In the fall of 2009, the Prince Edward Island Council of the Arts engaged the Island’s arts community in a pan-Island set of consultations on the topic of post-secondary arts education.
What emerged from those consultations represents a clear, Island-born, solution for a difficult set of problems, including a significant population of trained artists living immediately around the city of Charlottetown balanced by a widely diverse and widely distributed group of artists who range from the highly trained to the largely-self-taught, all of whom have educational needs. Through an examination of the data collected, and an objective analysis of the discussions at each of the fourteen locations, a vision surfaced of a central hub acting in the capacity of a “School of the Arts” that was a focus for arts and art education activity, and provided a base for widely distributed programming across PEI.
At the heart of the matter is a simple fact: Island artists want to do well, artistically and financially. They want to make quality art work. They need access to professional development to enhance their skills, as in any other profession. They need a focus for their education activities, for resources, for mentors, and for materials. They feel a strong desire to connect with their peers, to everyone’s mutual benefit and gain.
These are all features commonly found in, and are an integral part of, any area that features an institution or entity that acts as a school of the arts.
The community developed an image of an education entity that not only acted in partnership with existing post-secondary institutions in a formal, accredited sense but also acted in partnership with schools, wellness centres, existing community centres, and community-based groups.
While the needs of the professionally trained artist cadre and the more community-based artist and artisan groups are quite distinct, each agreed on the importance of providing opportunities to the other and enshrining a balance between using local human resources and employing the absolute highest quality of instruction in all activities. Where possible, there was the understanding that working together would lead to the most success on both sides.
A resounding feature of the discussions was the sense of loss of community, particularly in light of the demise of the former Holland College School of the Arts. Many discussions centered on this strong desire to re-establish Prince Edward Island as a centre of artistic excellence with a strong, vibrant, and engaged community of practitioners. It was often noted that, aside from the obvious formal educational benefits that the Holland College program offered, there were innumerable intrinsic benefits, such as a physical centre for arts activity, easy access to peers and a critical dialogue, easy access to knowledgeable mentors, and opportunities to steadily build artistic skills.
It was also noted that the former students of that school, now aging, seem to have been the last of a cohesive community of peers, and younger artists, and those who were not part of that cohort, feel their separation from both that group and from each other.
While the PEICA received reports, both first hand and indirectly, that some artists did not participate as they felt that nothing could ever be achieved, the consultations proved that there are many artists who remain hopeful and committed to the idea that we, on Prince Edward Island, can work as a community to build an appropriate solution as unique as the Island itself. This report is intended to be the starting point for further study and further community engagement. Ideally, it will also lead towards the goal of providing quality post-secondary arts education right here at home.