This unit is about the role of the curator in the art world and their power to confer value and legitimacy within a culture. The intended audience for this unit is a high school entry level art class entitled Exploring Visual Design taken by all high school grade levels. The goal of the unit will ultimately be to address Anchor Standard 6 in the National Core Art Standards by asking students to curate their own art exhibit that communicates a message and conveys meaning to their intended audience. Along the way, students will also explore themes of identity, community and representation as they prepare for their role as curator.
This unit was inspired by the Yale New Haven Teachers Institute Seminar entitled “The Social Struggles of Contemporary Black Art” led by Professor Roderick Ferguson. Throughout the seminar, we explored readings and artworks that documented the work of artists, authors, intellectuals and activists of color who fought for social transformation within a society that was practiced in dismissing their voices. One of these readings, The AfriCOBRA Manifestos by Jeff Donaldson, provided the spark that set this unit on its way. Learning about this artist collective who chose to create their own aesthetic led to research on the Chicago art scene and the Southside Community Art Center and the various ways that African American artists have had to create their own venues and spaces to be seen in American society. I found within this such a powerful message of agency and perseverance that I felt it the perfect hook for my students.
My students represent a perfect cross section of all New Haven students. I teach art at Wilbur Cross High School, the largest school in New Haven serving approximately 1,450 students. Our student body is 57% Hispanic, 29% African American, 12% White and 2% Asian. Additionally, 17% are special education students, 22% are English Language Learners and 70% of the total population are eligible for Free or Reduced Lunch. Inclusive of all ability levels from Life Skills students to Honors students, my Exploring Visual Design class is an entry level survey of all artistic processes and media. Since many students take the class just to fulfill graduation requirements, engagement can be tricky and adapting the class to meet all needs is a constant work in progress. However, the arts provide a great avenue for self-expression and personal agency and it is always my hope to center this climate of exploration and choice above all else in my art room.