About Hold Up The Sky

Hold Up The Sky is an interdisciplinary arts education project that ran from 2010 to 2015 at Rose Avenue Public School in Toronto’s St. James Town. Developed to embrace student focused school-wide participation in all arts disciplines, the idea began from a simple understanding that we all share local and global accountability for the health and well being of all…thus we all hold up the sky.

We learn to do this through universal understandings and values, often shared through stories. Stories inspire our art… everything from world folktales to simple proverbs and universal adages. It’s the images gained from listening to these stories that allow us to create beautiful pieces of work.

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Sharing diverse stories enriches our lives,
makes us more creative,
and builds a stronger community.
Wherever I stand I hold up the sky.

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Since the inception of Hold Up The Sky, students at Rose Avenue Public School have participated in music composition and performance with Orff and exotic instruments, dance including Bollywood core and expressive improvisation with batik costume pieces, visual art including the building of a school wide narrative mural and our own Sistine Chapel, story inspired shadow puppetry and film, live action film, literary arts including playwriting, and sculpture including the building of an outdoor mosaic water feature surrounded by clay tiles and hand painted flags.

We have also had a memorable experience creating a choir to perform with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds when they stopped in at Massey Hall as part of their World Tour in 2013.

Hold Up The Sky involves many collaborators including staff and students from Rose Avenue Public School, arts education charities Inner City Angels and Mariposa In The Schools, York University Faculty of Education, George Brown College and our generous sponsor, Manulife Financial. Dozens of artists, arts organizations, teachers, students and student interns have participated over the years.

Inner City Angels and Mariposa In The Schools are also generously funded by the Ontario Arts Council, the Ontario Arts Foundation and the Toronto Arts Council. Without the generosity of our funders this project could not have taken place and had such a positive impact on our community in St. James Town.

Enjoy the photo gallery and descriptions of some of these remarkable projects!



In a unique STEAM project incorporating dance, storytelling, song and sculpture, artists bring new awareness of bees (and especially honeybees) to Rose Avenue PS primary students.

There are thousands of species of bees and among them we have queens, drones and worker bees. They are truly one of the most beautiful and collaborative types of insects on our planet.

But perhaps the biggest foreboding danger of all facing humans is the loss of the global honeybee population. The consequence of a dying bee population impacts humanity at the highest levels on our food chain, posing an enormously grave threat to our survival.

Why are honey bees important?

Since no other single animal species plays a more significant role in producing the fruits and vegetables that we humans commonly take for granted yet require near daily to stay alive.

Honey bees pollinate over 30% of our natural food. Imagine losing 30% of our natural food because we have lost this precious resource.

What is happening to the bees?

It’s called Colony Collapse Disorder.

A 2013 US government study blames a combination of factors for the mysterious and dramatic loss of honey bees, including increased use of pesticides especially in the US, shrinking habitats, multiple viruses, poor nutrition and genetics, and even cell phone towers. The biggest cause is the parasite called the Varroa destructor, a type of mite found to be highly resistant to the insecticides that US beekeepers have used in attempts to control the mites from inside the beehives. Varroa was first discovered in 1987.

To view the report, which represents the consensus of the scientific community studying honey bees, please visit: http://www.usda.gov/documents/ReportHoneyBeeHealth.pdf

What can we do?

One solution toward increasing the bee population is creating awareness! We choose to do that through the arts, learning about this global issue through stories, songs, sculpture and dance. Plant diversity in schools and municipal gardens can enhance both bee habitats and bee health. With increasing interest and awareness in the profound importance of nurturing a much larger bee population globally, the progress dividends for both humanity and the planet will prove immeasurable. We can learn to eat healthily, incorporating organic food where possible, thus reducing demand for pesticides. And…we can even become amateur beekeepers. Toronto offers startup assistance to a growing number of hobbyists of all ages interested in beekeeping. Check out Toronto Bees at http://torontobees.ca/.

See our video featuring storyteller Erika Jaeger, singer/songwriter Kathy Reid-Naiman and sculptors and painters Charmaine Lurch and Mahshid Fadaei. Also see Sarina Condello in her work with students expressing the collaborative nature of bees in dance.

BEES is a Hold Up The Sky project at Rose Avenue PS with arts partners Inner City Angels and Mariposa In The Schools and sponsored by Manulife Financial. Rose Avenue PS is a TDSB eco-platinum school. That means we incorporate a greening initiative in all that is taught, how we run our school and how we design and use our schools grounds. Our central focus is supporting students and staff in caring for and protecting the environment where they spend so many hours every week. The school examines the decisions we make in our schools, inside and out—from modifying practices in our facility to designing the grounds as a place for healthy, enriched learning.

Hold Up The Sky One Hundred Years Ago


Original stained glass WWI memorial of bugle call

Toronto’s Rose Avenue Public School in St. James Town was built in the early twentieth century.

A number of graduates went on to join Allied Forces in Europe to fight in the Great War that began one hundred years ago to the day of this post. World War 1 claimed the lives of more than 9 million combatants including some of our Rose Avenue’s graduates. The school built a stained glass memorial to those who were killed and those who returned. This art piece remains in the school today.

In 2014 Rose Avenue students, under the tutelage of visual artist Charmaine Lurch, commemorated these heroes with a Hold Up The Sky Great War Memorial Wall of art including photo transfers of the original glass paintings located in the gym and brought them into the main hallway outside the school office for all visitors to see.

For more on Canada’s role in the Great War please visit http://www.warmuseum.ca/cwm/exhibitions/guerre/war-impact-e.aspx.


Original stained glass WWI memorial


Young artists from Rose Ave PS pose with artist Charmaine Lurch in front of their WWI Memorial Wall


A wall of poppies


Artist Charmaine Lurch and students paint their poppy field


Memorial Wall with photo transfers of original stained glass art


Recognizing Canada’s leading role as a peacekeeping nation



Hold Up The Sky Stories

A parable is a type of analogy…a brief, succinct story, in prose or verse, that illustrates a moral lesson. It differs from a fable in that a fable or folktale features animals, plants, inanimate objects or forces of nature that are given human qualities and illustrate a moral lesson often expressed at the end explicitly or in a pithy maxim.

Family stories are not folktales but rather personal histories about people, places, and events related to the members of our immediate family or their ancestors. Family stories are often shared at the dinner table, or regaled again and again at family gatherings. They can parallel great epics or notable short stories.

The memorable stories of our lives and of others in our family take on special importance because they are true, even if everyone tells different versions of the same event. These tales are family heirlooms held in the heart not the hand. They are a gift to each generation that preserves them by remembering them and passing them on.

Here are two fables told by Mariposa In The Schools storyteller Marylyn Peringer.

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The Talkative Turtle (origins: Jataka folktale/India)
There once was a king who talked all the time and did not listen to others. His vizier, not daring to reprimand his lord, instead told him a story of a talkative turtle who heard from the birds a description of the beautiful country in the Himalayas further north and decided that he wanted to see it for himself. However, the turtle could not fly so the problem solving birds brought him a stick that he could hold on to and told him to grasp the middle of the stick in his jaws and not to let go. Then the birds picked up both sides of the stick and carried it upwards, As the flew above the earth some children below called out look at that turtle hanging on the stick! And the turtle opened his mouth to answer with what business is it of yours? but as did so he fell to the earth and cracked his shell. All his descendants have borne those marks ever since.


The King of the Banyan Deer (folktale, origins: India)
The King of the Banyan Deer leads a herd of which is imprisoned in the park of a king who likes deer meat. Another herd, the Branch Deer also lives in the park and also has a king. Each day the two herds alternate in choosing by lot one of their number to lie down and provide the king with meat, as this system will prevent panic and wounding of the herds. One day the lot falls to a Branch Deer doe who has just given birth. She asks her king to be spared until her baby no longer needs her. As he refuses to help her, she goes to the king of the Banyan Deer. He reassures her that another will take her place, and lies down himself. The human king is so moved by this that he spares the life of the Banyan Deer king, releases both herds into the nearby forest and promises to hunt no longer.

To hear another of Marylyn’s stories and see the young artists at work please watch this short video by Bronson Allen.


The Collaborative Narrative Mural

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We began Hold Up The Sky with the understanding that while we are a diverse diaspora of Canadians living in one of the country’s most densely populated communities, our personal stories have so much in common. Storytellers Dan Yashinsky and Marylyn Peringer have shared many such global stories, parables, folktales and mythologies with teachers and students. Stories are often told in allegory and metaphor with themes of humanity and our individual role in making a difference in our community wherever that may be.


Visual artist Charmaine Lurch has led the entire school in a visual interpretation of many of these stories, building an exquisite permanent giant mural throughout the school for all visitors to visit and reflect upon. Here are just a few of the creatures found in our collaborative narrative mural and the children who painted them.

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Naïve Art Inspired Brollies

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Inspired by the work of students at Toronto’s Rosedale Heights School for the Arts and with a lesson in Naïve Art and the great Master Henri Matisse, grade 5 students designed and painted over 100 umbrellas, creating a set piece for our Bollywood music and dance showcase. The colourful brollies are now permanently suspended from the Rose Avenue School’s hall ceiling as a reminder of how we hold up the sky. Thanks to artist Moojan Nazmi for her brilliant artistic guidance on this project and to photographers Katherine Fleitas and Kevin Arsenault for capturing the beauty of the designs.

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Singing with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Here was a rare opportunity to collaborate with renowned Australian indie band Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds to support their commitment to young musicians. Nineteen lucky students performed with the band in a concert at Toronto’s Massey Hall. Students in Grades 5 and 6 rehearsed for hours with music teacher Andrew Luck and choirmaster Diane Jamieson to prepare for this once in a lifetime event. Even though the students were unfamiliar with most of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ work, they were all enthusiastic to sing backup in six songs during the Toronto portion of the band’s tour.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds were joined at Massey Hall by Juno Award winning cellist Rebecca Foon (Esmerine, Saltland, Silver Mt Zion) and Polaris Award winning violinist Sophie Trudeau (Godspeed You Black Emperor!, Silver Mt Zion) both of Montreal and Toronto’s own Oscar nominated violinist and composer Owen Pallett.

Check out the video below to hear the students and Diane speak of the experience. http://www.cbc.ca/player/News/Canada/Toronto/ID/2355052706

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To Be Truly Awake


Drumming and chants bounce off gymnasium walls. Each student focuses on an exotic musical instrument including voice to produce an unique ethereal sound. Just outside groups of other students dance freely to the music. With the participation of all Rose Avenue junior students, resident filmmaker Bronson Allen directs a moving indoor and outdoor interdisciplinary art piece incorporating expressive dance (flock landing) and South Asian music with artists Gurpreet Chana, Kaeja d’Dance and music teacher Andrew Luck.

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This is a celebratory piece to welcome the summer solstice. We see the surrounding urban landscape comprised of a unique and diverse community committed to their part in holding up the sky. Dance music by Edgardo Moreno. Photos by Bronson Allen and Kevin Arsenault. Check out Bronson’s video below to see these remarkable performances.


Beautiful Bollycore

How do you instill energy and joy in our learning of Indian culture?

Just try a Bollywood dance class!

Sanskrit Art choreographer Puja Amin takes primary and junior students through an intensive Bollycore dance program culminating into a public performance for the entire community of St. James Town.

Check out this rehearsal video with these dance loving kindergartens.

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Here is what happens when you invite young dancers to showcase their music and dance talent to the entire community.


Set the stage for the shadow puppet film


Place the beautiful brollies on and around the stage



Prepare dancers and backdrop




…and dance!


…and play!


And play some more!



And then take it outside…


and tell the community you are here!



Thanks for dropping by!

3, 2, 1 Action! We’re Filming Puppets


Grades 4, 5 and 6 collaborated on shadow puppets with artist Amelia Jimenez and tabla compositions with musicians Ed Hanley to create a short film and sound projection of their puppet stories on a school hallway wall for all to see as they ascend the stairs. The project was inspired by Ashley Bryan’s adaptation of the Zambian folktale, Beautiful Blackbird, the story of the most beautiful bird in the forest envied by all others, and a simple lesson on the beauty found in us all. Filmmakers Bronson Allen and Pedro Peres joined the students in putting the images to film.


The following year junior grade students studied The Woman Who Outshone The Sun, a tale based on a Spanish poem by Alejandro Cruz Martinez about a wonderful and strange women who arrives in a village only to be shunned by its inhabitants. When she leaves so to do all the animals, birds and nature itself.


The villagers quickly learn of her importance to their lives and urge her to return…and she does. Students built a shadow puppet play inspired by this poem as a visual backdrop to the year end Bollywood dance and tabla concert. Photos by Katherine Fleitas.

See the next blog called Beautiful Bollywood to see how the backdrop worked to support the Bollywood dance.

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A Bird and Fish Sanctuary in the Water Closet

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The Bantu story, Why The Tides Ebb and Flow, as told by Marylyn Peringer, introduced remarkable creatures, plants and life cycles. Grade 1 students chose a number of species of birds, turtles, water plants, fish and a whirlpool to showcase in a small space. Each student contributed their chosen illustration and painting to the school’s water closet under the guidance of artists Marsha Stonehouse and Jane Gulland. Photos by the artists.