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Huili Arts Festival – A Journey across the Elements

27 Nov 2019

Huili has its Arts Festival that involved all of the pupils and different art subject specialist teachers to create an unforgettable experience in November. Constructed around the theme of the five elements, Huili Arts Festival 2019 allowed pupils to take ownership of a wholly unique and highly collaborative artistic process that was wholly shaped by their own ideas, passions and innate talents. To discuss the process of bringing this ambitious festival together, as well as the outcomes experienced by the pupils, parents and teachers of Huili, we ask Ms Charrot-Grinsdale, Mr Abood and Mr Hannan for their thoughts on the arts festival.   Why "elements" chosen as the theme... Ms Charrot-Grinsdale: We wanted to create the opportunity for all the pupils across both the Primary and Junior High Schools to get really excited about this event and contribute their artistic ideas and abilities to the mix. This is what led us to create the character of a lost boy who travels across the different elemental lands to discover himself and his path. Mr Abood: The character of the boy would journey to different lands which personify the elements: so he goes to Land of the Burning Flame, Land of the Whispering Winds, Land of the Endless Oceans and Land of the Deep Red Earth, all guided by the character Compass, who represents the element of metal. It was the perfect theme for getting the whole school involved and giving the children every opportunity to think deeply about their own artistic inspirations and motivations.

Mr Hannan: It’s a theme that was relevant to the experience of schoolchildren yet broad enough to give them plenty of scope to make their own artistic interpretations and come up with some fantastic artwork concepts, which they duly did!   About preparation to the festival... Mr Hannan: It was crazy in the best possible way! There was such energy from all the pupils, as they really got behind the theme and were determined to throw themselves into the creative process. Ms Charrot-Grinsdale: When we described to the pupils that they would be the driving force behind the arts festival, they very quickly seized the opportunity to make it their own.

We explained that they would be exploring all of the arts to design and create the story of the lost boy and Compass for themselves, through devised ‘play-in-a-day-style’ mini-musicals where the sets, songs, script, costumes, choreography – everything, essentially – would be in their hands. Mr Abood: The school quickly became a hive of activity. It was so satisfying to see everyone working hard to bring different elements of the event to life. For example, Grade 6 and 7 designed and created over 20 different murals, each about 2 metres by 1.5 metres.

All of them were inspired by an element or a composite of multiple elements, such as ice or light, for example. It was great to see them thinking about art in such a conceptual, overarching  way. 

Pupils' artworks at-a-glance▼

  About the pupils' artworks Ms Charrot-Grinsdale: Each day pupils would devise the mini-musical focusing on ‘the lost boy and the compass’ journeys and in period 7 they would perform it. This was a hectic yet thoroughly enjoyable process as we had to literally act fast! The pupils also had the invaluable help and guidance of Round Midnight – who are an exceptional theatre group from the UK and a firm favourite of the Wellington international school when they attend their annual arts festival.

Mr Abood: As well as the murals, there were also landscape paintings from Grade 4 and 5 which were printed onto huge 24-foot sheets of material and hung as part of the set design. These backgrounds were moved and manipulated by the Junior High pupils within the plays each day.

Mr Hannan: Alongside the songs used in the plays, pupils also did some incredible work creating different soundscapes – imagine landscape paintings but composed of musical elements to invoke a certain mood. The sheer range of innovative and creative musical composition on display was inspiring.   When there are challenges... Mr Hannan: They were so enthusiastic from the moment we started to describe the concept to them. ‘Pumped’ is the best word to use, I think. They understood from the beginning that this was not going to be a passive event where they sat back and absorbed what was given to them. They knew that they had to be proactive to get the most out of it, so they entirely threw themselves into creating something meaningful and special. Ms Charrot-Grinsdale: I think that what they loved most about this festival was the creative freedom and the opportunity to craft their own thoughts and ideas into a living piece of art that covers theatre, music and the visual arts. You could tell how much they were enjoying it by the way they got stuck in but still thought so carefully about what they were doing. Every part of it mattered deeply to them, as they wanted to create something that lived up to the ideas in their heads.

Mr AboodWhat impressed me most was their curiosity and inquisitiveness. As soon as they understood the theme and the concept they began asking so many pertinent questions about what they could do, what they could try out, how they could explore the themes and so on. It was wonderful to see their enthusiasm and mature, intelligent response to the challenge we had set them.   The take-away from the festival Ms Charrot-Grinsdale: I want all of our pupils to inspire each other and enjoy the concept of creating art not just for themselves but for others. This is why we had year groups making art specifically for their peers this week. From the shared performances, to the physical pieces like the big plastic bottle tree from Grades 1-2 and the materials for the movement work made by Grades 4-5, I want them to be able to celebrate each other’s artistry.

Mr Hannan: I hope that they see how closely linked all of our subjects are, how practical they are and how they come together. These are not stand-alone disciplines, they are firmly connected and they continually reinforce and inform one another. The festival is about showing our pupils that they are capable of using their knowledge and talents to bring all of these artistic elements together to create something truly unique and wonderful.

Mr Abood: I want our pupils to appreciate themselves as artists. Whether they are creating something as an individual, a small group or as a year group on a large-scale work, I want them to instinctively place value on it.  I hope that they see their efforts during the festival as an important first step in what could potentially be the start of a creative journey that could take them to some very exciting places. Finally, I hope that they recognise the importance of art in their lives and how it connects to so many aspects of their education, their future hopes and their emotional wellbeing. We hope that you enjoyed witnessing the transformation of the school into the living elemental lands during Huili Arts Festival. Whole-school events of this nature are an integral part of our holistic educational offering, as they demonstrate to pupils how everything they learn is interconnected and valuable in helping them understand themselves and their future path.
We are already looking forward to Huili Arts Festival 2020 and plenty of artistic projects in between!