Preschool alliance’s art exhibition unites community

An art gallery in Sydney helped bring young artists’ dreams to life by displaying their work as part of a special exhibition, journalist Emily Campbell writes.

Several Sydney-based IEU members were involved in the project, which was a joint initiative between the Sutherland Shire Preschool Alliance and the Hazelhurst Arts Centre’s Broadhurst Gallery.

Fifteen community preschools from the region engaged in art with their children to create artworks to be exhibited in the gallery, with several preschools inviting local artists to help early childhood education staff support and guide the children through the process.

IEU member and early childhood teacher Catherine Lee, who is the Director of The Point Preschool in Oyster Bay, said each of the preschools focused on a particular element for creating individual and combined art works.

The idea for the exhibition, which occurred in October 2020, stemmed from the Alliance’s collective belief that children’s voices should be shared with the community.

“All the preschools created artworks that had meaning and connection to their children and to place,” Catherine said.

“We believe our children are competent, creative, empowered and that their voices should be made visible to our community, and [their art] would bring meaning to our community.

Recognition of competency

“The language of art is a very powerful one for children’s voices, sense of identity, connectedness, creativity and curiosity to be documented and shared,” she said.

Catherine said her class chose to create their interpretation of Yanma Nura, their weekly walk on local Country, using felt pens and water colours.

“I guided the children through the creative process, as I had walked with the children and we had already shared a deep connectedness to Country and place,” she said.

“When the children were engaging with their art, I noticed their deep connection to Country and their acknowledgement of the Dharawal People as the traditional custodians of the land.

“Our children are amazing custodians of our land and hold deep pride in caring for Country,” Catherine said.

Catherine said the children and their families were excited and proud to see their range of art showcased in Broadhurst Gallery.

“I believe when they saw their art on the walls of the gallery the children knew they were true artists, and it gave them validation,” she said.

“Many had previously visited the gallery and were in awe that their art was now displayed on the walls where they had viewed other artists’ work, so they knew the significance.

“When I visited the exhibition, and I visited many times, I overheard people describe our children’s art as honest, thoughtful, inspiring, respectful, and beautiful.

“Hearing this filled me with great pride that our community heard our children’s voices and recognised their competency,” she said.

Catherine said there were substantial benefits for the children thanks to the Sutherland Shire Preschool Alliance: Early Explorers of Art Elements program.

“Our arts practice builds relationships and makes the lives of others visible,” she said.

“The impacts of this project fall outside what many would call school readiness, because we believe our children are citizens of the world who are contributing to their community now and not waiting until they go to school or reach adulthood to do so,” Catherine said.

Most importantly, she added, it brought joy to everyone involved and was a pleasure and privilege to participate.