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Art and activism go hand-in-hand. Art is often the glue that solidifies and unifies people under one cause. Banners, posters, puppets, sculptures, musical concerts, public performances, photography, and films can all call attention to societal ills. At the secondary level, many of our students are becoming aware of the vast array of social issues that exist and often find at least one cause they feel passionate about.
If you’d like to teach your students about how the arts can challenge people to act in order to create change, you may want to try out the Non-Profit Logo Design project outlined below. Before starting, be sure to set some ground rules in your classroom so everyone feels respected. Writer Melissa Purtee has some great ideas for bringing current events into the classroom which you can check out here.
This project asks each student to find a cause they feel passionate about and begins to show students how art can be used to create change. To start, you might want to create a slideshow that has some different ideas listed. The goal is to give each student a chance to come up with something that bothers them about society. The topic should be something the student cares enough about in an area where they actively want to initiate change.
Once students have identified a social concern they want to grapple with, the next phase is to envision and create a new non-profit organization which will fight to change the social concern. Through this process, students transform into active citizens.
In my classroom, students are required to come up with the following:
You could require students to go even further and generate a plan of action or even to take action on behalf of their organizations.
Once students have an issue and an organization, the next step is to create the logo. My students are required to include a symbolic image and use the artistic conventions and content we are studying at the time. We use paint in my room, but these logos could also be created on the computer in a graphics program.
Once the logo is complete and the mission statement has been written, the next step of activism is communicating with the public. Students need to present their work to the class in order to spread awareness and also face criticism. With every activist struggle, there is an opposing force of resistance. Students must be aware that change does not come easily. If desired, you can bring in the Civil Rights Movement for a cross-curricular connection here.
During this phase, students are able to identify the counterarguments that will exist in oppositional groups which do not see society through the same lens. After all, if we do not understand the thinking of those who disagree with us, it is nearly impossible to engage in a meaningful dialogue.
The arts are among the most powerful tools we have for communication and unifying people to stand together. While people are entitled to their own opinions, our job as educators is to cultivate tools to help students better themselves and their communities. When students are surrounded by the devastation of poverty, or have no access to healthy food, or are fighting against the policies of mass incarceration, or are passionate about improving living conditions, we can provide them opportunities to envision a way to initiate change. We, as educators, can provide opportunities for students to voice their concerns, communicate with others, and even become active.
Regardless of our own personal stance or beliefs, if we want something to change, we have to act. Art can be the first step in an activist movement, or it can be a driving tool to generate momentum. As educators, it is our duty to empower students. We must be able to make them believe they have the ability to make a difference and they can improve the world in which they live.
What are your thoughts on art and activism?
What types of projects have you implemented that encourage or focus on activism?