Skip to main navigation Skip to content

Description

In this lesson, students explore how art can be a tool for addressing and taking action on social justice issues. They examine the various ways artists across genres create messages to encourage awareness and engagement that affect social change. Students consider issues of importance in their community or the world at large to ideate an arts-based solution.

Objectives

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

  • Characterize the role of an arts-based approach to awareness of and engagement in social justice issues
  • Illustrate the strategies artists use to heighten understanding of pressing social issues and change therein
  • Formulate ideas for a creative/artistic approach to highlighting and taking an active stand on a pertinent social issue
Subject Areas
  • Art
  • Civics
  • ELA
  • Social Studies
Categories
  • Dance
If students have the option to create projects they have outlined, then allot post-lesson time for this work.

About the Artist

Camille A. Brown

Camille A. Brown is a prolific Black female choreographer reclaiming the cultural narrative of African American identity. Her bold work taps into both ancestral stories and contemporary culture to capture a range of deeply personal experiences. Brown is a four-time Princess Grace Award winner, a Ford Foundation Art of Change Fellow, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award winner, Guggenheim Fellowship recipient, and TED Fellow, among others. Her work has been commissioned by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Broadway theaters, and other prominent institutions.

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 Camille Brown segment.

Prepare to negotiate students’ various socio-political beliefs and values.

It’s important to respect different perspectives but even more important to create a safe learning environment. Help students constructively navigate their points of view in ways that are respectful to peers. The following resources offer strategies for balancing differing socio-political stances in the classroom:

For procedure 2 of Day 2, select ahead of time a variety of artists across genres who have addressed social justice and have affected social change (can be nominal or phenomenal).

Here is a list of artists to jump-start the selection (this is not a final list; additional research is encouraged):

4. Decide how students will view the artists and their work.

  • If students use computers, assign groups 2-3 links to artists whose art addresses social justice.
  • If students use personal devices, assign 1-2 links to artists.
  • Create short print synopses of select artists with examples of their work and impact to post around the room for a Gallery Walk.

Day 1

Step 1

Have students participate in a 2-3-minute popcorn brainstorm on social issues that they are passionate about. Offer examples: poverty, discrimination, climate change, food scarcity, immigration, etc. Write down on chart paper or the whiteboard the topics that students share. Ask volunteers to discuss one topic that stands out for them.

If Time Permits: For the popcorn brainstorm, have students write down social issues on “sticky” notes to post in a designated location. Students spend a few minutes reviewing the topics to take stock of the issues presented. Volunteers can briefly discuss one topic that stands out.

Important: Students need to be respectful of each other even though they may have different views of social issues. Reframing ideas and language so all perspectives are heard in a civil fashion might be necessary. For example, immigration is a touchy subject. Fairness and equity in this vein are viewed through a variety of lenses.

Step 2

Introduce the concept of social justice. Ask for definitions of the term and then provide one: “Social justice means equal rights, opportunity, and treatment for all.”

Step 3

Ask the group how people, institutions, government, media, etc., address and create awareness of social justice issues. Students can select a few issues that surfaced earlier to describe how they have been tackled in this context.

Step 4

Probe with the class less traditional ways these issues can be addressed (such as in the community, individual citizens, art). When responses touch on artistic or other creative approaches, affirm these contributions and explain that art is a powerful tool when it comes to making visible, addressing, and taking action on critical social issues. Refer to the following to explain art’s role in social justice and change:

  • “Many artists create work that intersects with political activism and social justice causes. Throughout history, art has been used as an accessible tool for communication, raising awareness about social issues, and effecting positive change. This video collection will introduce students to artists who create work that inspires dialogue about problems faced by communities around the world, and will provide inspiration for classroom projects with a social, public or political purpose.” (Source: Art and Social Justice)
  • “Throughout history, the intersection of art and activism has played a crucial role in social movements against inequality, oppression and injustice. Whether it be political posters, film, photography, music or graffiti, different artistic mediums have helped countless social justice movements gain necessary traction in the public sphere.” (Source: Art Plays a Vital Role in Social Justice Movements)
Step 5

Introduce students to Camille Brown, refer to the Articulate segment transcript and artist bio. Tell them to watch for Brown’s approach to social issues of importance to her. Show students the Articulate segment.

Ask the students:

  • How does Brown use her artistic (“choreographic”) voice with the issues she surfaces? What is involved with that process?
  • In what ways does Brown’s choreography influence the history and culture of those at the center of her work?
Step 6

Have students draw on Brown’s work to speak to its power in creating awareness of social issues and even influencing social change. Probe:

  • What impact can art have on some of today’s controversial and challenging issues?
  • How can art effect change? Have students name 10 ways this can happen.

Tell students that on Day 2, they will dive further into the artist’s role in social change.

 

Day 2

Step 1

Distribute the Social Justice Artist graphic organizer. Review the instructions with the students. Instruct students to study their artists as assigned.

Step 2

After studying the artists, invite students to share their responses to the graphic organizer questions. Discuss with them what they believe the most effective arts-based strategies are for addressing social justice issues.

Step 3

Instruct the students to flesh out the creative approach to the issue they selected on Day 1 (Step 6). They can do this in a way that best reflects the artistic medium/genre they opt to use to deliver their message. Among the tools/methods they might choose are mind maps, outlines, storyboards, illustrations, photographs, video (explainer, for example), blueprints, etc.

Each project idea should include the following:

  • A description
  • The rationale for choosing the art/creative approach/genre
  • The social issue addressed
  • The theme
  • The purpose in terms of messaging
  • The desired impact
  • A call to action (what people can do to address the selected social injustice)
Step 4

Have the students write their concepts on a large sheet of chart paper posted to become part of a classroom gallery. Have the class discuss the art projects and reflect on whether they:

  • Embody the strategies other artists have used to propel social justice
  • Have the capacity to effect any level of change
Optional Project Creation

If time permits in the calendar, give students the opportunity to “prototype” their designs to share either with their classroom peers or in a school venue, such as the library, at a later date.

Day 1

Step 1

Have students participate in a 1-2-minute popcorn brainstorm on social issues they are most passionate about. Offer examples: poverty, discrimination, climate change, food scarcity, immigration, etc. Ask all students to write a response in one to two words and hold it up to the screen for everyone to see. Give everyone a moment to read the responses as you take a screenshot or type the responses in a document to share later. Volunteers can briefly discuss one topic that stands out for them. (Students can raise their hand and be invited to unmute or control Muting yourself through the Participants tab.)

Important: Students need to be respectful of each other even though they may have different views of social issues. Reframing ideas and language so all perspectives are heard in a civil fashion might be necessary. For example, immigration is a touchy subject. Fairness and equity in this vein are viewed through a variety of lenses.

Step 2

Introduce the concept of social justice and ask for a definition. Give 2-3 minutes for students to respond via Chat. While students are responding, prepare the responses from Step 1 as a screen share in the next discussion. When time is up, read aloud the responses or patterns you see in the chat, then provide the definition: “Social justice means equal rights, opportunity and treatment for all.”

Step 3

Share your screen with the list of social issues that were presented in the first question. Ask the group how people, institutions, government, media, etc., address and create awareness of social justice issues. Students can select a few issues that surfaced earlier to describe how they have been tackled in this context.

Probe the class to think about less traditional ways these issues can be addressed (such as in the community, individual citizens, art). When responses touch on artistic or other creative approaches, affirm these contributions and explain that art is a powerful tool when it comes to making visible, addressing, and taking action on critical social issues. Refer to the following to explain art’s role in social justice and change:

  • “Many artists create work that intersects with political activism and social justice causes. Throughout history, art has been used as an accessible tool for communication, raising awareness about social issues, and effecting positive change. This video collection will introduce students to artists who create work that inspires dialogue about problems faced by communities around the world, and will provide inspiration for classroom projects with a social, public or political purpose.” (Source: Art and Social Justice)
  • “Throughout history, the intersection of art and activism has played a crucial role in social movements against inequality, oppression and injustice. Whether it be political posters, film, photography, music or graffiti, different artistic mediums have helped countless social justice movements gain necessary traction in the public sphere.” (Source: Art Plays a Vital Role in Social Justice Movements)
Step 4

Introduce students to Camille Brown, referring to the Articulate segment transcript and artist bio. Tell them to watch for Brown’s approach to social issues of importance to her. Show students the segment through screen share.

Step 5

Put the students into Breakout Rooms to discuss what they saw. Encourage students to take note of interesting things that come up during the discussion so they can share them in the large group afterward. Read the following questions aloud as a guide for discussion before students go into breakout rooms and broadcast to the rooms once they are in them:

  • How does Brown use her artistic (“choreographic”) voice with the issues she surfaces? What is involved with that process?
  • In what ways does Brown’s choreography influence the history and culture of those at the center of her work?
  • What impact can art have on some of today’s controversial and challenging issues?
  • How can art effect change? Have students name 3 ways this can happen.

How to Broadcast:

  • Click Breakout Rooms in the meeting controls.
  • Click Broadcast a Message to All, enter your message and click Broadcast.
Step 6

Close the breakout rooms and encourage students to share interesting things that came up in their small group discussions.

Tell students that on Day 2, they will dive further into the artist’s role in social change.

Assigment

Distribute the Social Justice Artist graphic designer and assign an artist to each student (or group) based on the list prepared during prep work. Review the instructions with the students. Instruct students to study the artists as assigned and fill in the first column of the worksheet. Students will use the worksheet to give a 1-2-minute (or more based on groups) presentation the next day in class. Ask that students submit 1-3 images of each artist (and/or the artist’s work) before the start of class the next day so images can be shared via screen share during each presentation.

Day 2

Step 1

Start with student presentations of homework assignments. Invite students to fill in the additional two columns of the worksheet with artists that they hear about in the presentations.

Step 2

After studying the artists, invite students to share their responses. Discuss with them what they believe the most effective arts-based strategies are for addressing social justice issues.

Step 3

Instruct the students to flesh out their own creative approach to exploring an issue introduced on Day 1. Use the screen share tool to show the list of social issues they identified on Day 1. Distribute the students into breakout rooms—you can use the same groups as Day 1 or create different groups through automatic or manual assignment.

Each project idea should include the following:

  • A description
  • The rationale for choosing the art/creative approach/genre
  • The social issue addressed
  • The theme
  • The purpose in terms of messaging
  • The desired impact
  • A call to action (what people can do to address the selected social injustice)

Each breakout room should nominate a scribe to take notes so they can describe the project idea when they return to the full group. Share the bullet points verbally before the breakout rooms are started and as a broadcast to the breakout rooms via the chat.

Step 4

Invite each group to propose their event to the full class. Ask the class to reflect on whether the art projects:

  • Embody the strategies other artists have used to propel social justice
  • Have the capacity to effect any level of change

Invite student listeners to share comments, questions, and suggestions for further ideation in the chat or share general reactions by emoji.

Optional Project Creation

If time permits in the calendar, give students the opportunity to “prototype” their designs to share either with their classroom peers or in a school or virtual venue at a later date.

Extensions

Extension 1: Authenticity and the Artist’s Voice

Through her choreography, Camille Brown honors culture and heritage while claiming artistic license to influence how these elements are addressed and presented. Students probe whether an artist’s interpretation, reimagining, recreating, and reenvisioning (in essence, challenging the accepted story) of events, culture, history, art, etc., take away from the authenticity of what has actually taken place or give it greater power and presence.

Students explore artists who challenge and reshape “the story” to then think about how to recreate it in ways that are relevant to them. The following links offer a look at artists who have undertaken related projects. Students should do research on others to further their vision.

Students present a written artistic treatment of their project that details the original circumstances, what they seek to revisit and reimagine, their creative approach, and the desired outcome.

 

Extension 2: I’m a Fake! The Curse of Impostor Syndrome

Camille Brown admits that she’s always second guessing her accomplishments. She states in the segment:

“I feel like I am the most fearful, doubtful person that I know. I’m always questioning something I’m doing. I’m second-guessing. I’m terrified every time I walk into a room for the first time, terrified. I don’t know if I’m gonna, like oh no, I’m the wrong person. They’re gonna find out I’m a fraud, oh no, I’m not gonna know, and what I’ve learned is that it’s okay to not always know what you’re doing. I think there’s a beauty in not knowing because once you open yourself up and give yourself a break, then I think that’s when you actually start discovering things and that’s the beauty for me about choreography. It’s the challenging thing, it’s scary, it’s stressful, but there’s also beauty in finding something and I think part of that is just letting yourself go and let yourself be in the moment.”

Brown, like many, suffers from impostor syndrome, when one believes that one’s accomplishments are not deserved and is afraid of being exposed as a fraud. Students watch the video What is Impostor Syndrome and How Can You Combat It? to learn more about this state of mind and ways to overcome it. Students can conduct additional research to find strategies for combating it.

Students work in small groups to devise a public awareness campaign for teens that helps them recognize and address impostor syndrome. The campaign can include TikTok videos, Instagram posts, podcasts, and related messaging tools. They can share it with peers or pitch to school leadership to have it available to all students.

 

Extension 3: The Influence of Culture

Like Camille Brown, artist Jeffery Gibson is steeped in his cultural heritage and lineage. They inform his multi-media work. Students watch the Articulate segment Jeffrey Gibson: Icon Maker to see how Gibson makes meaning of his work through these lenses. They explore what he means when he says he “plays” with things that already have inherent meaning to transform them in unique ways (similar to Brown who uses her choreographic voice to reimagine cultural elements in meaningful ways) that still retain its initial meaning. Students can produce a design treatment for a multi-media art piece that reflects something relevant to them, cultural or otherwise. They create an accompanying detailed narrative that explains in depth what the artwork addresses and how its design furthers meaning and impact. If possible, students can set up a classroom exhibition that displays their work for the school community to see.

Standards

Arts

National Core Arts Standards

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.

Connecting | Relating artistic ideas and work with personal meaning and external context.

Anchor Standard #10. Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experiences to make art.
Anchor Standard #11. Relate artistic ideas and works with societal, cultural, and historical context to deepen understanding.

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.

 

National Council for the Social Studies Standards

V. Individuals, Groups, & Institutions

d. identify and describe examples of tensions between and individual’s beliefs and government policies and laws;

g. show how groups and institutions work to meet individual needs and promote the common good, and identify examples of where they fail to do so.

VI. Power, Authority, & Governance

c. give examples of how government does or does not provide for the needs and wants of people, establish order and security, and manage conflict;

h. recognize and give examples of the tensions between the wants and needs of individuals and groups, and concepts such as fairness, equity, and justice.

X. Civic Ideals & Practices

h. explain how public policies and citizen behaviors may or may not reflect the stated ideals of a democratic republican form of government;

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

 

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.

 

College, Career, & Civic Life C3 Framework for Social Studies Standards

(For linkages to Common Core ELA standards, visit Anchor Standards.)

Participation and Deliberation: Applying Civic Virtues and Democratic Principles | D2.Civ.10.9-12. Analyze the impact and the appropriate roles of personal interests and perspectives on the application of civic virtues, democratic principles, constitutional rights, and human rights.

Processes, Rules, and Laws | D2.Civ.12.9-12. Analyze how people use and challenge local, state, national, and international laws to address a variety of public issues.

Change, Continuity, and Context | D2.His.3.9-12. Use questions generated about individuals and groups to assess how the significance of their actions changes over time and is shaped by the historical context.