DAREarts Blog

Discipline, Action, Responsibility, Excellence

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DAREarts Atlantic Youth draw inspiration from Mi’kmaw Heroes

Written by DAREarts Atlantic Coordinator & Lead Teacher, Trish Gibbon.

DAREarts Atlantic participants gathered with families on Monday, June 19th for their Showcase at Alderney Landing that celebrated their accomplishments in DAREarts this year.  DAREarts is in its third year in Atlantic Canada. This year’s program was inspired by the life of Dr. Jerry Lonecloud, a Mi’kmaq Medicine Man who was a leader of many who shared stories, oral histories and artifacts of Mi’kmaw culture with local museums before his passing in 1930.  Dr. Lonecloud’s sharing is the reason we have access to so much history of the Mi’kmaq people today at the Museum of Natural History in Halifax.  It is this spirit of sharing stories that inspired our program this year.

Students first considered their own lives and what their life story might be one day. They thought about their interests, talents and dreams. They then responded to questions about what the DARE values – Discipline, Action, Responsibility and Excellence – mean to them personally, and shared all of these responses in accordion-style books. This was the start of reflecting on and sharing their own personal stories with each other and then with the larger community on display at the showcase.

Renowned Mi’kmaw artist, author and musician Dr. Alan Syliboy worked with us again this year.  He shared his own passion for storytelling via his paintings, drawings, animations, music and published book. Alan was himself inspired by Dr. Lonecloud and had created a series of Lonecloud portrait prints. These in turn inspired the students to draw their own pencil portraits of Dr. Lonecloud! Alan spoke eloquently about his memories of Lonecloud and how his own band, called Lonecloud, was named after the famous medicine man.  Alan sees music as medicine. He believes wholeheartedly in the power of the arts as a healing tool. Dr. Syliboy shared some techniques with the students to help them create successful portraits and paintings. The students loved creating their incredibly creative visual art with Alan.

DAREarts’ drama team challenged the students to consider elements of a story and how we develop characters.  Ross Unger, Gina Thornhill and Dane Fader led them in a collaborative drawing activity that morphed into drama games that morphed into the students considering the myriad character traits that make up personality and how that impacts who a person is and what they do in their daily lives. Each student created their own ‘character’ inspired by the day’s events and shared these with one another in an interviewing game.  The students then reflected on their own “character traits” and recorded them in their accordion books.

Shalan Joudry is a Mi’kmaw poet, musician, storyteller, author and performer. The students learned a great deal as Shalan shared stories through music, dance and in the oral storytelling tradition. The Friendship Song will forever be on replay in our heads; our students enjoyed sharing this beautiful song alongside Shalan at their showcase.

On her second day with DAREarts, Shalan led a workshop in oral storytelling that involved having the students create their own stories using visualization. Shalan asked students to close their eyes and bring to mind a very bad day, then their favourite place, a helping animal, etc. She then helped the students connect these stories to the characters they had developed earlier; they envisioned overcoming their very bad day by receiving a helpful character trait “gift” from their character. This then linked to Dr. Jerry Lonecloud as a healer.  The students practiced their leadership by sharing their stories with one another and re-telling each other’s stories using words and actions.

Each student created an acrylic painting on raw canvas. They each chose an image to paint that had been part of our workshops: from storytelling with Shalan, character and drama work with our drama team, or visual arts with Alan. Their paintings were a way of reflecting on and then sharing a piece of their own DAREarts story with others.

Our time together culminated in the students adopting a leadership role and sharing all that they had learned and accomplished in DAREarts with younger children in their schools.  They brainstormed, created and presented with poise and confidence. We are so very proud of them.

Many thanks to our local Mi’kmaw heroes: Dr. Alan Syliboy, Shalan Joudry, and our team of talented artists: Ross Unger, Gina Thornhill and Dane Fader.

Also my deep and sincere thanks to our DAREarts school teachers Chelsea Pottinger, Sarah Englehutt and Paulette O’Connor who were keen to offer DAREarts to their students despite the political unrest in our provincial education system.

Thank you also to Katie McDonald who helped with setting up for our Showcase and took pictures and videos the night of the event.  Thanks to Alderney Landing for hosting us for our Showcase.

Artist Alan Syliboy says, “By exploring Mi’kmaw culture together, the children are building a lasting empathy for each other.  By creating together, they are becoming leaders who can themselves ignite change.”

DAREarts Atlantic thanks its key supporters for making this program possible: The McCain Foundation, Northbridge Insurance, Scotiabank and RBC Foundation.

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DAREarts Atlantic 2015: Mi’kmaq Culture Empowers Youth Achievement

Alan Syliboy with the students of St. Joseph’s A. McKay ES. Photo by Trish Gibbon.

Thanks to our supporters The McCain Foundation, Northbridge Insurance, Scotiabank, and RBC Foundation, October has been an inspiring Mi’kmaq Heritage Month for nearly 100 grade six children from three Nova Scotian schools; they’ve been “dared” to step out of their comfort zones and to entrench themselves in a world of arts and culture.

The students from Astral Drive ES, Riverside EC, and St. Joseph’s A. McKay ES each spent a week with DAREarts’ Atlantic Team, consisting of Lead Teachers Laura MacKinnon and Trish Gibbon, plus artist-educators Alan Syliboy, Henri Gielis, Alexis Milligan, and June Zinck.

Every workshop was filled to the brim with team-building, inspiration, connection and reflection. Each class started their week by meeting renowned local Mi’kmaq artist Alan Syliboy, who introduced the children to his animation Little Thunder, inspired by Mi’kmaq legends and petroglyphs. He emphasized the importance of storytelling and learning from one’s elders, a theme that was woven throughout the week. Afterward, the classes began the inward journey of creating their very own characters, guided by the DARE values of Discipline, Action, Responsibility, and Excellence.

DAREarts Atlantic Lead Teacher, Trish Gibbon, instructed the students in the use of acrylic paint on canvas as they created their own petroglyphic-style characters – personal “superheroes” that embodied an important life lesson. School staff and our team were astounded by the final pieces, as vivid colours and unique characters boldly leapt from each canvas. Prior to DAREarts these students had minimal access to the arts at school.

Once the paintings were completed, the students formed groups and were asked to consider the following question: If you had discovered these paintings in a cave, what story would they tell? What life lessons can be learned?

The grade sixes at Riverside EC proudly showcase their paintings. Photo by Trish Gibbon.

The grade sixes at Riverside EC proudly showcase their paintings. Photo by Trish Gibbon.

Story creation led to drama, as each group was asked to project their ideas into tableaux, transforming concepts into motions and gestures. This was an incredible accomplishment for many of the students, as focus was difficult at times. However, within minutes the whole class was eager to demonstrate their carefully crafted tableaux stories. Artist-educators Henri Gielis, Alexis Milligan and June Zinck used their theatrical knowledge to guide the students through the creative process with great energy and enthusiasm.

The workshops invited the students to explore culture and identity, as well as find positive means to express themselves and interact through their creative works.   For one of our schools, the camaraderie and improved behaviour of the students allowed them to share their art and tableaux in their first school-wide assembly of the year, previously not possible due to the amount of violence in the school.

The students from Astral Drive ES. Photo by Laura MacKinnon.

The students from Astral Drive ES. Photo by Laura MacKinnon.

Using the arts as a positive outlet has already improved the lives of these students dramatically, and will continue to help them achieve success in their growth as young leaders.

Students from St. Joseph's A. McKay celebrate their hard work at the DAREarts Atlantic Showcase. Photo by Michelle Doucette.

Students from St. Joseph’s A. McKay celebrate their hard work at the DAREarts Atlantic Showcase. Photo by Michelle Doucette.

On Wednesday, October 28th, the DAREarts Atlantic Showcase took place at the Alderney Landing Centre to celebrate the achievements of these dedicated young artists. It was fitting that the reception space was circular, as we welcomed close to 100 teachers, parents, community members and media into the room to celebrate as a newly-formed DAREarts community. Every guest that arrived paused in the doorway, looking in awe at the impressive, colourful collection of work. If the talent, potential and commitment of these young artists and leaders was in doubt before, it vanished as each guest entered the room. For the students, seeing their artwork hung with care in a space outside of school for celebration and public recognition was transformative. Their confidence and pride soared – qualities that will stay with them long after the event is over.

Mi’kmaq artist and mentor Alan Syliboy was present and spoke with the students and their families, emphasizing how impressed he was with the quality of the paintings and with the students’ commitment. In his public remarks, he spoke about the importance of the arts in nourishing young lives and how glad he is to be part of DAREarts Atlantic. The students were overjoyed that Alan was there to celebrate their achievements alongside them, as his artwork and encouraging presence was a constant source of inspiration throughout the project. His recently published book, The Thundermaker, was also on display and many students went home with this treasured reminder of the power of the arts, storytelling and leadership.

We would like to thank all of our supporters, volunteers, and the staff at each school who made this year’s program a resounding success.

The DAREarts Atlantic Team. Photo by Michelle Doucette.

The DAREarts Atlantic Team. Photo by Michelle Doucette.

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DAREarts Atlantic – 4Directions1Circle

Two communities create a body of work that inspires and teaches.


First off, we couldn’t have done this project without the financial support of our Lead Sponsor Northbridge Insurance, Atlantic Region Sponsor Scotiabank and Project Supporter RBC Foundation.

When we were planning this project, we asked Chief Rufus Copage who he thought would be a good collaborator with L’nu Sipuk Kina’muokuom (LSK) in  his community of Sipikne’katik (Shubenacadie First Nation). He told us about the Riverside Educational Centre in Milford. We contacted Principal Michael Topshee, who enthusiastically helped us with logistical challenges such as scheduling, location and student transportation.

This year, the Circle was LARGE! The 50+ students involved were from grade 4 to 8, Mi’kmaq and non-Aboriginal. They all wanted to be involved and they all found a special niche for themselves. Since they were exposed to multiple disciplines, they were able to find their own passion, whether it was building the puppets, painting their characters’ images, creating the stories and poems, blocking the scenes, singing on the sound tracks, photographing and filming. Some showed extra initiative, volunteering to narrate the show, direct the younger students, and help the younger ones with their puppets.

The story was structured around four directions, seven teachings and the DAREarts principals of Discipline, Action, Responsibility and Excellence. The younger students took on East and South, and the older students tackled West and North. In the Mi’kmaq “Wheel,” There are three additional Directions: Sky, Earth and Self. The entire group explored these additional directions through their paintings, their teamwork, self-expression and reflection.  The stories were complex, as were the characters, which looked eerily like Syliboy’s Petroglyph-inspired figures and lent themselves beautifully to the hose-construction shadow puppets. The resulting program took us through the seasons, from one direction to the next in a remarkably seamless story, given that the two schools were working independently of each other. To see a short video of the production, please visit 4Directions1Circle


The mix of cultures, ages and communities was a potent one, magical, dramatic and thoughtful. The audience loved the atmosphere, especially the visitors from the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board, First Nations Cultural Services and the IWK Health Centre for Pediatric Pain Research. What we were achieving with these kids may have a broader reach for purposes beyond traditional learning. It may also have healing properties. A very welcoming idea; proving once again that DAREarts and arts education enrich and, indeed, save lives.

IMG_3982.JPGAlan Syliboy’s contribution, as it was in year one of DAREarts in the Atlantic region, was stellar. He inspired the kids to look deep into themselves, out at the world and across cultural boundaries to find their stories and images. The students were charmed by his paintings, and the NFB video “Little Thunder,” influenced them greatly. And it wasn’t just the students who were star-struck. We had several visits by teachers, who wanted to see what we were doing and tell Alan how enamoured they were of his paintings and films.  If the children didn’t know how famous he is when they first met him, they surely do now, and rightly so. He is Nova Scotia’s artistic jewel. He is a Canadian treasure, and we are so grateful that we had the opportunity to work with him and learn from him.

IMG_3883.JPGAnother gift: newly appointed DAREarts Atlantic Teacher Trish Gibbon joined us for the first time this year. She helped with the organization of the two schools, provided activities and logistical solutions for the two schools. The students love her, and we do too.

We’d  like to acknowledge the donation of project supplies from Halifax Home Depot. The donation of Aeroplan Miles enabled DAREarts Aboriginal Lead and  Mi’kmaq Artist Cathy Elliott to fly to Nova Scotia. To donate your Aeoplan miles, hit the button below and follow the DAREarts Goose!


 Our Lead Atlantic Sponsors: northbridge-insurance-horizontal-positive-BW