CA Art: A Collaborative, Creative Space

May 12, 2023 4 min read

Calgary Academy teacher Jamie Lafond has taught art for over 30 years. You can easily find his class by looking for walls lined with student-made masks and the gigantic paint palette hanging over the door. His art room is a treasure trove of old projects, art supplies, and music.

You need the Shazam app open as you step into Mr. Lafond’s classroom—there’s a daily concert of classic rock, reggae, funk, and everything in between. Mr. Lafond’s art projects are just as varied as his music taste, taking inspiration from his travels, art history, and his own passions.

Creating and Teaching Art

Before his time at CA, Mr. Lafond lived as a performance artist in Ontario, working in various galleries. Now a tenured teacher, he’s been instructing, mentoring, and creating with students for decades—leaving a lasting impression.

In his opinion, art is more than expression, it’s the “linchpin of our culture” and a way to solve complex problems.

I look at art as being visual problem-solving… I’m always concept first. Then I determine what delivery method would best express that idea.”

Most people assume they aren’t creative or expressive without being an accomplished artist. However, Mr. Lafond sees art as more than paint and brushwork. He would be just as happy to see a student write poetry, play music, or design a performance.

What’s essential is seeing someone’s skills improve, whether they’re experienced or brand new to art. The improvement journey matters more than the final design—a philosophy Mr. Lafond exemplifies in his classroom.

While students build their skills in class, Mr. Lafond is right there with them. He sees himself as a studio mentor more than a teacher—Mr. Lafond would prefer to create with his students than lecture from the front of the classroom.

The art room is a place of collaboration and expression, not where you follow instructions on what to make and how to make it.

“I work on my own stuff while students are working. I think it creates this atmosphere where everybody’s busy and doing stuff. If students see me working, they get the idea of, ‘okay, he’s not just saying stuff—he does it.’” – Mr.Lafond

An Ever-Rotating Collection of Projects

The number of projects available to students makes CA’s art program unique. Some of these assignments come from Mr. Lafond’s personal life, while others emerge from his love of art. His famous Portuguese tile project was inspired by a trip he took to Portugal.

In the classroom, many projects begin with an art history lesson. For example, Mr. Lafond has Keith Haring style art as a reference and inspiration for students hanging on his classroom wall.

Grade 12 CA student Reese Gagne has experienced Mr. Lafond’s passion for art history many times before.

“Every once in a while, I’ll make something, and Mr. Lafond will say: ‘you know what this reminds me of?’ And then he’ll talk to me for 20 minutes about these different artists and all the things they do.”

Informing rather than instructing is a significant focus for Mr. Lafond—he never wants to tell students what to do, learn, or create. Students are encouraged to tell the story they want to tell, and he avoids instructing his students on how they should look at a project. During his classes, Mr. Lafond’s experience as an artist influences his teaching.

“I have a very organic approach to creating, even though I plan it out. I use my personal experience to help inform students about how they should think about art. The best gift you can give yourself is allowing yourself to make mistakes.

Don’t be tied to your vision of how a project is going to look in the end.” – Mr. Lafond

You Never Know What to Expect in the Art Room

The school year is in its final term, and another year of art will soon be complete. Mr. Lafond’s planner is a blank canvas for next year’s projects. He likes to see what speaks to his interests and what different opportunities he can provide his students to stretch their creative muscles.

“I like to balance projects to give a range of experience. I’ve been at this school for 26 years, so I’ve developed a lot of projects over those years. I’m always introducing new ideas, but also choosing old projects I can blow the dust off.”

While students never know what projects to expect, they can guarantee they’ll create their work in a collaborative, creative space filled with rocking music.