Aboriginal Artists in Schools – Teaching Through Creation Stories

In Schools

“It was so rewarding being involved in the program. How often do you get Aboriginal people to come in and share their culture, skills and knowledge with you? The kids loved learning how to weave and creating a collective piece that will be treasured in our school for many years to come.”  Teacher,  Saint Joseph’s School.

Aboriginal Artists in Schools: Teaching Through Creation Stories (AAIS) is a community cultural development program which aims to establish sustainable connections between Aboriginal artists/cultural practitioners and South Australian schools. The program provides professional learning for Aboriginal artists, teachers and learning outcomes for children and young people through an artist in residence model. AAIS engages expertise of Aboriginal Elders, artists and cultural practitioners to work in collaboration with teachers to address the cross-curriculum priority area in the Australian Curriculum: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures.

In each region, Carclew undertakes consultation with local Elders, Nation Group Chairpersons and Cultural Custodians to build relationships, and be guided in how artists work with young people in schools. AAIS is always delivered by First Nations teaching artists connected to the Country on which the residency occurs.

The program is based on the award-winning pilot project Ngarrindjeri Yanun, a long-term partnership project between Catholic Education SA and Carclew that employed six artists and Elders teaching Creation Stories through a multi-arts program at St Joseph’s Primary School in Murray Bridge, completed in 2017. The results of the pilot project were outstanding and Carclew has since developed the modular model that we know today as Aboriginal Artists in Schools: Teaching Through Creation Stories.


Delivery Model   

Residencies take place over 10 days (scheduled either weekly or as an intensive period for regional delivery). Each residency includes a professional learning/cultural sharing session for teachers across the school and in-class co-delivery with two+ Aboriginal teaching artists.

Department for Education funded delivery prioritises Category 1-4 and regional/remote Department for Education primary schools.

In 2016, Carclew embarked on an exciting new partnership with Catholic Education South Australia (CESA) to deliver the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Artist Development Pilot.

The project commenced in term 3 2016, with CESA and Carclew engaging Ngarrindjeri artists Betty Sumner, Lena Rigney and Boandik artist Sonya Smith to work with St. Joseph’s Primary School Murray Bridge students and teachers. The artists introduced students to visual art mediums such as weaving, feathered flowers and performing arts through cultural songs and dreaming stories to make, create and learn about local Ngarrindjeri culture.

The pilot aimed to:

  • establish a sustainable artist in residence program within school environments for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and cultural workers.
  • enable further opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists to receive the training, professional development and essential knowledge required to empower the artists and give them the confidence to be able to go into a school, educational or organisational environment and facilitate cultural learning
  • contribute to a greater need for more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists to be able to actively engage with young people and educators about Aboriginal arts and culture in an educational context
  • increase the skills development and employability of Aboriginal artists
  • avoid the appropriation of culture that unintentionally occurs in school

The Artists in Residence model has proven to:

  • Enhance student learning in, through and about Aboriginal art, histories and culture.
  • Students gain different perspectives on what it means to be a professional artist, through meaningful opportunities to find out about the artist’s life and by seeing them in the context of the world they work.
  • Teachers and students to develop and build relationships within the wider Aboriginal community.
  • Students learn how artists gain inspiration from a variety of sources including their own experiences and environment, their culture, historical and contemporary sources.
  • Working with professional artists helps students to recognise that there is a process behind finished pieces of art and a career as a professional artist.

This joint initiative between CESA and Carclew has established stronger relationships between Aboriginal artists in their community, assisting educators in further developing their knowledge base and teaching capacity, contributing to CESA’s commitment to reconciliation in South Australia’s Catholic education system and providing a meaningful learning environment for students in Aboriginal art, histories and culture.