COMM.A.S workshops aim to introduce art educators to strategies for fostering collaborative art processes and building communities through joint, participatory art activities. Participants worked with local art practitioners to conceptualise ways to design and facilitate collaborative art inquiry that emphasises the value of collective learning, and draw inspiration from the rich diversity of the community within and beyond the art class. The inaugural run of COMM.A.S workshops (11-13 Nov 2015) were helmed by photographer and artist Mintio, as well as Installation and Land artist Twardzik Ching Chor Leng.

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At the Vernacular Photography & Cyanotype Printing workshop, Mintio led a group of participants to revisit precious memories and uncover the stories of kinships and friendships behind many old family photographs. Connections were made and friendships developed as participants shared about their personal photographs, allowing others access to their lived experiences. These conservations surrounding the photographs helped to build the trust and respect that collaborative work required. The activity of looking at photographs was the beginning of a journey to appreciate how joint narratives can be shaped through the process of assembling photographic images and collective meaning-making. Participants were tasked to create a collaborative narrative based on the theme of ‘Relationships’. The task was designed to benefit from a group perspective, whereby participants developed their thinking and ideas through negotiation with others and considering different viewpoints. After the initial compositions were formed, participants then took the composited images a step further into the realm of cyanotype printing where they worked collaboratively to explore the endless possibilities that this versatile medium could offer.

Another group of participants were engaged in collaborative art-making processes with an emphasis on Land Art, and were working with materials from the environment such as soil, vegetation, water, stone and wood. Armed with only trash bags and plastic gloves, participants had to cultivate their resourcefulness by collecting and using materials from their immediate environment for their creative endeavours -collaborative site-specific installation works.

Working in small groups of 3-4, participants learnt with and from one another, built their collective understanding about Land Art, and also devised a range of strategies (including some really novel ones!) to realise their artistic intent with whatever available materials.

At the end of the 3-day workshop, participants came together to reflect on their collaborative learning experiences and examined the perceived benefits of collaborative learning. Using the Design Thinking approach, they also created empathy and journey maps to deepen their understanding of the different types of collaborative learners and the learning process that they will undergo when involved in group inquiry. Finally, participants consolidated a list of useful ideas and promising practices for supporting effective group inquiry and building learning communities in art classrooms. This list contributes to our art teaching fraternity’s shared understanding of the opportunities and challenges in collaborative learning; we believe that over the years, new understanding will emerge as art teachers continue to extend their inquiry into this important area of student learning.