Activity Guide: Public Art as an Avenue for Respect and Social Justice | Not in Our Town

Activity Guide: Public Art as an Avenue for Respect and Social Justice

Grade Level: 
Middle School (6-8)
High School (9-12)

As a result of the murder of Marcelo Lucero, there were many positive efforts in the community to embrace diversity and build respect for all. One of these was the creation of public art to reflect feelings and attitudes about the murder and to create a positive and hopeful message for the future. The use of art can be a wonderful way for students to express ideas about diversity, respect and social justice concerns.

The following guideline provides instruction on how to lead such a process with students.

Age-level: middle and high school students

Note: This activity process will need to take place over several class periods or student-group meetings. If not an art teacher, consider joining with one to assist and support this process.


Ideas for Implementation:
1.     Consider using the “Embracing Differences” video as a prompting guide with the class or student group.
2.     After discussing the students’ reactions to the video, explain that they will now be able to develop their own artwork to spread a message about the importance of respecting diversity and combating hate. 
3.     Assign students to either work independently or in small groups to complete the project. If working in groups, direct each group to work together to come up with artwork and an accompanying message that exemplifies their themes. Explain that everyone should have a role in the development – some group members may work on the message or language, others on the design or artwork. The artwork can be newly developed or created using photos or images from magazines, Internet, etc.  The accompanying language or message could be original work or draw from existing poetry, writings or quotes.
4.     After providing time in and out of class for the artwork to be developed, have students present their works to one another and describe the message and meaning of their efforts. 
5.     This project could be used in several ways beyond the specific class/group assignment:
·       Display the artwork in the classroom or around the school to highlight the important messages and ideas.
·       Invite the students to bring their artwork to a school board or staff meeting to discuss their learning from the activity and the important messages that they want to convey about their school environment...
·       Plan a meeting with local government or human relations committee to explore ways to use the artwork in the larger community. The artwork may lend themselves for use at community events, community beautification projects, or other city-wide campaigns, etc.
·       Invite students to develop additional ideas to use their art projects with the larger school community!


NIOS Categories: 


The fact of the matter is, they’re children and adolescents, NOT ADULTS.  They think and act like children and adolescents.  Current research on brain development tells us that the frontal lobe of the brain (the part responsible for judgment and reasoning) surges in growth at about age 11 and isn’t done until about age 24.  So, when we ask a youth why they ride a skate board down a railing without a helmet, no matter what they say, the answer is the same as to why someone would send their nude pictures through the phone or over the internet.  They have not yet developed the judgment and reasoning to know and understand that it may be unsafe for them.

Our job as adults is to keep them as safe as possible.  This doesn’t mean that they will never get hurt, but we must do everything in our power to protect them.  Which adults are responsible to protect them? ALL OF US!  It’s shameful that this is even a debate.  The quote, “It takes a village”, has never been more true.  It’s not that the kids are changing, the technology  and adult response has. Thinking about movies like “The Outsiders”, bullying has always existed in some way.  However, youth can no longer escape it.  The most effective response we’ve seen is complete climate change in schools which includes involved parents.  Schools and parents must team together.  This is one of the core component of the programs we develop with schools.

Parents need to know that children and adolescents are not safe just because they are home.  If they have access to the internet (on cell phones or computers), unsupervised, they are as much at risk  as if they were hanging out outside the home.  Children who isolate are are greater risk for self injurious behavior and suicide.  Talk to your children and adolescents and more importantly, LISTEN.  Long car rides are often the best place to get them to talk.

Schools need to take the issue of bullying seriously.  Stop thinking of it as simply meeting a criteria or another legislative overreaching demand.  Creating an atmosphere of safety and zero tolerance, where bullying is simply understood as unacceptable, is critical to the long lasting change and ensuring youth security and well being.  Assemblies with staff will not accomplish this.  It’s about culture change.

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