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East End students shine at Nuit Blanche

The Equinox Arts Collective, a group of two teachers and 19 students from Equinox Holistic Alternative School, near Gerrard and Coxwell, recently had a rare chance for senior elementary school students to showcase their work during the Nuit Blanche all-night public art event in downtown Toronto.

Equinox Holistic Alternative School student Aidan Oliver, 12, right, traces the beginning of a QR code onto canvas. PHOTO: Michael Jursic

Art teacher Michael Jursic and new teacher Peri Aggarwal were on the subway with a group of students when they began discussing QR codes, the black and white square codes intended for smartphone scanning in many advertisements. Having recently completed a successful poetry unit with the students, the pair started playing with the idea of combining student poetry with paintings of scannable QR codes.

“The genesis of the project was poetry, really. We collaborated last year on a poetry night,” said Jursic, describing the coffeehouse-style event the students put on as the culmination of their poetry education. The students read poetry to family and members of the community, and raised funds for technology in the classroom at the same time.

The end idea consisted of square paintings of QR codes which, when scanned with a smartphone, revealed haiku poetry by the students, relating to the theme of 'night'. Jursic said he and Aggarwal both thought the idea was “Nuit Blanche-worthy,” so he decided to check out the application process for open-call projects – just in time to realize it was the deadline day. A proposal was written, sent back and forth for editing, and with half an hour to spare, the Equinox Arts Collective was born and the application was submitted.

The project presented some technical challenges, including ensuring the resulting paintings actually worked as QR codes when scanned. After extensive testing, the students set out to create their paintings, using creative flair to embellish the codes, painted on 24-inch square canvases. Jursic and Aggarwal decided to add their own canvas, which when scanned would lead to biographical info on the teachers and students.

“It was finished by Friday, and it wouldn't scan. We had to withdraw our own example piece from the show,” he laughed, saying he had to live by the same rules that were set for the students.

Throughout the process, the students covered multiple areas of curriculum, including poetry and art, as well as less obvious topics such as data management, digital technology, procedural writing and media literacy. The students also wrote their own bios, and studied the local history of the St. Lawrence neighbourhood where the paintings were displayed. When scouting locations, the students went through a mapping and navigation process while learning about the area's architecture.

Crowds lined up in St. James Park, near King and Jarvis streets downtown, to scan paintings in the QR Poetry Project during Nuit Blanche. PHOTO: Michael Jursic

On the big night, most of the students were able to travel to the four locations and see the effects of their creations in action. Jursic said at points the crowd was four deep at the St. James Park location.

“It went superbly, it went very well,” he said.

So far the class has been enjoying the success of their experience; however, there is already a rough idea forming for next year's big project, Jursic said. What that idea may be, he's not saying, although it won't be anything like the QR Poetry Project.

“You can't repeat a project for Nuit Blanche, and every time I do a project like this I like to take it up a notch,” he said.

Jursic said he and the students are grateful for the help – both logistically and financially – from parents at the school.

“We couldn't have done it without the full support of the Equinox Holistic Alternative School Council,” he said.

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