Fists held high, posters in the air...when scrolling through the news and social media, these inspiring images are everywhere. Protests are needed now, and so overdue. But questions lurk in the back of the minds of those long invested in these struggles: how long will this last? Will this global upheaval create lasting change? Will the structures that have been in place for centuries and intricately set up to oppress people of color finally be shaken, broken, even remade?
Almost all of my teaching experience has been with minority populations, prompting me to mentally wrestle with issues related to race, privilege and systemic oppression for a long time. It is a long and complicated struggle, but I have come to believe that education plays a vital part in it. Education is my form of activism.
Art education provides a unique and exciting opportunity. Of course, art-making is a valuable outlet, a way to express emotions. However, it is also a platform: through which one can express thoughts and opinions, and make statements about personally held truths and beliefs.
Teaching students to express their passion on the page is one part of educational activism. Providing students with the tools that they need to adequately express themselves is a form of resistance.
This approach of teaching a student “to fish” vs. just “giving them fish” is always my goal. Giving students the tools to empower themselves is vital in the fight for equality, as many students do not receive the tools that they should and are crippled by this.
This is a major goal for me in my teaching at the university level. I want to help students find footing in a career that allows them to use their training. I want them to know that they are heard. I want them to know that I will advocate for them to the administration. I want them to know, now and always, that they are worth fighting for.
When I taught at the elementary level, I wanted to give my students the tools to empower themselves as well. While I witnessed them struggle with challenges so much bigger than themselves, I knew it was important to create space for their self-expression. But they were still learning what the world was like, so it was also very important to show them artists of color, examples that they could admire and emulate. This is important at all levels, really.
Love matters too. It is love that drives the fight for social justice in education—love for my students of color, and love for people in general. It is better for everyone to have a society in which diversity is celebrated and all are on equal footing. It enriches, challenges, and elevates everyone involved.
Are you a creative educator or do you know one? I don’t claim to have it all figured out, but here is a humble offering—a few ideas for how to be an activist in the world of creative education.
10 Tiny Acts for Creative Educator-Activists:
- Teach artists of color! Representation matters.
- Put up visuals of black artists, artwork by black artists.
- Bring in creative guest speakers of color and encourage dialogue.
- Create a safe space for students to share their ideas and get feedback.
- Create projects in which students can advocate for large-scale change.
- Choose projects that are relevant to the lived experience of students of color.
- Listen to students of color and allow them to have input into the projects and class.
- Advocate for students of color on an institutional level. Make sure they are seen and heard.
- If students are doing commission work, encourage them to be compensated fairly.
- Help students move forward towards what they love (encourage involvement in extra-curricular activities related to their interests, inform them about organizations that they could join, equip students to start their own businesses)
As for me, I will be offering scholarships for my creative business coaching programs. These scholarships will be available for those who are doing what I’ll call “Creativity for Good” to help in the fight for equality in this moment. This includes minority-owned businesses, advocacy organizations, or individuals who are doing work that fights racial inequality and oppression. Please e-mail me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information, while I work on building this section into my website.
And, as always, I am happy to offer a free 45-minute creative consultation, even if you do not qualify for a scholarship!
Sending love to all in this change-making moment. Meanwhile, I am engaging in creative resistance, and will continue to do so.