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Students bring residents’ stories to life

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By Pam Kiriakidis

WHITTLESEA Secondary College students brought local stories to life by creating colourful portraits that were displayed at Yarra Plenty Regional Library on Tuesday.

The Living Art Exhibition was a partnership between Whittlesea Secondary College and the City of Whittlesea for year eight to 10 students to tell the story of the area’s identities and their occupations through art.

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Whittlesea Secondary College head of performing arts Kristen Jean said council approached four residents to share their life stories with students.

“Each of them did a 15-minute presentation and then the students had one session of 15 minutes to ask them some further questions,” she said.

“They were very generous in sharing their life stories and things that inspired them, so the kids captured as much as they could, and then in five one-hour sessions, they were able to come up with [the artworks].”

Ms Jean said the students developed ideas after a few consultations, creating increasingly large sketches to depict their subjects.

Beveridge resident George Smithwick was one of four presenters who discussed his life experiences with students, telling them about creating wooden barrels and cabinets when he was a cooper.

“I live out in Beveridge, and I worked out there in the shed making barrels,” he said.

“You talk about your life experiences, where you’ve been, and what you’ve done and try to impart some knowledge into them, and how you got to where you are.”

He said the students took on his notes and captured his passion for coopering.

“I guess it’s how they imaged it, I mean it’s the last 40 years of my life, and they’re all related it around coopering,” Mr Smithwick said.

“I tried to explain to them that becoming good at a job or taking on it, whatever your first job is, become good at it, and then when you’re ready, do what you really want to do, and that’s basically what I did.”

Whittlesea farmer Judy Clements was blown away by how the students respectfully listened and managed to put her words on canvas.

“I think that their use of colour and texture is really interesting. They’ve picked up on a lot of things about the earthiness and the variation in farming, and what it entails, and the connection back to the land,” she said.

Whittlesea Secondary College student Tayla, 14, right, and farmer Judy Clements at The Living Art Exhibition on Tuesday. ​

When Ms Clements was approached for the project, she said she was stunned at the opportunity and honoured to be part of something that connected the community.

“I was a little anxious to begin with, and I think it was probably a little bit like that for the students as well because we were all stepping into something that was quite different,” she said.

“The four of us have been involved with different things that have connected us back to the community.”

Ms Jean said the process was also for students to become aware of resources at the library and to familiarise themselves with other residents.

“The library has a connection point, what programs that run here are for students, because many of our students don’t even know,” she said.

“It’s absolutely important for our students to feel connected to the wider community and know and be familiar with the faces and places that they can access.”

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