Sparking Youth Community Engagement through the Arts – Experiential Learning with MADE: UrbanArts

made urban arts class

By Fan-Ling Suen

Clamouring sounds, bubbling chatter, and bursts of laughter echo in the hallways and stairways inside 10C Shared Space; these are welcome sounds in a community shared work space – home of Guelph Arts Council. As GAC staff we curiously poke our heads out to see what the hubbub is all about. We are greeted with many smiles from students enrolled in the MADE: UrbanArts program – an interdisciplinary experiential arts program for youth that fosters community engagement through the Arts.

Dance and theatre are integral components to experiential learning. Photo credit, MADE: UrbanArts.

Intrigued and curious, GAC decided to interview co-founder and teacher Kelly McCullough, and chat with a few of her students to learn more about their secondary school program accredited through the Upper Grand District School Board.

Q: Kelly, as a co-founder can you tell us how the Made: UrbanArts program was developed?

A: The MADE: UrbanArts Project grew out of an interest in providing creative students with an Arts intensive, experiential learning opportunity. The initial ideas were brought forth from teachers in all Arts disciplines at Guelph CVI and then my colleague, Jeff Bersche, and I began the process of developing a structure that would make sense within the format of a school day in an off-site environment – the Guelph Youth Music Centre.

Q. What has surprised you most about working with the Guelph arts community to shape this unique youth program?

A. It is very difficult to narrow down our choices because there are so many outstanding artists in Guelph! The skills that Guelph artists bring to our students are exciting and important. They include dance, photography, digital DJing, drumming, screen printing, podcast development, and stage combat. Equally as important are the discussions that students are able to have with artists around philosophical and practical topics connected to the arts. For example, what does it mean to live a life in the arts?  How can artists connect to their community to bring important issues to the surface? Guelph artists have so much experience to bring to these discussions and are very generous with their insights.

Q. What role does art play in young people’s lives? Do you have an example that stands out from memory? 

A. We have been very fortunate to see students take the foundational skills they acquire in MADE, leave our program, and then go on to work in their chosen disciplines or to pursue post-secondary education in the arts. Students have gone on to programs in theatre, journalism, music, media, architecture, musical theatre, and visual arts at excellent schools including George Brown, Ryerson, the University of Toronto, the University of Guelph, and Sheridan College. 

Equally rewarding is when students tell us they really benefited from the community that MADE provides in order to feel valuable and successful each day.  Even if students choose to not pursue the arts as a career, they take with them all of the transferable skills that exposure to the arts provides: collaboration, leadership, accountability, organization, empathy, and discipline.   The MADE program demonstrates that experiential education can be a game-changer in inspiring a bright and positive connection to learning; students recognize that the confidence that comes with learning to be a creative risk-taker makes an enormous difference in day-to-day life.. That’s what makes it all worthwhile.

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Caroline Bendall (left) and Julian Murphy (right). Students enrolled in the MADE: UrbanArts program

Caroline Bendall is a grade 11 student performing as Ophelia in their year-end performance of Hamlet on June 4 at the GYMC. Her experience in the program has been extremely supportive, and has shaped her understanding in how community plays an important role in supporting individual artists in their career.

Julian Murphy is a grade 12 student performing as Hamlet. Julian has made many friends in the MADE program and has found creative risk-taking through experiential learning invaluable. It has helped him to build confidence, and has challenged his perception of what’s possible for himself. Julian plans on pursuing theatre arts at George Brown College in the fall.

Share in the experience and join MADE for their year-end performance of Hamlet on June 4, 7pm at the Guelph Your Music Centre. Get your tickets 

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