2020 Museums and Galleries National Award winner for Interpretation, Learning & Audience Engagement

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art in the Classroom is a workshop for educators, which has been developed and run independently by the Art Gallery of South Australia relying on the expertise of AGSA’s curators and support staff who also provide authoritative contextual information about works of art on display. The program is, however, presented in collaboration with individual Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, as their voice is critical to the pedagogic aims of the program.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art in the Classroom is the most popular program among a range of professional-development workshops offerings provided by AGSA for educators. Since its inception in 2018, over 500 teachers have participated in this program. If each attendee teaches just 30 students, then its beneficial impact has reached at least 15,000 students across the state and potentially the country.

In 2018 the AGSA Education team identified that educators were eager to incorporate First Nations art into classroom learning but not adequately equipped to do so. For example, the practice in some classrooms of having students simply copy artists’ works may breach copyright or cultural rights, without fully engaging students with issues of cultural knowledge and protocols. When properly taught, however, First Nations art can be a powerful tool to engage students at all levels in discussion on topics from art and cultural diversity to history, environmental studies, mathematics and astronomy.

The program prioritises the voices and perspectives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists by collaborating with First Nations artists, educators and curators as guest speakers and workshop facilitators. For participating teachers – and for the students they ultimately teach – art is used as a starting point for learning about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and histories. Educators also learn best-practice methods and practical tips on ways to meaningfully integrate First Nations art, cultures and histories into daily learning environments based around the national curriculum. They therefore emerge better equipped to expand their students’ understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and histories and to engage students in genuinely instructive discussion and activities.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art in the Classroom program helped to shape a national publication created by AGSA, which guides teachers through meaningful ways to integrate First Nations art, cultures and histories into daily learning environments. It includes examples of best-practice methods and themed activities for students.

Our ‘Using artists as a starting point’ flowchart (featured in the workshop and publication) established a critical foundation for guiding educators through the process of embedding works of art by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art into their teaching programs. This flowchart encourages educators to consider the main themes in an artist’s work, how this relates to the world of the student and finally asking the educator to reflect on how a child may respond to an artist’s work without creating a copy.

AGSA Education believes strongly in lifelong learning and as such the ATSIAC program is always evolving. Each iteration of the workshop changes, engaging different artists, displaying alternative works of art and modifying delivery. Alterations to program content pose new questions and ideas for repeat attendees.

List of featured artists and educators
2020 April Phillips, Wiradjuri people
Tom Readett, Ngarrindjeri and Arrente people
2019 Elizabeth Close, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara people
Brian Robinson, Kala Lagaw Ya and Wuthathi people
Jacob Boehme, Narangga and Kaurna people
Ali Baker, Mirning people
Jonathan Jones, Wiradjuri and Kamilaroi people
2018 Darren Siwes, Ngalkban people
Kira Bain, Ngarrindjeri people
Raymond Zada, Barkindji people
Grace Lillian Lee, Meriam Mir people

AGSA’s education programs are supported by the Government of South Australia through the Department for Education.

Tarnanthi is presented in partnership with BHP and with the support of the Government of South Australia.