and excitement about being able to put the event on during a time when so many things were closing.

Declaration features artwork from Grade 9 through 12 students from 11 different Hamilton high schools. The student artists used a diverse array of media, including photography, acrylic and oil paints and digital media. The images range from depictions from the students’ role models, self-portraits to representations of life in quarantine.

“[The] content was mostly around — it could have been anything that they wanted to — but there was a [theme of] managing or understanding COVID-19 or . . . going with the new normal and just facing that reality,” said Van Holst.

Creating spaces for youth to express themselves is an essential part of Van Holst’s role at the AGH and art teachers’ roles. This role is even more important during the pandemic, as arts education builds essential skills and helps students cope with the changing world.

Creating spaces for youth to express themselves is an essential part of Van Holst’s role at the AGH and art teachers’ roles. This role is even more important during the pandemic, as arts education builds essential skills and helps students cope with the changing world.

“When I was working on [the exhibition] . . . I was just trying to make it a platform for them and a vehicle for their expressions. I guess my hope would be for them to be able to see that and to feel it’s a true expression of high school students and teenagers and youth and . . . I would hope that someone would really see [that] this is how these people speak or one of the ways how these people speak or how anyone can speak,” said Van Holst

Declaration is one example of the way people have come together during COVID-19, harnessing their passions and skills to create something new and wonderful.

The exhibition is officially open until Sept. 30, 2020 but there is the possibility of an extension or a follow up to the exhibition.

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