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Arts Exchange is a Collaborative Success

By Amy Atkinson
Arts Exchange is a Collaborative Success

The Mekong River International Schools Association (MRISA) is a group of eight schools that, since 1999, have made a commitment to join together to create collaborative learning activities for their students in sports, leadership, and the arts. The purpose of MRISA is to promote exchanges, conferences, and tournaments for students, networking among member schools, and professional development for teachers, administrators, and support staff. The mission of the MRISA exchanges, conferences, and tournaments for students is to place emphasis on cooperation among students and wide participation, rather than on competition and winning.
Originally, when the group formed, the member schools were all about the same size and were rather isolated within their prospective areas. Over the past 15 years, each school has seen immense growth, both as an institution and in their surrounding communities, creating a very diverse and expansive network of students and teachers which share hosting duties within the three disciplines, providing students with the opportunity to travel within the four countries, engage with a variety of different cultures, and make lasting friendships.
Arts Exchange
The Arts Exchange was hosted this year at Saigon South International School in Hoi Chi Minh City. Fifteen Art Specialist students are selected from each school based on their passion, skills, and contribution to their art form (Visual Arts, Drama, Dance, and Music). Arts Coordinators meet each year in October at the host school to organize and to begin planning the event. Then, from November to February, arts teachers plan and develop specialized workshops in their art form and guide selected students as they organize and prepare at least one student-led workshop per art form per school. During the three-day event, held each year in spring, students participate in specialist workshops, led by teachers for nine hours over the three days, and then in four to six student-led workshops based on their art form of choice.
“I was extremely happy when I got selected for the MRISA Arts Exchange since I love performing in front of people. It gave me the opportunity of a lifetime since I met lots of talented people who had expertise in different fields of Drama, Dance, Art and Music. On the first day, I was a bit petrified by just looking at amount of people there were, since there were students not only from Ho Chi Minh City, but from international schools all over South East Asia. But the activities that the teachers made us do really made me more confident, not only as a performer, but as a great friend too! Overall, the MRISA Arts exchange was a great experience for me because not only did I get to extend my performing talents through various opportunities in this exchange, but I also got to know so many outrageously talented people that I learned a whole lot from.” Tanisha Verma, ISCHMC Art Student
Sound Poetry
This year, Drama students focused on the spoken word with the help of renowned Slam Poet Luka Lesson from Australia. Luka, who is a self described "conscious hip-hop artist" of Greek heritage, worked actively with young people to develop their power of expression, and to utilize the form of the spoken (and written) word as a means of empowerment and a form of self-determination. Some students developed personal sound poems in response to an emotion or event in their life, while other students chose to illustrate their poems with the medium of dance. At the end of the four days, students performed their impassioned, incredibly powerful works to a packed theatre. As well as performing front of stage, students also gained hands on experience with backstage lights and sound.
“As a dancer, it was challenging to find our instrumental voice by using poems. We challenged ourselves and we were surrounded with really great dancers. The dancers from other schools brought different styles and skills and so by watching them it inspired me a lot and I felt like I was really able to grow as a dancer.” DaJeong Jung, ISE Dance Student
Conceptual Art
The Visual Art contingent explored the idea of installation and conceptual art with their theme of "Minimalism." Dividing themselves into four groups, each group was assigned an empty "White Room." Together they discussed the space and brainstormed ideas and themes that they felt were powerful messages. Using found items, most groups chose themes based on eco-awareness and destruction within the rooms while exploring the use of space, textures, and spatial orientation.
On top of their Specialist workshops, Art students also attended artistic workshops, which further expanded their creative repertoire and learning new skills such as enamel painting, multimedia, portraiture, sculpture, and visual collage. At the end of the festival, a Visual Art Gallery was set up in the theatre and visitors were lead through the Installations by the artists themselves.
“The Art Installation project was amazing. It was challenging to work with a group of students I had never met. And some personalities were stronger than others, but we were all there because we love Art. So we had a common ground. And as we worked, we learned more about each other and each of us was able to show our own strengths. I’ve never had the freedom to be able to focus on just doing art for three days straight! I love MRISA AX for always challenging and inspiring me!” Hana Oh, ISE Art Student
Orchestra and Choir
The music students joined either the MRISA Symphony Orchestra or the MRISA choir. They participated in specialized workshops with sectional coaches, for both instrumental and vocal ensembles, and then had the opportunity to choose workshops on conducting, a capella singing, jam sessions, sight singing and rhythmic drumming. On Saturday night, both the Orchestra and Choir performed their final performance to a packed house of exuberant supporters.
“At first, I was afraid to teach my own workshop, but then the students surprised me by showing me their talent. It felt like a massive accomplishment to be able to lead them and guide them. It was so so cool to be able to jam and play alongside other students that were very skilled. The choir workshop totally changed my idea of choir. I had thought it was a lame subject, but after my workshop, I felt accomplished. It felt new to me and I realized that what I knew wasn’t everything. I’ve been to five MRISAs. I love going to them for their collaborative work. I don’t get a chance at my own school to be so open and I can share my ideas and listen to other musical ideas which totally opens my mind!” Rich Cheong, ISE Music Student
“The MRISA Arts Exchange was such an enjoyable experience that I will never forget! I learned different aspects and ways of thinking through my time in the Exchange. I also expanded my imagination and creativity. There were also a bunch of unique and interesting Student-Led Workshops, where I got the chance to interact and meet different people coming from schools all over South East Asia.” Ani McCawley ISCHMC Drama Student
Amy Atkinson is an art teacher at the International School Eastern Seaboard (ISE).

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