Inspiring Young Artists: MacLaren VanGo

October 22, 2019

Students participate in Distant Horizons, a new VanGo programme inspired by the artwork of Canadian artist Tom Thomson.

“I loved how this program engaged the kids (you could hear a pin drop when the instructor started to explain the procedure) and also how it linked to the curriculum in so many ways!”  ― Byng Public School

“The (art making) process was very rich in curriculum expectations. The product was brilliant, instructors were very effective/professional. Good blend of art theory and practice.” ― Clearview Meadows Elementary School

For more than two decades, the MacLaren Art Centre in Barrie has delivered visual arts studio programmes in Simcoe County schools, reaching over 7,300 students each year. First introduced in 1997, VanGo offers unique opportunities for students to work with practising regional artists in the classroom. These artists bring expertise, teaching experience, high quality materials and a passion for art, delivering curriculum-based programmes to Grades K through 8. Students experience engaging, hands-on activities that introduce them to the fundamentals of art making in ways that foster creativity, cooperation, confidence and self-esteem.

Each year, the MacLaren enhances what it has to offer by adding new programmes. For example, this year there are twenty-seven different programmes for primary, junior and intermediate levels provided in English and French. Students can experiment with various media, while learning techniques in drawing, painting, printmaking, mixed-media collage, mould-making, animation, clay sculpting and more. New programmes focus on experiential learning for younger grades and movement and art with members of Simcoe Contemporary Dancers. Some programmes are inspired by the work of leading Canadian and international artists, such as Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, Henri Matisse, Doris McCarthy, Tom Thomson, Norval Morrisseau and Emily Carr. Others reference historical art styles from Abstraction to Pop Art, or draw from cultural influences such as Inuit folklore art. Public, separate and private schools across the county also participate in the VanGo Gallery programme, which brings students to the MacLaren for a guided tour of current exhibitions, followed by a hands-on art activity.

Students who are regularly engaged in the arts become greater thinkers and learners. Using visual arts education as the foundation, VanGo builds connections across the curriculum to language, history, technology, science and the environment.  All VanGo programmes are designed to encourage creativity, skills development and visual literacy.

The demand for VanGo is high. While participating schools contribute to a portion of the cost for a workshop, instructor fees, programme development and coordination, and packages for teachers to help make curriculum connections are not covered. To include all of these in the price would make it financially impossible for students to participate. As such, dedicated VanGo corporate sponsorship subsidizes the programme by 50%, making it affordable and accessible to all.

The MacLaren is deeply grateful for the generosity of its lead VanGo sponsors, The Sarjeant Company, J. Stollar Construction Limited and Honda Canada, as well as the many service clubs that make this invaluable community programme possible.

A brochure detailing the individual programmes and learning objectives is distributed annually by the public and separate school boards. It is also available for download at