The stART of sharing Art

2 Mar 2023 | Articles

Edward shaking hands with Evan, standing in front of student artists, who are painting on easels in the background

In NZ secondary schools there are art teachers, and then there are artist art teachers but gaining access to the latter is a privilege reserved for the fortunate few, right? Fortunately, not thanks to Edward Peng.

Edward, a 17-year-old student in Auckland, says “I didn’t grow up with access issues to private educational mentors, a lack of resources, or family support but am well aware that many others my age do”. Edward made it his mission at the start of 2022 to leverage his contacts in visual arts and create a programme called stART. stART gives 16–18-year-olds in low decile secondary schools demonstrating talent in visual art the opportunity to learn from some of New Zealand’s most successful artists.

In addition to closing the socio-economic gap, Edward aimed to solve an additional problem he knew was occurring in education in NZ secondary schools. That being the migration away from arts subjects to science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) subjects. lists artists as a “low in demand job” despite the NZ government investing $25m in 2020 into the art council, Creative NZ, to help fight against this problem. “If the demand for artists remains low, in order to minimise a lack of opportunities for those with less fortunate socioeconomic backgrounds, there needs to be a way of guidance for those who aren’t lucky enough to have a private art mentor” says Edward.

Edward used all the spare time he could find amongst his busy study and extra curricula activity schedule to develop the stART programme idea and structure. With the support of his parents (his mother is co-owner of Ai International Art Gallery in Epsom, Auckland) he pitched the idea to his school chaplain to donate $200 towards the cost of materials which was approved. His mother kindly agreed to Edward using space in the gallery to run the programme and contact the English-speaking artists that her gallery represents to see if they would be interested in volunteering their time to share their skills and experience as career artists.

Fortunately, the first three artists Edward contacted, Evan Woodruff (painter), Peter Panyoczki (multi-media artist) and Robin Ranga (painter and sculptor) all agreed to volunteer one day each.

Given his youthful age Edward was acutely aware of the need to project a professional image to gain credibility with the schools, students, and parents/guardians. He chose to leave his age out of the promotional material and worked hard to create a professional web page dedicated to sTART on the Ai Gallery website.

Edward then set about identifying decile 1 and 2 secondary schools in Auckland. Although he struggled to identify the best person to contact in each school, he sent off emails asking them to invite their top two students in art aged 16-18 years old to apply. The programme would take place in the school holidays on 13/14/15 January 2023 from 10am – 2.30pm with all tuition, materials and lunch provided free of charge.

Interested students were encouraged to submit an essay answering questions to gauge their level of interest and motivation for attending. After receiving only one reply, he opened applications up to decile 3 and 4 schools and was able to offer the programme to six students from five schools. Edward says it was important that students understood it was not an art competition, and that they were likely to make the most of the opportunity being offered to them. He knew there was a risk that not all of them would engage in the process fully given it was free.

Edward need not have worried. The six students were, according to artist Evan Woodruffe who ran day three, “all highly engaged throughout the day with very little down-time taken. The collegiality they formed with one another, the varied approaches they had to their work and seeing how we were able to easily develop a conversation around a shared love of painting was brilliant”.

Evan has volunteered for visual arts events for over 20 years, including guided art tours for Art Week Auckland and workshops for community art groups and secondary schools. He decided to be involved with stART as he finds helping young adults to be very rewarding, “as much as I give, I get back from them. Seeing their fresh enthusiasm and how they respond to encouragement restores my faith in humanity. I thought Edward's desire to help others also needed my support, to demonstrate to him that others also thought it a worthwhile initiative."

Robin Ranga the artist on day one did a fantastic job of using her physical style to break the ice amongst the students says Edward. She encouraged them to play, have fun, and get to know each other by working on an initial shared activity. All students were given a workbook to write notes, draw, and share their stories and inspirations. From there they chose a painting they wanted to work on over the 3 days and then take home. They also had one on one time with Robin and Peter to discuss their lives, challenges, dreams, and goals.

“This is a completely new experience for me as at school I am usually told to listen and draw what they tell me to. On this course we have been encouraged to sketch a lot more. We’ve had more freedom to draw what we want” – Braiden, Liston College

“It’s been a real eye opener these last three days. Three different artists have shared their own experience of how they came to be successful artists” – Vicky, Papatoetoe High School

Peter Panyoczki thought the programme was a great idea when pitched to him by Edward. Having taught literature, art history and art for a decade back in the seventies in Switzerland and USA, he was pleased to be able to communicate with youth students again. He decided to give the students a seminar style day, discussing fundamental topics about the principles of art and the practical aspects of being an artist.

“I had a wonderful experience with the students” reports Peter. They were unique individuals, all had their talents and interests, were open and communicative. I must say, the world looks positive when you see the next generation like this. It is very comforting.”

Edward is hugely grateful to the artists who volunteered their time, particularly Robin and Peter who both travelled from outside of Auckland to participate. “It was so nice of them to help me and the students.” I’ve now got friends from other secondary schools in Auckland. I love how close a bond everyone has created, to hear their laughter and chatter is very rewarding. I loved learning about the students lives and the challenges they face,” says Edward. The programme has been a tremendous success based on the student’s feedback. Edward is going to take the learnings he has made and plans to run a second programme in 2023.

Written by Delia Middleton, VA Volunteer [Media Team] January 2023

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