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Description

In this lesson, students explore the arts as a tool for sharing stories, information, and historical realities in ways that can build community and create awareness about and have an impact on social issues. They explore areas where art might drive change to envision artistic strategies that would make that change happen.

Objectives

By the end of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Articulate how art can be a “tool of service” that enlightens, educates, and encourages change
  • Identify ways art has led to social impact
  • Outline an artistic strategy to enhance awareness of and propel action on social issues
Subject Areas
  • Art
  • ELA
  • Social Studies
Categories
  • Music
Provide additional classroom time if students want to flesh out their project ideas.

About the Artist

Rhiannon Giddens

Rhiannon Giddens

Rhiannon Giddens is a celebrated singer, banjo player, and violinist, and the founding member of the African American country band Carolina Chocolate Drops. Her accolades include a Grammy Award, six Grammy nominations, a MacArthur “Genius Grant”, and the Steve Martin Prize for banjo and bluegrass.

Giddens was raised in North Carolina by a bluegrass-playing white father and a black mother. She studied opera singing at Oberlin College in Ohio, but retained her interest in Gaelic and American folk music. In 2005, she founded the old-time string band Carolina Chocolate Drops to explore the African American roots of folk and country music. Their third record, Genuine Negro Jig (2011), won a Grammy for Best Traditional Folk album. The group stopped playing together in 2014.

Gidden released her Grammy-nominated solo debut Tomorrow Is My Turn in 2015 and continues to perform and record in a range of traditional musical styles, including jazz, Celtic, and bluegrass.

Watch

About the Author

Michele Israel

Michele Israel is a seasoned professional with over 25 years in the educational, nonprofit, learning and development, and consulting fields. She has partnered with over 70 organizations to guide the development and implementation of myriad programs and products, including over 100 lesson plans for media companies and nonprofit entities, such as PBS, POV, WETA, Films Media Group, WNET, Wide Angle, and Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly, Frost Valley YMCA, and Teaching Tolerance. Israel draws on her experience as an educator, trainer, and learning experience designer to create engaging learning opportunities for learners of all ages. She has an MA in Educational Administration from Teachers College, Columbia University, and holds other professional certificates in instructional design, curriculum development, and design thinking.

Preparation

Watch the Rhiannon Giddens segment.

For background on art as a tool for service to community/social change, read at least one of the following:

Review the wheel at Arts + Social Impact Explorer, which will shape students’ arts-based project ideas.

Day 1

Step 1

Tell students to think about an artist who has had an impact on the way they think, the way they see the world, the way they see others who are different, their understanding of community concerns, their awareness of social issues, and so on.

Have each student write the name and impact of the artist on a sticky note and then post the sticky note in a designated place in the classroom. Invite the class to review the collection of artists.

Step 2

Ask students to identify patterns that emerge from the collection: type of art form, manner of impact. Draw on student contributions to explain that often, artists are more than their work, that their passion to inspire, educate, and effect change is as intense as their desire to create. Ask: What is the role of art in society? Should it have a hand in social change and social accountability?

Step 3

Introduce students to Rhiannon Giddens, referring to the Articulate segment transcript and artist bio. Explain that Giddens is a musical explorer who views music as a service to educate and empower others. Show students the Giddens segment. After students have watched the segment, ask:

  • What shifted Giddens’ thinking about performance and service? Why is service important to her?
  • How does her music change the thinking of others, and why?
Step 4

Have students revisit their earlier reflections about the role of art in society. Divide them into small groups and assign 3-4 of the categories on the Arts + Social Impact Explorer. Instruct them to review the brief narratives accompanying their categories to determine how art currently plays a role in the areas.

Ask the students to select one category of interest and to think about how  an arts-based project might address an aspect of issues or opportunities in that category. For example, how might art promote civic action or bring an important message to the broader community.

Assignment

Tell students to do a digital search of artists, either the ones they selected during the first lesson or other artists in the same genre, who have used their art to effect change in some way. Explain that they are to look for inspiration that can stimulate their creative thinking and ideas. There are several links to artists under the Resources tab.

Day 2

Step 1

Have students reconvene in their small groups to continue project ideation, sharing ideas they gleaned from their artist research during their assignment. They continue this until they arrive at a “doable” project.

Step 2

Invite each group to share its ideas, focusing on the strategy, the rationale for the approach, the artistic direction they will take, where their project will reside, and what the anticipated outcome is. Peers can offer feedback or ask questions that allow teams to tweak and build out on their ideas. The class debriefs to think about the potential for change as a result of their efforts and whether implementing them is possible.

Optional

Give students additional class time to continue working on their projects and plan strategies for implementing them.

Day 1

Step 1

Tell students to think about an artist who has had an impact on the way they think, the way they see the world, the way they see others who are different, their understanding of community concerns, their awareness of social issues, and so on.

Have each student add the name of the artist to Chat and one sentence indicating how the artist has impacted them. Invite the class to review the collection of artists.

Step 2

Ask students to identify patterns that emerge from the collection: type of art form, manner of impact. Draw on student contributions to explain that often, artists are more than their work, that their passion to inspire, educate, and effect change is as intense as their desire to create. Ask: What is the role of art in society? Should it have a hand in social change and social accountability?

Students can raise their hands and be invited to unmute (or control Muting yourself through the Participants tab.)

Step 3

Introduce students to Rhiannon Giddens, referring to referring to the Articulate segment transcript and artist bio. Explain that Giddens is a musical explorer who views music as a service to educate and empower others. Show students the Giddens segment through Screen Share. After students have watched the segment, ask:

  • What shifted Giddens’ thinking about performance and service? Why is service important to her?
  • How does her music change the thinking of others, and why?
Step 4

Have students revisit their earlier reflections about the role of art in society. Divide them into small groups in Breakout Rooms and assign 3-4 of the categories on the Arts + Social Impact Explorer. Instruct them to review the brief narratives accompanying their categories to determine how art currently plays a role in the areas.

Via broadcast, ask the students to select one category of interest and to think about how an arts-based project might address an aspect of issues or opportunities in that category. For example, how might art promote civic action or bring an important message to the broader community.

How to Broadcast:

  • Click Breakout Rooms in the meeting controls.
  • Click Broadcast a message to all, enter your message and click Broadcast.
Assignment

Tell students to do a digital search of artists, either the ones they selected during the first lesson or other artists in the same genre, who have used their art to effect change in some way. Explain that they are to look for inspiration that can stimulate their creative thinking and ideas. There are several links to artists in the Resources tab.

Day 2

Step 1

Have students reconvene in their small breakout groups to continue project ideation, sharing ideas they gleaned from their artist research during their assignment. They continue this until they arrive at a “doable” project.

Step 2

Invite each group to share its ideas, focusing on the strategy, the rationale for the approach, the artistic direction they will take, where their project will reside, and what the anticipated outcome is. Peers can offer feedback or ask questions that allow teams to tweak and build out on their ideas. The class debriefs to think about the potential for change as a result of their efforts and whether implementing them is possible.

Optional

Give students additional class time to continue working on their projects and plan strategies for implementing them.

Extensions

Extension 1: Cultural Commonalities

Giddens believes that music can underscore similarities among cultures. She notes that while diversity exists, sentiments are often on the same page:

“Cause I saw the damage that that false narrative of us versus them, you do that music, we do this music. We never really interacted. You lived here, I lived here. And that’s all not true. It’s like country music is country music ’cause it’s music of people from the country. Up to 20% of people in Appalachia were black before The Great Migration. We had black string banjo, we had white string banjo, occasionally mixed bands but not very often, and everybody played a common southern repertoire. Everybody played “Leather Britches”, everybody played these songs. They weren’t colorized.”
“It’s just a confirmation of what I’ve always felt. There’s different ways of looking at it. It’s not to say that we aren’t diverse. It’s not to say that we don’t have different ways of expressing things from culture to culture, but when you really get into the underlying sort of sentiment, the underlying experiences, they are all the same, you know? Whether you’re here, or 3,000 miles away, or on the other side of the globe, you’re gonna experience the same things as anybody else. Now the way that you express that in your music’s gonna be different, but then when you look at the story of the human race, the story of the movement of culture, there actually is a lot of commonalities even in the sounds, you know? Things that seem very diverse, when you play them together you’re like, oh, actually, the core is the same. And so it’s not an attempt to erase diversity because that is an indelible part of our world. But in the way that race is an artificial construct and genetically we’re exactly the same, we just present differently, I feel like love and heartbreak is love and heartbreak, is love and heartbreak.”

Students explore how Giddens addresses cultural similarities in her music and then look into how this “sharing” of cultures manifests in other types of music. Sites that can jump start this examination include:

Students work in small groups to determine what shared cultural factors shape music, the way music embraces and manifests those commonalities, and how that shared core can enhance awareness of diversity among people.

 

Extension 2: The Racial Divide – A Calculated Condition

Giddens speaks to the racial divide manufactured to deliberately establish a “divide and conquer” strategy between Black people and poor white people, noting that the practice is not something people readily talk about. Giddens explains how the institutional philosophy of divide and conquer was designed to keep these groups from unifying.

“So, the system was set up like this from the very, very beginning. You got plantation owners writing each other, going this is how you keep your blacks and your poor whites at each other’s throats. People did this on purpose. And the notion of white as a thing is for this reason, and this is the problem.”
“This is the problem that has not been talked about is that when this system is in full effect, the very people who think they’re gonna benefit from it don’t, because there’s still the economic layers that people don’t wanna admit. So, you have poor whites in Appalachia, you have poor whites in the South, they have more in common with the Black folk down the street, but they’ve been told that if they buy into this American dream, they too can step out. And the people at the top are like, ‘That’s what you think.’ And it’s never gonna happen.”

Students learn about divide and conquer. A good starting point is Understanding and Resisting Divide and Conquer Tactics. Here, students see how the practice works and examples of what its impact is. Additional resources to explore include:

Share examples of divide and conquer in history, starting with page 17 of the Building Bridges materials, which lists a series of events. Explore with students how the tactic has divided people. Explore with them how this tactic continues to deepen the racial divide today.

 

Extension 3: The Democratic Power of Music

Like Giddens, Ian Brennan believes that music has the power to create change, if not change the world. Brennan works with artists from around the globe to bring light to their musical cultures. Students watch the Articulate segment, Ian Brennan and the Democratization of Music, with an eye on the Grammy-nominated Zomba Prison Project, an initiative that gives prisoners the opportunity to express themselves in ways that push listeners to think beyond their boundaries.

Students discuss how music can empower, educate, and bring comfort to the world.

Standards

Arts

National Core Arts Standards

Creating | Conceiving and developing new artistic ideas and work.

Anchor Standard #1. Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work.
Anchor Standard #2. Organize and develop artistic ideas and work.

Responding | Understanding and evaluating how the arts convey meaning

Anchor Standard #7. Perceive and analyze artistic work.
Anchor Standard #8. Interpret intent and meaning in artistic work.
Anchor Standard #9. Apply criteria to evaluate artistic work.

 

ELA

Common Core State Standards Initiative

English Language Arts Standards

SL.9-10.4 Present information, findings and supporting evidence clearly, concisely and logically such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, substance and style are appropriate to purpose, audience and task.

SL.11-12.4 Present information, findings and supporting evidence, conveying a clear and distinct perspective, such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning, alternative or opposing perspectives are addressed and the organization, development, substance and style are appropriate to purpose, audience and a range of formal and informal tasks.

SL.9-10.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one- on-one, in groups and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9-10 topics, texts and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

SL.11-12.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11-12 topics, texts and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

 

National Council for the Social Studies Standards

Culture

c. describe ways in which language, stories, folktales, music, and artistic creations serve as expressions of culture and influence behavior of people living in a particular culture.

Civic Ideals and Practices

e. explain actions citizens can take to influence public policy decisions

j. recognize and interpret how the “common good” can be strengthened through various forms of citizen action