Small Victories

Lyceum students began working on the Small Victories project on April 6th.

The genesis of this work was a writing prompt that asked students to  make a record of some small action they had undertaken to improve or challenge themselves. My hope in assigning it was to momentarily unseat the traditional notion of victory; to move it a few inches away in their minds from the spontaneous appearance of the vainglorious hero figure who wins at the expense of others. In our discussion, we called on the example of victory quilts as symbolic of small acts of personal dedication to a larger cause. Solidarity was woven into the fibres of those textiles and morale was boosted through collective action on the home front while they raised funds toward a much larger battle being fought overseas.

For the Small Victories project, we moved the big studio table into the middle of the gallery and set up sewing machines, cutting mats and baskets of embroidery floss along with yards of discarded blankets. The plan was to invite community members in to work with the students to weave their stories into the quilt throughout the month of April.

News of the lockdown was received in the middle of our first Small Victories studio session. I made the shutdown announcement and was met by twelve worried, crestfallen faces. They wanted to know how long we would be out of school, how we could finish the projects we were working on in class and, should the lockdown go on through the rest of the year, how could we still celebrate when the Queen’s Voice peaked at 100 listeners or what could be done about graduation for three of the founding members who are going to highschool next year. How can we…they wanted to know.

Within half an hour, we were closed. Students stepped out the door with backpacks full of binders, sketchbooks, math tools, novel study books, agendas and science fair plants. Several of them paused as they headed home, away from their friends, toward enforced isolation and uncertainty of unknown duration. One young man I have taught for six years told me he hoped that he might see me again. How indeed…

We have been virtual ever since and it’s been a surprisingly positive experience. Over the coming weeks, we will share with you some of the incredible work these young people have been doing. The virtual platform presents a massive challenge to our working methodology. Orientation to the work in The Lyceum is practical and immersive. Relationships and curriculum is built on careful observation and the physical environment plays a vital part in what makes up this incredibly unique experience. As teachers and mentors, we were called upon to rework the content and delivery of the material.

Since they cannot be in the Lyceum kitchen right now, a food history assignment has become a bakeoff every Thursday afternoon. The food history still gets in there but the context is a bit more lighthearted. Each week, a different student tries to outbake the teacher from their home kitchen and the results are judged by Chef Sam. So far, it’s Teacher: 1 / Lyceum Students: 1

We don’t have access to the studio cameras or backdrops right now so Marina has re-envisioned the photography classes as field assignments they can shoot on digital cameras and share on pixiesets.

The radio programme is broadcasting out of a bedroom in Parkdale. The Lyceum Players and individual musical compositions are pre-recorded but everything else is voiced in live through a zoom feed from the gallery. Sometimes it glitsches out on us and we have to start over but our cub reporters are unflappable and The Queen’s Voice has doubled in listenership in the past two weeks.

Math and music are delivered by tutors online and the narrative approach I use at The Lyceum continues to find expression in critical and creative writing contexts for novel studies, history papers, science fair briefs, penpal letters to Ghana, newscasts, debates and reflections.

On Friday afternoons, students assemble with Sam for an afternoon of Sketch Republic. This class has been so popular, there are breakout sessions throughout the week.

Meanwhile, through all of these changes, Small Victories carried on! The Lyceum students worked along on the project from home, delivering the finished squares to the mailbox in front of the building. We stitched the squares together in the gallery. Several community members picked up kits to take away to work on and countless people have stopped to offer smiles, friendly gestures and words of encouragement through the windows. In some ways, the quilt has become emblematic of subtle acts of resistance against the inertia of our time. Carry on, keep making, stitch it together … perhaps that is the how.

Thank you sincerely to everyone who has contributed work. You can view the quilt through the window until Monday night. After it comes down, we will continue to sew in the squares as they arrive and post them on website. With thanks to the Lyceum students, Marina Dempster and Sam Higgs for their solidarity and efforts toward realizing this project. Holly