IOP@FSU Field-Advancing Research: Developing Civically Engaged Art Education: New Practices, New Voices, New Civics

The Institute of Politics at Florida State University (IOP@FSU) is a world-class, nonpartisan, and nationally renowned institute that promotes engagement in politics by students and citizens. Housed within the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy, the IOP@FSU supports applied political research by a cadre of world-class scholars and mobilizes the talents of our alumni, students, faculty, and friends all in the heart of Florida’s Capital City. This research was funded by the IOP@FSU. Learn more about IOP@FSU here.

Developing Civically Engaged Art Education: New Practices, New Voices, New Civics asked teachers to create evidence-based curriculum focused on civic engagement and political participation in secondary school students, specifically in art and social studies classrooms. The project imagined what civically engaged arts education might look like in communities often excluded from the official narrative of what it means to participate in American civic life, with the aim of providing practical, user-friendly classroom resources for secondary art and civics teachers who are grappling with this question.

This study approached curriculum design from an anticolonialist perspective in recognition of the fact that some communities have historically been marginalized in the United States, due to practices that negate the civic status of some residents in our country. We recruited interdisciplinary teams of art and social studies teachers, working in secondary schools in historically Black, Latinx, or immigrant communities. Our project developed through a series of workshops, where teams met twice a month to discuss how to use local, anticolonialist histories, traditions, narratives, resistance strategies, and artmaking to develop a curriculum centered on civics and art. The workshops were built around the central project of designing curriculum that engages students in a place-based artistic research process that fosters civic engagement.

Curriculum outcomes:

From Deerfield Beach High School, Florida, Allison Bolah (language arts) and Christopher Horne (social studies) developed a unit that uses critique, storytelling, field experiences, historical research, and art making to teach students that their voices and participation are vital to the health of their communities, and that civics exists beyond election cycles. The unit focuses on how municipal spaces surrounding the school honor, or fail to honor, the past and present vitality of the community.

From DREAM Charter Middle School, New York, New York, Marjorie Levinson (social studies) and Kandice Stewart (art) created a unit that scales the global water crisis to the level of students’ lives. The unit is inspired by the local Museo del Barrio, and asks students to curate an exhibition to: disseminate information, engage in dialogue, propose creative responses to the crisis, and catalyze community action.

From Somerville High School, Massachusetts, Jessica Howard (art) and Sol Rheem (social studies) proposed a unit that focuses on time and memory. It supports students who are defining individual authorship strategies in moments of oppression and resistance, by offering examples from contemporary art. The unit gives students the tools to animate their experiences and share them with the school community.

From the Ron Clark Academy, Atlanta, Georgia, Pam Haskins (literature and composition), Susan Barnes (cultural arts) and Dr. Yvette Ledford (writing) presented a unit that asks: How does knowledge of history affect student engagement in their community? How can this knowledge help students retain the historical integrity of Brownsville/Southeast Atlanta? Through a multi-faceted walking tour, students will study how past, present, future converge to advance a people and bolster community.

Key findings:

  • Local communities provide accessible platforms for young people to become civically engaged
  • Teachers’ interdisciplinary relationships can model how to do something meaningful with others
  • Art can introduce inclusive modes of participation that bridge conceptual thinking and local action
  • An effective curriculum for civic engagement begins with a big-picture dispositional perspectives, while centering local issues, student voice, and community outreach supported by art making

Sara Scott Shields, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Art Education at The Florida State University. She currently serves as director of the Masters in Art Education Teacher Certification program and Chair of the Art Education Department.  

Rachel Fendler received her B.A. in Art History from Smith College, before moving to Spain for graduate school. At the University of Barcelona she earned her M.A. in Visual Studies and her Ph.D. in Visual Arts and Education.

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