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Art as Activism Art Show
Shelby Roback, Stewardship Teaching Fellow

“...art wasn't supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.”                                                                                                                                   - Rainbow Rowell                          

Art as activism Printmaking

For the past few weeks, the Stewardship in Action classroom has been in a state of disarray. Brown paper covered in half-drawn designs and paint smudges is taped to the tables with blue masking tape. There are paper scraps and linoleum shavings all over the floor. Stencils cut into cardstock line the back of the room, Posters and drawings are taped to the walls, and even the students themselves are scattered. Some sit under desks, some are in the classroom across the hall, and others sit on the tables and draw on the whiteboards. Some might find this scene to be chaotic and stressful, but to me, it is inspiring. Everyone is hard at work thinking, creating, and figuring out how to express their opinions and make their voices heard. 

art making

For our Art as Activism unit in Stewardship in Action, we tackled a new art form each day. From posters to block prints to zines, we discussed the art form and why specific methods were used by activists to express their ideas. After looking at a variety of examples by different artists we spent some time learning about the medium through hands-on exploration as we created our own activist art. Our explorations included hand-carved printing techniques that have been used for hundreds of years, as well as more modern graphic design programs. For their final project for the unit, students were asked to pick one of these art forms to create a piece that advocates for an environmental issue they are passionate about. 

Print making

These projects culminated in an art show where students displayed their final pieces and discussed them with their peers and other staff members. Each student also critiqued one of their peers and had the opportunity to ask questions about each others’ work. On the day of the show, students huddled together and talked about the meaning of the art they saw, read artist statements, and picked up and flipped through zines. The artists discussed their process and why they chose certain design elements to get their message across. They talked about their work and why the issues they chose are important to them. They made their voices heard.

Looking back at the past, it is easy to see which posters and pamphlets and picket signs exemplified a movement, and which ones were most effective as a catalyst for change. Looking around today, it is easy to see the passion and the anger and the hope that what we do and what we create will make a difference. It is much harder to predict which of our efforts will actually amount to measurable change, and what we will be able to look back on and tell our children, “This is how we made a difference. This is how we made our voices heard.”

Art show
Art show
art show
art show
Proud class who created activist art

Photos contributed by Eleva Potter, Stewardship in Action Teacher and Calli, CS17, Reedsburg, WI.