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We all have the power to create, and with our creations, we all have the power to share our stories. In today’s episode, Yaz Gate joins Nic to share her own story, including her experience teaching refugees, tapping into your joy, and helping foster creativity in your students. Full Episode Transcript Below.
Nic: Last summer, my husband and I went on an amazing trip to Australia and New Zealand. Before I went, I was doing my research and I discovered an art teacher on Instagram that was from Melbourne where we were going to travel. I decided to reach out to her because I really enjoyed her artwork and I wanted to see if she would do a commission for me for my home. She agreed to it and so her husband and herself and then me and my husband Tim met up in Melbourne one night for a meal together. We exchanged the artwork and so much more. We became pretty great friends. We communicate on a regular basis even though we live across the world from one another. Today we are going to hear from Yaz Gate on Everyday Art Room and I’m your host Nic Hahn.
Oh, I’m so happy that you’re here today because we did get to meet each other and I am excited to introduce you to our listeners today. Can you go ahead and just introduce yourself first and kind of your educational background and how you’re involved? We’ll get into how you’re involved with the arts in a few minutes, but just introduce yourself first please, Yaz.
Yaz: Hi Nic. My name everybody up there is Yaz Gate. I’m an educator in Melbourne, Australia. I first started off in secondary teaching and then I went to London and taught as a generalist teacher there. And then I came back and spent most of the last 10 years working with new arrival refugees teaching English as an additional language and then English through art. And now I have my own business in the teaching art from a home studio. So that’s where I’m at, at the moment, yes.
Nic: Right. Such an interesting background, I absolutely love hearing your stories and love seeing what you’re doing on Instagram. But let’s get into that ELA experience a little bit. Can you first just kind of give us a little bit more insight on that experience?
Yaz: I’ve always loved working with kids from low socioeconomic backgrounds. That was what I did in London, in Hackney. And in that I learnt about English as an additional language and I was actually trained to teach this as a subject at university. So when I came home I applied for a few places and this one is a very unique setting. There’s only four in the whole state and basically to qualify to come to that setting you’ve got to be in Australia for less than six months?
Yaz: Yes, yes. So that’s the only way you can get in. You’ve got to be super fresh and to stay a year you need to have a particular visa and it’s often refugee children. And so for a long time I worked as an English teacher there. Then I had babies, and in Australia you’re allowed to teach any subject.
Nic: Can I clarify that? So you’re saying that you have an educational degree and then that qualifies you for anything under the educational umbrella, is that correct?
Yaz: Yeah. So it’s called generalist. You’re allowed to teach, they can tell you to do PE or art or maths. That’s between the ages of 5 and 12, you’re considered a generalist teacher.
Yaz: Yes. I know, right? That’s why I love hearing about your system up there because I’m like, “Wow, that’s amazing.” So basically I had babies and I was gifted art as my subject. And at the start I was like, “Oh my God, what am I going to do?” And I realized that could be my vehicle to teach English to these non English speaking preliterate kids.
Yaz: And it changed my life essentially.
Nic: Okay. Well, let’s talk about how I got to know you a little bit. So you are teaching in this very small setting, right?
Nic: At the time and you were working with EAL students.
Yaz: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Nic: And you’re teaching art. So what are you finding is the experience for your students as art students with this EAL setting?
Yaz: Do you know what’s amazing? So a lot of our kids were born in refugee camps. One of them, the one that I’ll tell you about, she was basically found almost dead and a family took her and said, “Your ours and you’re our cousin.” And when we met her she was emaciated. She didn’t have any teeth. She just looked very unwell and very sad and her eyes were very vacant. Anyway, so in my art room, which was the size of a cupboard, literally that’s where it was, it used to be a cupboard, literally a cupboard. No sink, 15 kids in a room the size of a cupboard. I think it was 7.6 meters by 3.5 or something like that. It was tiny. Anyway, I had them for an hour a week and I would never press them to talk to me and I would just demonstrate the activity, show photos, video footage of the artists, and tell their story. I realized it’s the story not just the technique that is crucial for those kids, and any kid really.
Nic: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Right.
Yaz: So a lot of our kids came from quite conservative backgrounds, so I used art as a medium to rock their boat. In this situation I introduced the kids to Louis Bourgeois’ Maman and we were just sculpting foil spiders. We were at a very limited budget. So we’re like, “Let’s just make some spiders,” and this girl that was found at a refugee camp smiled when I took her photo and it made the other teachers cry because they’re like, “We’ve not seen her smile.” And I said, “It’s almost like she remembered what it felt like to be a kid.”
Yaz: Her eyes lit up and she smiled. And my colleagues cried and they said, “Oh, how did you do that?” I was like, “I don’t know, I just made spiders with her.” And I showed her it was an old lady that did it and she was so cool. And the boys who were conservative, the Afghani boys, the Iraqi-Irani boys, they were so sure that the spider was made by a young male.
Nic: Of course.
Yaz: They were like, “Oh yes. Man made this. Young man.” I;m like, “Oh yeah. Really? All right. Yeah, cool.” And so then I do the big reveal and it’s Louise Bourgeois and her crown and I’m like, “Yep, it was this lady.” So that was a really powerful lesson for me, that connection to the story and the person and playing with what they bring to the table. What do they bring to the table?
Nic: There must have been some drive to share what you were learning in your classroom with others because you started on Instagram basically with Tiny Cupboard Creatives, right?
Yaz: Yeah, Tiny Cupboard Creatives, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Nic: So tell me about that transition, about what provoked you to start that and then we can get into kind of where it has led you now.
Yaz: Yes. So when I met you, Nic, it started because I had this strong feeling that I needed to do something else. Now, I don’t even know if you know this but I really dealt imposter syndrome a lot at the start because I wasn’t a trained art teacher.
Nic: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.
Yaz: I just was thrown into it. But I’d done it for five years and I’ve been validated in lots of ways in an education setting, but to go public with it, I felt afraid, right?
Yaz: But I knew I had something to share. And I remember what happened was the six months before I started Tiny Cupboard Creatives I entered our school into a community art show and we came second. Me, an untrained art teacher came second and the judge said, “Wow, I really love how you’ve taught the kids about the artist. So I basically simulated Tony Albert’s We Can Be Heroes Exhibition. So Tony Albert’s an Indigenous Australian artist who went into the Outback, dressed Indigenous Aboriginal children in superhero costumes and took photos of them in the Outback.
Yaz: So I was like, “Right. Minority group, minority group. I’m going to do that for my kids.” And we all relate to superheroes.
Yaz: So the kids made up their costumes, we talked about angles, we took out the iPads and we took photos of them in the yard dressed up in their costumes that they had made. And I submitted their photos in the exhibition and we won something.
Nic: That’s amazing.
Yaz: So after that exhibition I’m like, “Right.” I saw at that art show how unusual my submission was. I had something to share. So I started up Tiny Cupboard Creatives to initially share with other art educators elsewhere to see if my practice was something that I could offer to the world. And it was, it turns out.
Yaz: My ideas were fresh. Kind of. Not saying that other ideas aren’t fresh, but I remember talking to a trained art teacher in Melbourne and she said to me, “Don’t feel the need to train because that’s what makes you special. You literally jump out of the box. You just kind of launch and that’s a good thing.”
Nic: Yeah, it is a good thing. It is a good thing. And I think part of your story here is a message for others. We have something to share.
Nic: There is something that we can share with others and you took the leap and made it happen and it’s really led you down a very interesting path.
Yaz: Very interesting. So Interesting, Nic. I mean, I told myself a year ago, it’s a year ago this month that I started Tiny Cupboard Creatives, in a year’s time you’re going to be working for yourself under this name.
Nic: That’s powerful.
Yaz: I would have been like, “There’s no way, no way.”
Yaz: But I started. I met you, I met amazing other amazing art teachers on Instagram and realized, oh my gosh, we have so much to share and it’s abundant. There’s enough for everybody to share.
Nic: Yes. That’s right.
Yaz: Yeah and that’s how I feel about my new journey, is that there’s this feeling of abundance. And when someone says, “You’ve really inspired me,” I’m like, “Well, that’s lovely.” To inspire one but to inspire many, I mean, the world needs a bit of light at the moment especially.
Nic: Yes. You have had some life changes in your world that kind of led you to have some realizations and some mindset changes. Are you willing to share a little bit about that?
Yaz: Yeah, of course. So amidst starting an idea, planting the idea in Instagram, shortly after I met you actually Nic, because Nic commissioned a piece of my art, which is amazing.
Nic: I did.
Yaz: Very exciting. I found out that I had early stage breast cancer. Yeah, so that was paralyzing initially for me. But I learnt through cancer to find light where you can find it and it turns out I found a lot of light in that moment. I had to have a double mastectomy as a result. And I feel very lucky because I didn’t have to have all the other treatments.
Nic: Right. It was caught fairly early?
Yaz: Yes, very lucky and very blessed. There was no lump. So it was found by a stroke of luck or a stroke of blessing.
Yaz: Yeah, and it went from, “Oh, it’s nothing,” to, “Okay we have to have a 12 hour surgery now.”
Yaz: Yeah, very quickly. And so that led to me being immobile for about two months. And that’s a lot of time and I realized in that time I’ve had a few aha moments like, “Oh wow.” I realized that you need to self ignite even when you were immobile.
Yaz: So I used that time to idea generate, to plant, to write the ideas down for what I would do when I was mobile. And one of the things that I cried about when I thought this is it for me before I went into surgery, because I honestly thought that, that was the end of my journey. I felt like I hadn’t finished my journey on this earth. I needed to be on the earth to do what I needed to do.
Yaz: And one of them was to leave the system that I’d been with for 17 years and leap into starting something for myself.
Nic: That’s powerful.
Yaz: Yes. To connect with a good more global community. And here I am doing it.
Nic: Here you are. So you are no longer teaching in the same setting that you were.
Nic: But you’ve shifted quite a bit.
Nic: And it’s really a fun experience that I’m watching across the world on Instagram.
Yaz: Isn’t that wild.
Nic: Let’s talk about your video classes that you’re doing right now.
Yaz: So before corona, it was really awesome. I ran summer classes or holiday programs here. I did like a mums and bubs look or a my parent and me art session, but I also did a four year olds up until 12 year olds. I would take an age bracket, so five to seven, eight plus, take them in small groups and teach them about the artists and share my teaching practice with them. And a lot of these kids are the polar opposite to my refugee children. They come from very well to do schools.
Yaz: So in my mind my perspective had to shift again and I had to think, what can I offer these kids that they’re not getting in their fancy schools.
Yaz: I mean fancy compared to my refugee children, right?
Yaz: And so what I did was I really played on the story of the artist. So if we did Matisse, I focused on his life during his later years when he was unwell and he would be painting from bed with a big stick. And a lot of these kids had a lot to say. When I took them to the Keith Haring and Basquiat Exhibition, they would say things like, “Why did that take him two days to paint? That’s ages.” And it was this giant wall sized mural, a giant, multiple stories. So what I did with those kids was I took them home after we’d looked at the characteristics of Keith Haring’s art and we came up with our own symbols, and la, la, la. I gave them real wall paint and they painted a wall in my house.
Yaz: But I gave them a limit and said, “You’ve got an hour to paint on this wall in my house.” And they said, “No, that won’t take us an hour,” and la, la, la. It’s going to be really quick.” Anyway, the same child that said to me, “Why did it take him too long, because that’s ages, two days is ages,” she said to me five minutes in, “Oh, my wrist hurts. I can’t get the lines straight.” I’m like, “No kidding.” So I do feel like part of my role as an educator in any setting is to blow their brains a bit.
Nic: Yep, exactly.
Yaz: So really challenge their assumptions and their perceptions of what things might be like. So for Frida Kahlo the kids were like, “Oh, it’s easy, it’s easy.” So what I did was I stapled paper to the chairs under the chairs, and I made them draw their face while lying down underneath the chair with a mirror.
Yaz: And they’re like, “I’m dizzy. This hurts. It’s hard.” I’m like, “It is, and imagine being Frida up for three months in a body cast.”
Nic: Yes. So you give them the experience of the artist or you have. Those are some of your lessons that you’ve been doing with your kiddos that you’re working with.
Yaz: Yes. So my aim is to generate a connection, not just the technique. It’s more of the connection. And I always tell the parents, “If you want a Manet or some sort of fantastic product at the end, I’m not for you.”
Nic: Right. Wow. That’s good.
Yaz: I’m not for you, straight out. I’m all about the story, the sensory experience, the connections they’re making and the empathy they generate from experiencing that technique in a way closest that replicates whatever that artist did at the time.
Nic: And that leads itself to that abundance idea that you mentioned earlier too because what you’re saying is this is the experience that is true to me and the one that I want to give to students and if you’re aligned with that, bring your kids in. I’m all about it.
Yaz: Yes, that’s right. And if the kids go rogue, so what I’ll do is I’ll differentiate my activities as I would in class, so the kids that are really, really resistant, I will scaffold the activity from start to finish so they can just copy.
Yaz: It’s the flickers, when you light a match and there’s that flicker, when you see them switch over and then they just go for it.
So I see my role as a flicker generator. I want that spark. And then I let them go. Go child, do what you need. Light your fire. Do it. And then I’ll be like, “That is amazing.” And that’s something that I’ve always wanted to have an exhibition on, to be honest with you, is that the flow that kids have that adults grapple with.
Nic: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Yaz: They tap into it so quickly. So easily.
Nic: So easily, so fearlessly. There’s no critic there yelling at them that it’s not good enough.
Yaz: Right, including themselves.
Nic: Yes, and I look at them and I think, “Wow, you are really smashing out that watercolor.”
Nic: That brush is swirling into the base of that watercolor pallet. And usually I would be like, “No.” But I’m like, “That is amazing. You are so fearless. There’s a lot of water in there. It’s the bottom of the pallet, kid. All right.” And wen a five year old says to me, “I’m not finished,” I’m forced to say, “Okay, finish it then.”
Yaz: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Nic: And I love that.
Nic: Yes. With your own space, your own time, your own rules, that’s a great change right there. Now I’d love to talk more about that, but let’s move into the online classes that you’re doing right now.
Yaz: Oh, yes.
Nic: I’m assuming that is due to our current situation of corona.
Yaz: Yes. So basically that all happened when corona happened. We were all forced to stay home like the rest of the world. And again, paralysis. I was like, “What am I going to do? How sad. I feel really sad. I’ve just sent out all these invoices. I’ve just started.” And there was a few weeks of grief and then you find the light where you need to find it. And I’m doing something that I told myself I would never do, which is teach on YouTube. And at the start it was all about I’m going to just do a few free and then make people subscribe. And it turns out I don’t want to do that in this time.
Nic: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Yaz: I need to add value and use my superpower to shine light. Now for parents who are at home who are really struggling. And I get messages every day, it’s been maybe five or six weeks of it, since Australia went into lockdown.
Yaz: And it’s amazing, Nic, how many people are following these. They’re not flashy videos. It’s just me in my home with my kids sometimes sharing what I know. No intro, no outro, just me and my ideas. And the response has been really beautiful globally from France to the U.K. to the States, to Australia. And it has really blown my brains out.
Nic: Well, this is the amazing thing for me is that you have mentioned so many times throughout this conversation, “I was nervous. I didn’t want to do it and then I did it.”
Nic: And it turned out amazing.
Nic: You are so brave in your actions.
Yaz: Yes, yeah. Yes, thank you. I’m learning to say thank you. There was a lot of hesitation there, but yes, I am brave. I wonder if it’s a cultural thing or a social thing, but we’re kind of discouraged growing up to avoid discomfort. And I’ve learnt in the last year that discomfort is where the growth’s at. So when there is discomfort, any form of discomfort, there is going to be this massive growth after it. But you’ve got to lean into it.
Nic: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Yaz: Really, really lean. It’s so uncomfortable. And I’m not saying in that lean it’s gracious, it’s full of swearing and crying and resistance and moaning. But then you just have to do it because that is not a way to live your life.
Yaz: You’ve got to step in, feel the burn.
Nic: Feel the burn.
Yaz: And watch the growth. No mud, no lotus. No mud, no lotus. You’ve got to step in.
Nic: Yaz, we’re going to definitely put a link to everything that you’ve been mentioning. I know people want to see more of this and understand more.
Yaz: Oh, bless.
Nic: But before we are done with this, can I please have you talk a little bit about your art and just kind of what you have been doing in your personal art?
Yaz: Oh, yes. So, over the course of a year, I think you were at the beginning of that, Nic. I started thinking about my roots. A lot of them, are, I’m Filipino, background Filipino with a bit of Chinese, but I grew up in Australia and I realized I know nothing about my roots. So I started exploring Filipino botanics and then as a result Australian botanics because that’s what I know.
Yaz: So a lot of my commissions are based on my very distinct thick black lines and my very, very, very bright colors. And part of the enjoyment for me is the doubling of what colors work together and what mediums work together. And that’s what I’m doing now as my commissions or as my art packs that I’ve been sending out around the world, I guess, one of them is my Botanic Doodles. So I’ve actually launched a piece of my heart out into the world in coloring in book form, and that’s what I do. It really inspires my lessons and art inspires art, right?
Yaz: So I might see another artist and I dabble that I apply with my own art, and then I like the art that I make and then I play some more. So it’s making space to play, I think that’s where my inspiration when I work come from. If I’m feeling stressed, there’s no space to generate new ideas.
Yaz: So it’s key for me to allow time as well as mental just wellbeing space to allow the art to happen. Love it.
Nic: Yeah, so that’s my process behind what I do personally, if that helps. Yes. And again, those art packs, every single time I see you posting about sending it out, I’m like, “Ah, that is so cool. She is so cool.” You are so cool.
Yaz: You know what it is, Nic? It’s childhood.
Nic: It’s awesome. These are all things that we’re going to include in the resources with this podcast as well.
Yaz: Yes, yes, absolutely.
Nic: So other people will probably see that. Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Yaz: Yes, absolutely. Guys, just remember what made you happy as a kid and tap into that joy. I learnt that from a TedX Talk that I listened to two weeks ago. When you think about childhood you think about joy and what makes you happy, and funnily enough, it’s the same as an adult. That’s like, why didn’t someone tell me that ages ago? The feeling of running to a letter box, getting an envelope that’s personalized, opening up a pack, and seeing your face, I want to bring that magic to these digital kids.
Yaz: And that’s what I’m doing through the art pack, which wouldn’t have happened had corona not happened, and I’m grateful.
Nic: Isn’t that interesting?
Nic: Yaz, we’ve got to wrap things up because of the time.
Yaz: All good, Nic, all good.
Nic: But can I just say thank you at one more time for joining us today and just really sharing your story? I appreciate it.
Yaz: Oh, Nic, and thank you for having me. What an absolute honor. It really is. And it’s, wow, just amazing to be on your podcast with you, to be honest. You’re awesome.
Nic: Thanks, Yaz. One of the big ideas that I heard Yaz bring up a couple of times is abundance mentality. And often I tell you about all the resources we have at the Art of Education University because we do have a bunch and there is lots for you to look at. But today I’m waiting to take my closing thoughts and talk to you a little bit about the philosophy, at least one portion of the philosophy, of the Art of Education. It aligns closely with what Yaz Gate had to say, this idea of abundance mentality. You heard her talk about how she had something to share with the world. It’s different than what I have to share with the world, it’s different than what any other art teacher out there has to share with the world. Find what makes you unique, find what is a passion for you, and if you’re brave enough like Yaz, be sure to share it because there’s enough room for all of us.
Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.