People, Culture and Country
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 125 No 8, 6 November 2020, page no. 19
The QTU was the proud sponsor of the Excellence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education category at this year's Showcase Awards. Here project manager Christina Papadimitriou tells us more about the state winner, the People, Culture and Country art project.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Project: People, Culture and Country was originally a pilot project developed for secondary schools in Townsville in 2018 that aimed to improve engagement and retention rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students through art making and making connections with various Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language groups, their Culture and their Country.
Participating schools were required to design, create, and exhibit a piece of wearable art relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Country or Culture. Students initially attended art-making workshops delivered by a diverse range of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists to learn both traditional and contemporary techniques and skills. Schools had autonomy in localising the implementation of the project and teachers had flexibility to differentiate for the needs of their students using supportive strategies. Consultation, collaboration, and sponsorship (building partnerships) with organisations within the school community were vital in the project’s successful delivery.
In 2019, the project grew in student numbers (from 65 to 114) and participating schools (from seven to nine), including upper primary students and students from rural and remote schools (Mount Isa and Mornington Island). This year, even with the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of schools has increased to 11, and there are more than 100 students involved.
Collated data indicated an increase in the number of students either maintaining or increasing their attendance at school and their level of achievement in English, compared to the previous year. However, the most rewarding aspect of the project was the change in students’ attitudes and behaviours, and an increase in students’ positive self-image and self-confidence.
Although there is still much to do, the People, Culture and Country project has set a foundation to not only enhance student engagement (by increasing students’ self-identity/self-esteem and cultural pride, and celebrating, valuing, and building on the strengths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures), but to enable partnerships to strengthen between schools, families, and community agencies; build teacher capability and knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures; and inform the wider community of Indigenous history, traditions, and culture, through new works of art.
The fact that the project is currently in its third year, with even more schools wanting to be involved next year, is testament to the impact the project has already made in schools.
Student feedback included: “I feel proud because I have expressed my love and knowledge of my culture through art”; “It’s given me conﬁdence to try new things”; and “I learned about self-management and being a leader for the people younger than me”.
The project also affected teachers, as most said they learned more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Culture and felt better equipped to incorporate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives into their teaching. Teachers and other support staff (CECs, IEWs, teacher-aides and volunteers) also felt the project helped strengthen connections with students as they learned more about their individual Indigenous cultural backgrounds.
Some of the highlights post-project have included: the students’ wearable artwork being modelled at the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair and the North Australian Festival of Arts (Townsville); and being shortlisted for the National Indigenous Fashion Awards and included in their article for Marie Claire fashion magazine. The 2019 exhibition opening was also the first cultural event to be held at the new Queensland Country Bank Stadium in Townsville.
2018 Project Documentary: https://vimeo.com/295112802
Artists’ stories: https://vimeo.com/showcase/5941305
Education Resource: https://indd.adobe.com/view/d3ebf0fa-3c4d-43d7-b959-757d97d25dd3
Documentary Films: https://vimeo.com/showcase/6277595
Education Resource: https://indd.adobe.com/view/be7945bf-e1fb-4f3a-bdfd-9343888f8039