The Power of Art: Notes from the Big Apple

April 26, 2024 3 min read

What happens when 18 Calgary Academy art and drama students see Times Square for the first time, Van Gogh’s The Starry Night in person, three Broadway musicals, and a lone rat in the New York subway?

For starters: growth, confidence, awe, and wild excitement, says trip leader and art teacher Jamie Lafond.

Mr. Lafond—CA’s veteran art teacher—and the then-drama teacher conceived of an arts-focused New York City Integrated Studies (IS) trip for Grade 11 and 12 students back in 2016. Mr. Lafond knew the youngsters would draw inspiration from the centre of the art world. A practicing artist himself, Mr. Lafond wanted his students to see that art could be much more than an elective or a hobby.

After a COVID-induced hiatus, the New York trip returned this year for its third go-round. The group toured New York’s bustling neighbourhoods, saw three musicals—Little Shop of Horrors, Six, & Juliet—and attended the Met, the Guggenheim, the Whitney, the Museum of Natural History, and the MoMA.

The live performances made a deep impression on Grade 11 drama student Ava H.

“Seeing the inner workings of Broadway and off-Broadway shows—the details of the sets, the costumes, how the lights are coordinated—and the amount of work that goes into practicing lines and learning the music… It’s truly spectacular.” – Ava

The experiences, says Mr. Lafond, were transformative for the kids. He witnessed students fully comprehending how an artwork’s context gave the piece a deeper meaning. He saw them show up for and support each other. He saw them light up at stories of artists and musicians living, communing, and creating at the Chelsea Hotel in the 1960s.

And he saw them get really brave. The students participated in a workshop with Broadway actor Timothy Hughes (who, most famously, played the strongman in the film The Greatest Showman). In addition to learning choreography, two students—Ava and Sarah T.—sang separately for Hughes.

Ava’s passion for singing and performing came into focus when she came across a recording of Sarah Brighton’s performance in Phantom of the Opera. It dawned on her that people can make their living in the performing arts. One year later, Ava landed Anne’s role in Anne of Green Gables and sang on stage for the first time. She was hooked.

Singing in front of an established Broadway actor was nerve-wracking, but ultimately “an inspiring experience,” she says.

“It motivates you to work hard and keep building your skills. New York is the place I want to eventually be because I love being up on stage, and my goal is to make it to Broadway.” – Ava

“So often we focus on core academics, and the arts are thought of as being on the periphery,” says Mr. Lafond. “Going on a trip like this gives credence and validity to areas that are often overlooked, and I think that’s important for these students.”

Ava, for one, will be taking all she learned about character development to her role as Rona Lisa Peretti in Calgary Academy’s upcoming musical, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

And the rest of the group, says Mr. Lafond, all left wanting more. “They keep coming up to me and asking, ‘Can we do it again next year?’”