What was once created to combat the decline in funding for the arts in Ontario classrooms is now one of the Faculty’s of Education premier events. And after a seventh successful Arts Matter Conference this week, the message was clear that arts are monumentally important in today’s classrooms.The full-day conference, held Wednesday at Brock University’s Hamilton campus, featured four rolling sessions in each of the arts disciplines — drama, music, dance, and visual arts — as well as a captivating and entertaining live performance by Shaun Boothe.In addition to a wealth of resources and knowledge, many of the teacher candidates in attendance came away with a calming reassurance that integrating the arts across the curriculum is not the anxiety-inducing task it may initially seem.“It really pushed me out of my comfort zone,” said Aline Saffran. “I was afraid to be a drama teacher, which is why I pursued history, but in the drama class we focused on a historical topic and I thought it was cool that, as a history teacher, I could incorporate drama into the class.”A true benefit to the conference is the experience of the clinicians, all of who are skilled and knowledgeable in teaching the arts to an array of audiences.Shauna Daley, a teacher and artist, was the visual arts clinician and has been, in one way or another, part of the Arts Matter conference — both as a teacher education student and a clinician — for the past six years.Daley, an ardent advocate for the arts, recognizes the importance of these types of conferences and the additional instruction provided to future teachers.“I think that this conference is wonderful because it is another extension for the teacher candidates to use art in the classroom,” says Daley. “It broadens their scope to how meaningful the arts can be and opens their eyes to ways to different ways the arts can benefit education.”Initially, for some, the idea of dancing, drawing, acting and playing instruments struck somewhat of a juvenile chord, but those perceptions were quickly altered when the big picture, in some cases quite literally, began to take shape.“We were each given a piece of a picture and we were to recreate that picture,” said Adesewa Laoye. “In the end, the pieces we created were put together. It was really cool. It promotes a form of togetherness and teamwork and that’s something I would do as a teacher in my classroom because it shows that everyone can be creative and work together to create something beautiful.”Through chatter between workshops, over lunch and during sessions, it was clear the teacher candidates attending the conference were absorbing the new ideas and approaches to arts in the classroom, developing that confidence for translation into their own classrooms.“We did a story drama and we learned how to use a picture book about an intense topic and break it down into short exercises to have students embody the role of the characters,” said Madeleine DeLuca. “I think drama is a great way to incorporate students to really understand what they are reading instead of just reading the text itself.”For more information on the conference visit the Arts Matters website.