by Ulara Nakagawa with Akane Jansen
During my schooldays back in Canada, I remember art classes being a welcome relief from the daily grind of standard subjects. And while inspiration to explore my artistic side came much from within, it also came from having an art teacher who was an artist. By this I mean, simply, the person in charge who loved art him or herself; someone who would understand me through a ceramic pot, a pinhole camera shot, or a ‘muse-less’ day of frustratingly crumpled up paper.
These teachers were often also devoted to finding ways to celebrate their students and their creativity. And I appreciate even now how excited and encouraging they were to do so by sharing our art with as many people as possible. Art is definitely at its height when it is being celebrated both by the artist and the viewer—art is appreciation—especially when you are younger and may need a push from an outside voice to gain the confidence you need to take you to the next level.
Ursula Bartlett Imadegawa and Akane Jansen are such teachers.
Over 20 years ago, Ursula, Steve Tootell, Stelarc, and several of their colleagues teaching art at international schools realized that there was no way to get exposure for their art students. Japanese students had more opportunities to participate in exhibitions through their school system and being a part of the Ministry of Education, and even students in other non-standard curricular activities such as choir had chances through their performance shows. So they created Artscape, the most important international student art exhibition in the country. Held annually in early spring at the Children’s Castle on Aoyama-dori, Artscape facilitates the display of thousands of art pieces, both 2-D and 3-D, made by students aged 10 to 18 from various international schools. Now in its 28 year, Artscape continues to be a huge success amongst participating students, their parents, teachers, and attendees.
For Akane, she is still thrilled when parents come to her after the show and mention how “surprised and proud they are and say things like, ‘I didn’t know how much my kid could do!’” She tells me that this kind of recognition, plus the invaluable experience in learning how to exhibit and display their work, is particularly important for students looking forward to a future in fine arts.
As for finding careers globally, such students have gone on to attend prestigious art schools and colleges all over the world, and Akane names just some of those who work for major companies such as Walt Disney Productions, Pixar, Calvin Klein textile design, and others who have become professional painters, illustrators, and interior designers.
In a time when people are so focused on matters surrounding money and economic strife, it may be difficult to be optimistic about encouraging children to pursue anything other than a career in law or medicine. But we have to be thankful for the teachers who keep a watchful eye and the best interests of a young artist in mind—and events such as Artscape that help make the path to a destined career easier to tread.