The bar has just been raised when it comes to school art exhibitions! World-famous organisation Elephant Parade has pulled off a ground-breaking project with a top international school in Singapore, giving students a creative learning experience like no other.
The school in question is Canadian International School (CIS) and, as the first school to partner with Elephant Parade, they didn’t take the responsibility lightly. Primary school students came together to produce an outstanding exhibition featuring canvas paintings of elephants painted by Kindergarten students, as well as a herd of over 1,000 replica elephants of different sizes created by Grade 1 to Grade 6 students – and even a full-size 3D elephant!
In addition to teamwork, the learning outcomes for students were vast. They ranged from using art as a medium to bring important issues to the public eye, to communicating with experts, and exposing children to important local and global social and environmental issues such as equal rights, deforestation and distribution of wealth.
Diana Francis, Creative Project Manager at Elephant Parade, worked closely with CIS faculty and students to help put this project together. We chat to the celebrated fine artist about her involvement in the inspiring project.
Tell us more about Elephant Parade.
Elephant Parade is a social enterprise based in Chiang Mai that helps raise funds and awareness for elephant conservation through installations of art elephants designed and painted by artists (both famous and aspiring) and celebrities. The first Elephant Parade was held in Rotterdam in 2007. Since then there have been many parades held all over the world. The first parade in Singapore was held in November 2011 with elephants covering Orchard Road and other popular locations across the island, including Singapore Botanic Gardens and the Padang. Sizes of the parades vary but on average there are about 30 to 80 elephants. However, the Elephant Parade held at CIS set a new record – it featured over 1,000 elephants!
How long have you been involved with the enterprise?
I’ve been involved with Elephant Parade since 2011 when it first came to Singapore, so five years now.
How did you get involved?
One of my clients Netherland Financial Investment Agency (NFIA) approached me and asked if I was interested in a commission to paint an elephant. When I learnt more about the business model of Elephant Parade, I loved it and have continued to work with them ever since.
What are your responsibilities?
My duties vary from painting key elephants that represent the cities we parade in, to the designing of bespoke elephants for some of our sponsors and the development of retail merchandise. I also work with new partners to organise parades and events, including the Elephant Parade held at CIS this year.
How did the partnership between CIS and Elephant Parade come about?
CIS faculty were looking for a unique way to build upon the creative skills that students had learnt in class, while exposing them to the role that art can play in communicating global issues – the idea that it is not just about creating pretty pictures. At the same time, they also wanted a project that would span Primary School and bring the community together. Since Elephant Parade is a global ambassador for elephant conservation and other important global issues delivered through artistic interpretations, all parties felt it was a perfect collaboration.
What process was involved in painting the elephants and how long did it take to paint them?
Before painting the images on the elephants, the students identified an issue they were interested in and then talked to various primary sources – including the Ministry of Finance, Nanyang Technology University, The Body Shop and Himalayan Health Project – to gain a more meaningful understanding of the challenges each faced and how they could take action to achieve meaningful change. Once they had developed an insight, myself and CIS’s amazing team of visual arts teachers worked with them to simplify their ideas and portray them as images on an elephant.
Students used acrylic paint to decorate elephants of different sizes according to their grade level, starting from 10 cm all the way through to a life-size elephant produced collaboratively by the Grade 6 children. The entire project took nine months to complete.
What were the main challenges?
Managing a consistent storyline across all of the art pieces, especially those being produced by the younger students, required focus, but the CIS faculty and students were fantastic. Placement of the detailed concepts from the enthusiastic Grade 6 students onto the full-size 3D elephant was also challenging, so we needed to simplify some of these ideas to make them work collectively.
What were some of the most rewarding parts of the project?
It took almost four hours to place all the elephants in position in CIS’s atrium and the end result brought us all much joy. It was teamwork at its best! The recognition from the Elephant Parade team was also special. CEO Mike Spits was so thrilled with the project that he is coming to visit the school and see the exhibition in June.
What will happen to the elephants once the parade is finished?
The full-size Grade 6 elephant (titled ‘Read All About It’) has been selected to join the Global Traveling Herd with Elephant Parade to celebrate the enterprise’s 10th anniversary. This tour gives CIS students the opportunity to follow the footsteps of their elephant as she makes her way around the world, gaining an insight into environmental and social issues outside of Singapore along the way. We’re still discussing what will become of the smaller elephants.
Are CIS planning any other major art exhibitions which the public can come and admire?
CIS has a brilliant Arts department that regularly organises student exhibitions that are open to the public. In late May 2016 they held an evening of M•A•Dness where the Music, Visual Arts and Drama departments showcased the remarkable artwork their Secondary School students had been working on. The diverse cross-section of work ranged from poetry and musical recitals, to portraiture, photography and sculpture. For details of upcoming exhibitions, visit cis.edu.sg.