BIG IDEAS galore!

Tuesday January 31st, 2017

Guest blog post by John Harrison

Member of the Vancouver Biennale Board of Directors


Dennis Oppenheim. ENGAGEMENT in Sunset Beach Park in Vancouver. BIG IDEAS education visit by North Delta Grades 10 to 12 students in Feb. 2015. Photo by roaming-the-planet. 17908604465_fc322cda30_o

Engagement by Dennis Oppenheim (Vancouver)


Cosimo Cavallaro. LOVE YOUR BEAN in Charleson Park in Vancouver. BIG IDEAS education visit by Ecole Cedardale students in Kindergarten, Grades 1 and 2. Feb. 2015. 17883079206_5e5103cd51_o

Love Your Bean by Cosimo Cavallaro (Vancouver)


As a long-time educator I have been inspired by the many ways the Vancouver Biennale positively impacts many in our city through its art installations and its education program entitled BIG IDEAS. Each year hundreds of Lower Mainland students venture out to explore the Vancouver Biennale’s public art under the guidance of skilled and passionate teachers who clearly understand the rich learning opportunities that these art installations provide for their students. BIG IDEAS invites teachers and students to examine the artworks with a focus on making connections to art, the cultural richness of their city, and important social issues. Teacher planning for this is done in conjunction with addressing many learning outcomes of the BC Ministry of Education curriculum.


Michel Goulet. ECHOES. performance by Churchill students. Kitsilano Beach in Vancouver. Photo by Lay Tuan Tan. 0825LAYTUANTAN

Echoes by Michel Goulet (Vancouver)


The BIG IDEAS program takes students and their teachers out of the school and into urban (and occasionally more rural) neighbourhoods to view art and gain an understanding of how art can be a catalyst in reflecting on the many dimensions of communities, cultures, and society in general. I have made many visits to meet with teachers and learn about their BIG IDEAS plans or see the students presenting the work (be it visual, kinetic, or poetic) they have produced in relation to Biennale installations. I am often in awe of the meaningful connections made on so many levels by students when interacting with the artworks installed by the Biennale. Teachers skillfully guide their students on their first viewing of the artworks and engage them in discussion as to what the art means to them, the thoughts it evokes, and how it makes them feel.

Students from one school visited the Giants mural at the Ocean Concrete worksite on Granville Island. Interaction with this 70-foot-tall, 360-degree artwork resulted in a lengthy study of clothing and fashion. Deeper consideration brought forward the fashion industry’s creation of job opportunities, child labour issues, use of natural resources, and the environmental degradation caused by textile production. Students developed their critical thinking skills and gained insight into the matter of sustainability and the exponential impacts of a simple basic need such as clothing.


OSGEMEOS. GIANTS mural at Ocean Concrete worksite on Granville Island. BIG IDEAS education event. Grades 9 to 12 students from Eric Hamber School. Feb. 2015. Photo by roaming-the-planet. 17719371430_499fbe5baa_o

Giants by OSGEMEOS (Vancouver)


Students from another school visited Jonathan Borofsky’s Human Structures and Magdalena Abakanowicz’s Walking Figures in Vancouver. They were moved to think about their family roots and diverse backgrounds represented in their classroom. Awareness of issues relating to immigration, racism, GLBTQ rights, and many other aspects of diversity helped students better understand the challenges faced by people in their own communities and beyond.


Jonathan Borofsky. HUMAN STRUCTURES. BIG IDEAS student visit. 2014 - 2016 exhibition. Photo by roaming-the-planet. 17909162741_ce87f27405_o

Human Structures by Jonathan Borofsky (Vancouver)


Magdalena Abakanowicz. WALKING FIGURES. BIG IDEAS education program. Walter Moberly Elementary school. Grade 4 students. March 2013 student visit. Photo by roaming-the-planet. 17733377278_f85ce5d2cd_o

Walking Figures by Magdalena Abakanowicz (Vancouver)


Regardless of the art installation studied, the learning experiences consistently culminate in students possessing a much deeper understanding of what art is, how it can enrich the quality of life in their city, and the role of public art in shaping and building a sense of community.


Hugo França. PUBLIC FURNITURE | URBAN TREES. BIG IDEAS education visit by Grade 4 students from University Hill school. Squamish. April 2015. 17910995691_c5b3919ddb_o

Public Furniture | Urban Trees by Hugo França (Squamish)


I am proud to be involved with the Vancouver Biennale and its ever-expanding BIG IDEAS education program. BIG IDEAS Anywhere is the Biennale’s global outreach initiative enabling educators and learners from anywhere in the world to experience cross-cultural, inquiry-based learning inspired by the Vancouver Biennale’s public art.  I encourage you to take a peek at the BIG IDEAS online offerings at To receive updates on BIG IDEAS programs, you may contact <[email protected]>.


In closing, I would like to reiterate how much a pleasure it is to witness firsthand the interaction between students and art and the resultant opportunities for learning and dialogue.















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