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Art teacher’s research grant inspired by TOK students

If there was a competition to decide the busiest woman at Upper Canada College, Vesna Krstich would be a strong contender for the title.

The art and theory of knowledge (TOK) teacher’s most recent research grant from the Canada Council for the Arts (CCA) sees her studying the relationship between performance art and pedagogy in the work of American artist and educator Allan Kaprow, the so-called “father of happenings” from the 1960s.

The impetus for this work was Krstich’s TOK class, where a student learned about some of Kaprow’s early “happenings” and wanted to make one. She calls it her most transformative teaching moment, and she wrote an article about it titled “Push and Pull: How to Make a Happening Classroom” that was published in the “Participation” issue of C Magazine.

On another occasion, artist Rodrigo Hernandez-Gomez was invited to conduct lessons with Krstich’s TOK students as part of his “Museum Without Entrance” project that was produced as part of “The Pedagogical Impulse” led by professor Stephanie Springgay from Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto.

While Krstich was in residency at Toronto’s Gallery TPW R&D in 2013, she was invited to develop and run a two-week program called “Back to School that was inspired by the work she’d been doing and featured experimental lessons based on performance instructions. Students from the Horizons program took part after school along with elementary school students and adults from the general public.

“One of the things I’m planning for the spring term is to use performance art as a way to re-imagine what educators refer to as ‘active reading strategies,’” says Krstich of how she’ll implement what she’s learned in UCC classrooms.

Krstich has been conducting research at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, where the “Kaprow Papers” are located. She went to L.A. during the winter break, will do the same thing for the March break and has also made shorter trips on long weekends.

“It’s been tough to manage things with a full-time teaching job and a new infant son,” says Krstich. “My husband is based in New York City this year, so working out a time to do the work has involved some fancy footwork to say the least.”

Krstich was commissioned to write an essay for Vancouver-based artists Helen Reed and Hannah Jickling for their elementary school project called “Ask Me Chocolates/Multiple Elementary.” The essay is part of an anthology of critical texts about that project and will be published by Blackdog/YYZ Books this summer.

Krstich is now working on writing and publishing a few journal articles while waiting to hear back about another grant-funded project. The recipients won’t be announced until later this spring.

Krstich received a previous CCA research grant in 2011 and took a year-long sabbatical in London, England to study experimental teaching practices in art schools during the 1960s and ‘70s.

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