The pristine glass-and-marbled Anvil Centre in the heart of Downtown New Westminster stands as a landmark for the potential of the city’s close-knit and burgeoning community to support and encourage arts and culture. Though the studio spaces appear immaculate in these early days of use, a lively up-and-coming arts and cultural hub thrives within its walls. Here, children, youth, adults and seniors from all walks of life can feel welcomed, included, challenged and inspired. This is your centre for the arts in New Westminster.
As newly appointed Arts Programmer for the City of New Westminster, I come to arts and education by way of years spent as a student in one program, degree or another (of course I also consider myself a life-long learner and the world around me as the ultimate classroom). What stood out – and sustained me – throughout my education was not the size of the studio, the view from the window, or even the subject of the course, but the qualities and abilities of the faculty. Even the most inane Business Math class can be exciting and inspiring, given the right instructor; compound interest calculations!? Yes please!
Though the Anvil Centre has yet to offer a creative accounting program, we have been focused on developing strong foundational arts and culture programming led by practicing artists with wide-ranging expertise. Each with active creative practices, their passion for the arts is unmistakable, infectiously spreading throughout their classrooms. Standing on the other side of the glass, I can’t help but want to play hooky and join them.
While attending last month’s Community Art Space opening for Teacher’s Lounge, I had the pleasure of spending time with members of our faculty. I asked some of our instructors to describe their teaching philosophies and creative practices, to know them better. What they shared has been inspiring. By writing this article, I wanted to introduce – and acknowledge – the instructors and workshop leaders who are masterfully shaping the Anvil Centre experience, from its blank-slate beginning into a space that offers creative refuge, social engagement, and endless possibilities.
It is often challenging to strike a balance between a pedagogical practice – driven by the desire to share and commune with other creatively-inclined people – and a self-directed practice – stimulated by a need to create, explore, and experiment toward personal growth. For Netherlands-born, Mission-based artist Saskia Jetten, teaching is a way to give back, not only to the community, but to her profession as an artist. Describing her practice as “drawing with my heart, hand and head,” Saskia notes “the combination of working in my studio and teaching has always been of vital importance to me; encouraging, mentoring and intensifying are keywords in my lessons.” These values clearly carry over to her classes; students of her workshops have noted her passion, enthusiasm, and an approach that makes all feel like artists, no matter their experience, skill or background.
As is true for most artists, our instructors participate in the arts community on numerous levels, as artists, teachers, students, researchers, parents and administrators. Art infiltrates and informs everyday life. A recent addition to the Anvil Centre faculty, Vancouver-based Italian dance artist, yoga instructor and scholar Carolina Bergonzoni has been teaching dance and philosophy for children and communities for the last 8 years. “My practice,” says Carolina, “in life, in dance, in yoga, as a teacher, is marked by a negotiation between what I like and what I need. I like freedom and creativity, but need stability and strength…my art is my way to find this balance.”
Balance is also achieved in recognizing the reciprocal relationship between teacher and participant, a unique opportunity equally about leading and learning. For art educator Wendy Anderson, this translates into a practice strongly influenced by the educational programming she leads. She notes “I hope my art reflects the pleasure I experience in observing the world around me, and the enjoyment I get in playing with the medium I am using.” Caitlin Chaisson, one of our newest faculty members, sees the exchange between classroom and studio as fruitful and dynamic: “After a class, I always return to the studio with some of the lingering questions students raised. Conversely, my own active work in the studio feeds into the dynamics of the classes I lead. Teaching is undoubtedly an imaginative extension of my creative practice.” An artist’s practice encompasses diverse encounters with the world; what better way to continue growing as an artist than to create possibilities for such encounters through teaching.
Allowing space for students to experiment and get their hands dirty is crucial for instilling or nurturing a life-long passion for creativity. Whether teaching toddlers or seniors, art instructors need to first provide a strong foundation of formal and aesthetic understanding. Instructor Melissa Thorpe believes this foundation offers a gateway to the “limitless possibilities available in manipulating the inherent qualities of each media.” Melissa often helps develop this knowledge with 2 to 4-year-olds. She considers herself a hands-on instructor, but tries to still leave room for individual and self-directed growth, “to explore and be free to make ‘mistakes,’ to push themselves in ways that their work takes them.” This kind of open-ended instruction helps create invaluable spaces of possibility so vital to creative development.
Our instructors are a creative powerhouse – one that I am proud to be in collaboration. Their capacity to develop workshops and courses, and shape the future of programs across disciplines such as printmaking, drawing and dance, is inspirational. We are lucky to also have such rich cultural spaces as the New Media Gallery and the New Westminster Museum and Archives just beyond our studios. Artist and Anvil Centre Drawing instructor Amy-Claire Huestis, for one, looks for opportunities to connect art-making to both contemporary and historical methods, movements and trends. She notes: “I want my students to understand their work in relation to a vibrant world of art-making, galleries and museum shows.” By creating inclusive and safe space, our instructors have been nurturing open dialogue, building a strong sense of community, and opportunities for sharing, collaborating and co-creating.
Anvil Centre has been, and is being, developed and nurtured in the tradition of other renowned and well-establish arts centres like Shadbolt Centre for the Arts, Arts Umbrella, Evergreen Cultural Centre and Place Des Arts. Like these centres, the Anvil Centre strives to contribute to the current and long-standing creative communities of this city. But none of it would be possible without the exceptional skills and dedication of our instructors. The future of New Westminster will be shaped by our creative capacities and I, for one, am excited to discover what that looks like.
Thank you to Colette Lisoway, Melissa Thorpe, Riette Gordon, Wendy Anderson, Shane Raman and Marc Petrunia, Saskia Jetten, Renee Bucciarelli and Tricia Keith; new instructors Amy-Claire Huestis, Caitlin Chaisson, Carolina Bergonzoni and Labkhand Sheikholeslami; and a special mention going out to all our past, present and future workshop leaders and partners.
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