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Most schools do not have specialist art teachers in lower primary

With the new curriculum outlining that specialisation will take place at senior school, where learners can choose between three pathways including the arts, experts counsel that when it comes to talent-based disciplines, the earlier the better. EMMANUEL MWENDWA writes

Often, young budding artists in Kenya endowed with potential sketching skills are compelled to nurture individual creative muses on their own. This scenario is prompted by the fact that visual arts is still not an examinable subject in local government schools. Those fortunate, gain significant talent growth options on enrolment in private institutions, which offer courses that aim to introduce young learners to basic drawing and artistic skills.

“The benefits of early exposure to art are immense, more so if classwork incorporates learning rudimentary artistic know-how. At this stage, kids are receptive to ideas and keen to learn,” says artist John Njathi. Eight to 11 years is the best age to tap into potential skills. “Those seeking to explore drawing capabilities often undergo instruction from private tutors,” explains the artist, who is also an independent art teacher.

Nairobi Art Centre, for example, runs a workshop every school holiday from 9am to 3.30pm daily, and they have different themes for inspiration, from current exhibitions to new trends in the world of art and even ancient Egypt. They also teach pottery; an introduction to pottery that teaches the basics such as filtration, discerning types of good clay, hand building, throwing, glazing and more.

Running on Tuesdays 1-3pm, Wednesdays 10-12pm and Saturdays 2-4pm, the course is appropriate for anyone over the age of 13, and costs Sh2,000 per class and Sh7,000 for four classes. Similarly, Artiv Creative School has a drawing and painting curriculum that runs for 36 sessions, with each session being an hour and a half long for Sh1,200.

Access to showcase opportunities for budding artists formative drawings and creations, is crucial too. The No Boundaries International Art Exhibition is among platforms tailored for young artists. This year marks the annual event’s fourth edition, whose call for entries ends this month. It’s theme, A Drop of Water, entails participants exploring, through their artworks, the relationship between human beings and water. 

This global showcase is open to children and teenagers currently in kindergarten, primary and high schools across the world, who can submit coloured drawings and art using different mediums. Selected artworks will be displayed in galleries open to the public in the host cities – Beijing, Paris, Nairobi, New York and Rio de Janeiro later in August, and the United Nations headquarters.

Last year, varied creative drawings represented Kenya, submitted by Riara Springs School pupils. The Columbia Global Centers Nairobi hosted the exhibition under the theme One Tree, One City. An estimated 150 artworks drawn by two to eight-year-olds served as the showcase’s toast. It was the first time the young artists’ event was being held in Africa since its inception in 2015.

The event’s objective is to foster a sense of social responsibility and global awareness in young citizens around the world. Notably, it also offers an international art and educational platform for young artists to connect with peers devoid of nationality, language or culture boundaries.

Seven and eight-year-olds Anita Sanyu Kitonga, Sassie Kofi Araba, Precious Shanelle, Joshua Mutua, Shasha Nungari, Gerald Garang, Terrell Agina and Nelly Karimi took part in the event. Other participants included Imani Wairimu, Alexis Chepkemoi, Nathaniel Buluma, Maryann Mbiya, Ryan Mwenda, Daniella Wanjine, Sharlena Wahome and Mwikali Kyale.

Their colourful drawings featured alongside pieces by children from USA, Brazil, China, France and Hong Kong-based Art programme World of Art Brut Culture (WABC) dedicated to artistic projects tailored for special needs children.

Since last July, collective artworks were displayed in galleries open to the public in Beijing, Paris, New York, Rio de Janeiro and Nairobi as the last stop. Through art, the One Tree, One City theme sought to address the bond between cities, trees and nature.

“This international art event empowers youth to pay attention to environmental protection awareness. They express thoughts through the power of art, whilst finding their place in an increasingly globalised village,” says Pauline Muthoni, programmes officer at Columbia Global Centers Nairobi.

A non-profit organisation established in New York in 2015, No Boundaries continues to work towards achieving its objective to enhance global awareness and social responsibility through visual art education and programmes for children and young adults.

The founder, Ms Yan Baitong, rolled it out as an exhibition rather than a competition, with the aim to cultivates socially caring and responsible global citizens who can impact the future with nuanced visual arts education perspectives.

“We hope through shared art, the children learn to understand, cherish and respect each other’s differences. Every year, No Boundaries will invite one country or region to join in, and connect children and youth in general to the world, and grow next generations,” remarks Ms Baitong.

The organisation’s epithet originates from concept that art has no boundaries. The global platform utilises the power of art education and visual arts to enhance accountability in future generations. ‘Without nationality, language or culture restraints, children can express sentiments through art.

They learn to understand and respect each other’s differences in a peaceful, amicable manner; to develop diverse viewpoints, ultimately becoming socially responsible global citizens,’ reads an excerpt of its mission.

Riara Springs pupil Ryan Mwenda viewed the event as an eye-opener. “This is my first time to attend an art exhibition and submit a set of my artistic drawings for public display. It was exciting and educative,” he beamed.

With invitations for submissions sent out to various schools, the response was low-key, perhaps because the arts are not within the core curriculum. “It seemed most schools do not have specialist art teacher(s) in lower primary levels (ages 7-11). This is a disadvantage against nurturing or identifying budding artists at an early age,” regrets Pauline.

“But the varied interpretations of the One Tree, One City theme across different countries were fascinating. Those visiting the exhibition experienced unique global aspects through the eyes of the children’s use of crayons, diverse colourful shades and simple illustrations,” she adds.

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