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Feb 27
Surrey teacher wins national award for work promoting arts to youth

Dennis Memmott story.jpg

Clayton Heights Secondary teacher Dennis Memmott, seen here experimenting with photography with his students, recently won an award from the National Art Education Association.

An art teacher at Clayton Heights Secondary is the latest recipient of the National Art Education Association's British Columbia Art Educator Award, in recognition of his creative and thought-provoking work with youth in the arts.

Dennis Memmott, the school's visual arts department head, started teaching in the district in 2006, but his passion for the arts began much earlier in his life.

"Growing up, I was always involved in the arts – photography through skateboarding and snowboarding," he said. "I never took art in high school, I just did art on the side."

While his initial career path led him to youth work in Vancouver, his time running a youth drop-in centre involving arts programs arguably planted the seed guiding him toward his teaching career. He earned his teaching degree at UBC and soon joined Surrey Schools at Princess Margaret Secondary before moving to Clayton Heights Secondary.

Memmott currently teaches five photography courses, and is known for practising alternative forms of photography and image making, including solargraphy (long exposures with homemade pinhole cameras) and glitch art (digital manipulation of an image's code).

"I play around with anything I can make an image with," he said, noting he encourages his students to experiment with new ways to make images beyond traditional methods of photography. "So many techniques in photography came out of accidents and experiments, so that's the kind of mindset I try to get them in – sometimes your accidents are better than what you meant to do."

Additionally, his work in the arts with youth has led to prosperous relationships with the City of Surrey's Community Arts program and various ongoing collaborations and events, such as an annual art exhibit at a community coffee house.

"We try to provide as many opportunities to students as we can," he said.

When it comes to the NAEA award, Memmott said he's honoured to be recognized by his peers for work he already finds rewarding. Memmott will receive the award at the NAEA National Convention in Minneapolis, Minn., running March 26-28.

"It's kind of an affirmation that the career shift that I made  from doing youth work to combining my passion for art and my passion to see youth succeed – it makes me go, 'I made the right decision,'" he said. "I think I have the best job in the world."


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