Though many parents in Hong Kong place a strong emphasis on academic subjects, the German Swiss International School (GSIS) also offers a solid education in both art and music for students of all skill levels. Head of art (English Stream), Nicola Culican, who is also a practising artist, knows only too well that students need extra support if they are to pursue creative activities. “Art is actually an academic subject and one of the biggest industries in the world,” Culican says. “Our students reach a high level of skill, while developing the ability to think conceptually. It’s more than drawing and creating – it’s observing the world and responding to it. This kind of skill can enhance other subjects as well as the individual, because it’s personal.” According to Culican, students are allowed to opt out of creative subjects at both GCSE and International Baccalaureate (IB) level, and it’s easy for practical subjects to appear more important. But the skills of observing, analysing, understanding and interpreting fit the IB Learner Profile descriptors: these say students should be communicators, principled, open-minded, risk takers, balanced, reflective, caring, knowledgeable, inquirers and thinkers. Tanya Shah, a Year 13 IB art student, says art has helped her develop and refine her ideas. “I’ve been forced to broaden my perspective and consider intentions much more closely. I’ve learned to think critically and engage in self-reflection,” she adds. Shah believes people often fail to realise how important creativity is. “It’s inherent in communication and problem- solving,” she says. When she was younger, Shah assumed that a good artist merely had to make something nice to look at. Today, she thanks her parents for supporting her in studying the subject, and her teachers for understanding how personal and individual it is. She has been accepted at Dartmouth College in the US to study liberal arts, where she is looking forward to further exploring interdisciplinary thinking, although she’ll always value the hours she has spent in the art room with supportive friends and teachers. Creativity brings new, simpler solutions to demanding longwinded issues – it’s like a shortcut to solving problems Hain Yoon is also studying IB art, although she plans to major in psychology at university. “Being exposed to a lot of artwork means that you look at things differently, especially when you start doing your own work,” she says. Having tried painting, drawing, printmaking, photography and even installation art, Yoon sees a positive effect on her own perspectives, how she interprets things, and even her work ethic. One of the most important moments for her was selling her paintings at a charity exhibition. This was to raise funds for an arts and crafts programme for the HOPE Centre for Ethnic Minorities. “To me, creativity is the ability to tranform your thoughts and ideas into something real. I’ve learned conceptual thinking, practical knowledge and I find hidden correlations and inconspicuous patterns between two seemingly unrelated subjects,” she says. “Creativity brings new, simpler solutions to demanding, long-winded issues – it’s like a shortcut to solving problems.” Yoon’s long-term plan is to bring together psychology and art in a potential art therapy career. Other art students at the school have gone on to study a wide range of art-related subjects. “We’ve had students go into architecture, advertising, photography, textiles and fine art; liberal arts is also popular,” Culican says, adding that more traditional professions are usually preferred to art, despite the wide range of opportunities open to art graduates. Meanwhile, the music programme at GSIS allows students to perform and develop their skills, as well as work together collaboratively through a range of extracurricular activities. Half of the students take part in the inclusive programmes, which are open to all skill levels. With top-range facilities such as Roland MIDI keyboards, music technology suites and rehearsal and performance suites, the school can give students exposure to a range of forms, styles and functions of music, which includes teaching historical and cultural contexts. Students also get a chance to perform elsewhere, thanks to the school’s membership of the International Schools Choral Music Society, the International Concert Orchestra of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Schools Music and Speech Association. Head of music (English stream), Canice Gleeson, says: “We recognise and nurture all our students’ potential. Music is a gift we cherish and cultivate in our students.” Like art, studying music is a journey of discovery and it provides good life lessons. “Music enhances teamwork, discipline and the ability to analyse. To sound good, all players have to work together harmoniously and commit to learning, practising and attending rehearsals.” For musician and Year 12 student, Roger Lau, music is inherently group-focused. “You’re always looking for ways to be involved and to give back to the school as a whole – that’s the philosophy of our programme,” he says. You’re always looking for ways to be involved and to give back to the school as a whole – that’s the philosophy of our programme GSIS is unique in its student-led and student-run GSIS Music Ambassadors (GMA) programme. This has enabled Lau to develop his leadership skills, working on behind-the-scenes preparation. By running a series of lunchtime and evening performances throughout the year, students can perform solo and in groups, encouraging participation in different performance art disciplines. “It’s an exciting leadership opportunity for senior students who we invite to assist, mentor and collaborate in running productions,” says Gleeson. “It offers opportunities to exercise leadership and responsibility in a variety of ways catering to the needs of students.” Whether it’s choosing poster design themes, developing student-inspired initiatives such as busking for charities, or the shows themselves, Lau finds working with his peers innovative and satisfying. “The programme is a success, we enjoy our artistic freedom and the student body really buys into what we do. It’s a pleasure to lead and to learn, we each have our own unique abilities to offer ,” he says.