Activist Art in Social Justice Pedagogy

Engaging Students in Glocal Issues Through the Arts, Revised Edition

by Barbara Beyerbach (Volume editor) R. Deborah Davis (Volume editor) Tania Ramalho (Volume editor)
©2017 Textbook XX, 272 Pages
Series: Counterpoints, Volume 515


Artists have always had a role in imagining a more socially just, inclusive world—many have devoted their lives to realizing this possibility. In a culture ever more embedded in performance and the visual, examining the role of arts in multicultural teaching for social justice is a timely focus. In Activist Art in Social Justice Pedagogy approaches to using activist art to teach a multicultural curriculum are examined and critiqued. Examples of activist artists and their strategies illustrate how study of and engagement in activist art processes glocally—connecting local and global issues—can deepen critical literacy and commitment to social justice. This book is relevant to those (1) interested in teaching more about artist/activist social movements around the globe, (2) preparing pre-service teachers to teach for social justice, (3) concerned about learning how to engage diverse learners through the arts, (4) teaching courses related to arts-based multicultural education, critical literacy, and culturally relevant teaching. As we think more broadly we address the question "why does a ‘social justice through the arts in education’ approach make sense"; describe examples of preservice teacher assignments examining artists’ roles in activist movements, promoting multicultural understanding and social justice; and share approaches to and examples of using the arts in the United States and abroad to deepen multicultural comprehension and teaching for social justice.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise For Activist Art in Social Justice Pedagogy
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Illustrations
  • Acknowledgments
  • Note on the Cover Art: “The Night the Artist Became Activist” (A Mixed Media Composition by Cynthia Clabough)
  • Introduction (Barbara Beyerbach)
  • Chapter One: Social Justice Education Through the Arts (Barbara Beyerbach)
  • Chapter Two: Learning About the Farmworkers and the Landless Rural Workers Movements Through the Arts (Tania Ramalho / Leah Russell)
  • Chapter Three: Art and Change in the AfroReggae Cultural Group (Leah Russell)
  • Chapter Four: Media Literacy and Social Justice in a Visual World (Jacquelyn S. Kibbey)
  • Chapter Five: Enlivening the Curriculum Through Imagination (Mary Harrell)
  • Chapter Six: Photography and Social Justice: Preservice Teachers and the Ocularized, Urban Other (Dennis Parsons)
  • Chapter Seven: Creating Student Activists Through Community Participatory Documentaries (Jane Winslow)
  • Chapter Eight: Art Class at the Onondaga Nation School: A Practice of the Good Mind (Jennifer Kagan / Chris Capella)
  • Chapter Nine: Indigenous Activism: Art, Identity, and the Politics of the Quincentenary (Lisa Roberts Seppi)
  • Chapter Ten: Activist Art and Pedagogy: The Dinner Party Curriculum Project (Carrie Nordlund / Peg Speirs / Marilyn Stewart / Judy Chicago)
  • Chapter Eleven: Acting Up In and Out of Class: Student Social Justice Activism in the Tertiary General Education, Fine Arts, and Performing Arts Curriculum (Lisa K. Langlois)
  • Chapter Twelve: Interactive Social Media and the Art of Telling Stories: Strategies for Social Justice Through Osw3go.net 2010: Racism on Campus (Patricia E. Clark / Ulises A. Mejias / Peter Cavana / Daniel Herson / Sharon M. Strong)
  • Chapter Thirteen: In the Grey: Finding Beauty Without Labels (Barbara Stout)
  • Chapter Fourteen: The Art of Growing Food (Suzanne Bellamy)
  • Chapter Fifteen: Complexity, Communication, Education, and the Making of Art (Arnon A.m. de Andrade / Tania Ramalho (Translator))
  • Chapter Sixteen: It Starts With an Idea: Integrating Arts into the Classroom (Ritu Radhakrishnan)
  • Chapter Seventeen: Sharing Our True Identity: Taking Environmental Portraits to Subvert Existing Community Narratives (Anneke McEvoy / Peter Cardone / Elias Williams)
  • Chapter Eighteen: A Collective Endeavor—The Creatively Exploring Place, Self, and Collective Identity Project (Cynthia Clabough / Todd Behrendt / Elizabeth Brownell / Christi Harrington / Sharon Kane / Lacey McKinney / Kelly Roe)
  • Chapter Nineteen: Activist Art in Social Justice Pedagogy (Barbara Beyerbach / Tania Ramalho)
  • About the Authors
  • Series index

← vi | vii →



Figure 1.1:Benin Marketplace, B. Beyerbach
Figure 1.2:Drawing for Kenya Massacre, B. Beyerbach
Figure 2.1:A Photo of Me Looking Out at the Fields on a Farm in Upstate New York, Where I Interviewed Farmworkers
Figure 2.2:Detail of the Mural Created by the Youth Arts Group Participants
Figure 3.1:View from the Airplane as I Landed in Rio
Figure 3.2:During My Site Visit, I Was Allowed to Take This One Photo of a Street Within the Favela of Vigario Geral, with Permission from an AfroReggae Conflict Mediator
Figure 10.1:The Dinner Party, 1975–1979. Photo © Donald Woodman. Reproduced with Permission from Through the Flower
Figure 12.1:Osw3go.net 2010: Racism on Campus Usage Summary
Figure 13.1:Barbara Stout with Portraits from Her In the Grey Series
Figure 16.1:Hine (1908)
Figure 16.2:Prewriting Format for Digital Narrative Scripts ← vii | viii →
Figure 18.1:Lacey McKinney (Right) with FLCC Student Kellen Lambert-Vail in Front of the “We All Have Stories” Display of Student Artwork (Left to Right, Top to Bottom are Jon Krocke, Kellen Lambert-Vail, Laura Norcott, Chelsea Pecoraro, Katrina Temple, Alexander Macchioni, Kayleigh Stone, and Carol Henshaw) at the SUNY Oswego Metro Center in Downtown Syracuse. Photograph by Emily Scheutzow
Figure 18.2:Visitor Viewing the Central Perspective Display at the First Wave Culmination Exhibition at the SUNY Oswego Metro Center in Downtown Syracuse. Artwork Credit: Top Row from the Left: Ricardi Jean, Marissa Specioso, PJ Gebhardt, Melissa Digiovanna, and Brittney Wienecke; Middle Row: Brianna Messina; Bottom Row from the Left: Elijah Vary, Marissa Specioso (Behind Viewer), Reid Adler, and Amanda Perri. Photograph by Emily Scheutzow

← viii | ix →



We would like to acknowledge the many activist artists, educators, and students whose work has inspired us to write this book. We also thank the contributors, their colleagues, and students whose collective work has provided us with learning and wonderful resources to share. Special thanks to our SUNY Oswego Curriculum and Instruction Department Chair, Marcia Burrell, for always supporting our work. For reading several chapters of the work and providing encouragement, feedback, and valuable suggestions, we thank members of the writing group—Jean Ann, Bonita Hampton, Mary Harrell, Sharon Kane, Bobbi Schnorr, and Chris Walsh. Thanks to Traci Terpening and Beth Canale for reading and editing many of the chapters in the original volume. And last, but certainly not least, thanks to our families for their encouragement and support. ← ix | x →

← x | xi →

Note on the Cover Art

“The Night the Artist Became Activist”




It is my opinion that when a work of art needs to come into the world the artist has two choices—make it, or be depressed, frustrated, cranky and full of self-pity and self-loathing until you finally give up on sleep and do the darn work. It doesn’t have to be the greatest work ever made, it can be something as simple as the image on the cover of this book. Once created, the work reveals the story of why it had to be done.

In the case of this piece, it builds off the first piece of activist art that I intentionally made in 1984. The first iteration of this design was created for the “Take Back the Night March” in Carbondale, Illinois. The illustration was featured on T-shirts worn by marchers who chanted and sang as they exercised their right to demonstrate. In the midst of being beaten up by the process of earning a graduate education, I was thrilled when the director of the women’s studies program came into the studio where I worked and asked if I’d be interested in trying to come up with an image that embodied the spirit of the march. I was so excited to get started I forgot to tell her I had no idea what “Take Back the Night” was about.

Fast forward to the fall of 2016. Suddenly, bolting upright at 3 am, I instantly recalled the work of art I hadn’t seen or thought about in 25 years. I knew the time was ripe to revisit it and have it go through a rebirth process. I began sketching the cover you see here. It wasn’t until the work was finished that I realized this act ← xi | xii → of resampling, revising, expanding, and transforming had given me permission to, once again, imagine that I could be among a community of people trying to change the world.

As I colored the figures and made up slogans for their placards, I saw myself as part of a group of individuals who, together, could chase the dark away. It isn’t a radical image, or a radical idea, but it speaks to a truth that I needed to remember and one that others may have forgotten; that the power of art is that it can change the world.

← xii | xiii →




In 2014, on a research trip to Cuba to study the role of arts in the culture, I was fortunate to be part of a group of educators who visited several interesting art communities and public works that illustrate the power of the arts to engage dialogue, awaken awareness of social issues, and bring beauty to the humblest of settings.

Visiting the Callejon de Hammel in Havana, I was able to enjoy a lively rumba concert, view African art, and engage in dialogue about social justice issues with resident artist Salvador Gonzalez Escalona, whose work has an international following. Activist musicians were collecting pens to support schools, performing to raise funds, and engaging in dialogue about Afro-Cuban culture. I was impressed by the many museums displaying politically themed art.

In Cuba, there is a focus both on arts for all, and opportunities to specialize in artistic study. Schools are seen as the cultural centers of the community and I was able to view many student performances and works of art in the public schools we visited. We also toured the modest neighborhoods to view the magnificent tile murals of José Fuster and I was struck by their beauty. It was clear that though a variety of food choices to which we are accustomed were limited in this country due to the then embargo, art was central to the daily lives of Cubans. We were told most families display art in their homes, and communities routinely gather around musical performances. It was clear art brought joy and meaning to the lives of Cubans and their visitors. ← xiii | xiv →

On an earlier occasion, as I framed the explorations for the first edition of this book after a trip to Brazil, I was exploring resources on AfroReggae. I had visited AfroReggae’s programs in several favelas and watched a video of a group of young Afro-Brazilian girls, perhaps second or third graders, on a rooftop of a favela dwelling in Rio de Janeiro, arguably one of the most violent places on earth. They were playing violins—slowly, note-by-note—bowing the tune of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” With them, drummers from AfroReggae’s troupe, a group made up largely of former or would-be drug traffickers from the favela, set the beat and sang the vocals in English. The tempo shifted, the drummers accelerated, the lyrics became Portuguese rap, and the message of hope and peace exploded from this rooftop through a unique juxtaposition of sounds and images.

Embodying the meaning of “glocalization,” global themes in the video were transmuted by local contexts to make meaning relevant to the lives of these diverse community members. Traditional African drumming, classic European violin, hip-hop beats, London-based Beatles lyrics, and samba rhythms combined to form a powerful synergy of creative expression in this moving piece, reflecting the hybridity of our times (Nenhum Motivo Explica a Guerra, 2006). These participants were members of one of AfroReggae’s 60 programs in Rio’s favelas, aimed at bringing about social change through community-based arts and activism.

Communicating with people around the world and sharing dreams and visions for a better tomorrow is in some ways easier than ever before. The Internet, as well as ease of travel, creates spaces for us to learn from and build upon each other’s work. Consider a couple of examples. On YouTube you can see and hear musicians from around the world collaborating to perform in Playing for Change, Song around the World (Mama, 2010; Playing for Change, 2010), and since the first edition of this book two books have come out with the title, Playing for Change. One publication describes the role of music in social movements (Rosenthal & Flacks, 2012) and the other critically examines music festivals as creative sites of learning, development, and local resistance to the forces of globalization (Mac Donald, 2016). Visual artists can collaborate to produce a mural supported by Judith Baca and the Social and Public Arts Resource Center (SPARC) called World Wall: A Vision of the Future Without Fear, which can be viewed virtually, and has traveled as an exhibition throughout the world (http://sparcinla.org/). Yet the potential to misunderstand, misinterpret, and be misinformed is also great. Wars proliferate; poverty is widespread; and racism, sexism, and other forms of social injustice continue to exist and surface in new ways.

In an era of new, multimedia, and web-based learning, critical viewing is becoming increasingly important as a basis for K–16 teaching. Books abound demonstrating the importance of including the arts, and critical media literacy, in K–12 teaching (Davis, 2008; Hetland, Winner, Veenema, & Sheridan, 2013; Macedo & Steinberg, 2007; Marshall & Sensory, 2016). Furthermore, since the ← xiv | xv → publication of the first edition of this book, the movement to live more mindfully, embodying artistic practice through creative movement, meditation, and mindfulness in the schools continues to grow. Teachers, students, and communities are inventing new ways of being that recognize the embodied nature of learning, and the importance of turning the lens inward, cultivating inner peace, and outward, through participation in projects that impact community and social change (HeartMath, 2016; Oxford, 2014; Rechtschaffen, 2014). People are using performance arts such as yoga, African drumming, singing, and storytelling to heal trauma in communities (Craig, 2016; Pinderhughes, Davis, & Williams, 2016; Souers & Hall, 2016; Srinivasan, 2014; Streets, 2014, 2015).

Nevertheless, in many school contexts, particularly in financially strapped urban and rural settings, art educator positions are being eliminated as part of a back-to-basics movement. A RAND study on arts learning and state policies (Zakaras & Lowell, 2008) found that arts are experienced by a small, wealthy segment of the population that is aging, and that a small percentage of funding goes to arts learning. Yet the arts have a documented history of engaging marginalized youth in learning and social change. Artists have always had a role in imagining a more socially just, inclusive world—many have devoted their lives to realizing this possibility. In a culture ever more embedded in performance and the visual, examining the role of arts in multicultural teaching for social justice is a timely focus.

In this book, the authors describe a number of models for integrating the arts in K–16 teaching for social justice. Chapters by various activist artists/educators will describe successful activist artist movements contributing to social change in the United States and around the world. They share the knowledge gained from these movements and document how they have changed both participants and social contexts. Approaches to using activist art to learn and to teach a richer, multicultural curriculum are examined and critiqued. These examples of activist artists and their strategies illustrate how the study of and engagement in activist art processes can deepen both critical literacy and commitment to social justice.

In this second edition of the book, Chapters 1–14 are updated from the 2011 edition and Chapters 15–18 are completely new. Chapter 19 is a revised synthesis based on both the updated and new chapters in this edition. In Chapter 1, I draw from my own experiences as a painter, teacher educator, yoga and mindfulness educator, and activist for social change to describe how art helps me think more deeply about social issues. I examine research on and describe strategies and approaches to social justice through the arts, laying a framework for the rest of the book. Chapters 2 and 3 examine artist activist movements by visual artists and musicians in rural and urban contexts in both Brazil and the United States. In Chapter 2, Tania Ramalho revisits the role of visual artists in the Landless Movement in Brazil and Leah Russell examines the Farmworker Movement in the United States, illustrating how artists can play a pivotal role in social change, and ← xv | xvi → how engaging learners in the arts can further their understanding of the world. In Chapter 3, Leah Russell examines the role of AfroReggae in the lives of favela residents in Rio de Janeiro, drawing comparisons with the hip-hop movement in the United States.

In Chapter 4, Jacquelyn S. Kibbey, an artist and art educator, draws from educational theorists as she describes how essential art is in helping learners critically analyze and understand media representations of the world around them. She grounds her work in the collaboration she has with an area high school committed to social justice through the arts. In Chapter 5, teacher educator Mary Harrell draws from analytical psychology to describe learning processes and outcomes of her preservice and practicing teachers in her “Imagination Through the Curriculum” approach. Chapter 6 extends the focus on critical literacy as Dennis Parsons, a literacy educator, describes the photo-documentary work and reflections of preservice teachers in a two-week immersion course in New York City schools. In Chapter 7, Jane Winslow, a filmmaker and professor, describes undergraduate students’ documentary film work in social justice-oriented projects in her course on film editing.

Chapter 8 focuses on the work of elementary educator Chris Capella, Native American art teacher at the Onondaga Nation School, as documented and interpreted by literacy educator Jennifer Kagan. Chapter 9 continues a critical analysis of Native American Art and Artists, by art historian Lisa Roberts Seppi, who provides a detailed analysis of two artists’ work, illustrating the social justice issues raised. Chapters 10 and 11 both focus on the role of feminist artists and processes in social change. In Chapter 10, Carrie Nordlund, Peg Speirs, Marilyn Stewart, and Judy Chicago collaborate to describe development and impacts of the K–12 curriculum developed for Judy Chicago’s seminal feminist contribution, The Dinner Party. In Chapter 11, art historian Lisa K. Langlois examines learning of undergraduates in a General Education visual literacy course that focuses on gender as a lens for analyzing visual and performance arts, and that engages learners in activist art projects to enhance their understanding of and commitment to social change.

The authors of Chapter 12, who are English and Communications Studies professors and their students, continue to examine pedagogies for engaging undergraduates in provocative art experiences that impact their understanding of social issues. In this chapter, Patricia E. Clark, Ulises A. Mejias, Peter Cavana, Sharon M. Strong, and Daniel Herson collaborate to describe and analyze the impact of a computer simulation in which they participated on understanding of and commitment to eradicating racism. In Chapter 13, visual artist Barbara Stout describes how issues of race, gender, and sexuality are explored and examined through her portraiture work. In Chapter 14, we again broaden the lens to global issues as visual artist activist Suzanne Bellamy describes her role in the Transition Towns movement for social change. ← xvi | xvii →

Chapter 15 is authored by Brazilian communications and education professor Arnon A. M. de Andrade, whose philosophical investigation invites us to explore Complexity, Communication, Education, and the Making of Art. In this analytic work he argues that we are evolving as individuals and as humans, and it is through creating and engaging with each other through art that this process unfolds. The next three chapters offer practical examples of implementing activist art using social justice pedagogy by teams in three contexts: an urban, interdisciplinary fifth grade team at an elementary school; a street photographer, art professor and educator working with rural and urban high school youth; and a college-based collaborative involving two and four year colleges and middle and high schools in Central New York. In Chapter 16, Ritu Radhakrishnan describes how fifth grade art, music and classroom teachers collaborating with a local university served diverse, urban, underserved students as they developed and integrated arts and aesthetics into the curriculum where social justice themes emerged and took hold. In Chapter 17, Anneke McEvoy collaborates with a street photographer and an art professor to offer a social justice-oriented photography experience to rural and urban high school students in which they documented their daily lives and chosen subjects. Offering voice and agency to these youth through the project, their work was then shared in exhibitions reaching a broader community. In Chapter 18, Cynthia Clabough, our artist for covers of both the current and previous edition of the book and Chair of the SUNY Oswego Art Department, describes The Creatively Exploring Place, Self, and Collective Identity Project, a collaborative among K–16 artists and educators across two-year and four-year colleges and middle and high school teachers and their students to engage in artistic processes that empower participants and revision communities. Chapter 19 synthesizes themes from prior chapters and shares additional K–16 resources for social justice through the arts.


XX, 272
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2017 (November)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2017. XX, 272 pp., 13 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Barbara Beyerbach (Volume editor) R. Deborah Davis (Volume editor) Tania Ramalho (Volume editor)

Barbara Beyerbach, Ph.D., is a professor at SUNY at Oswego. She also serves as a co-director of Project SMART, a teacher professional development program aimed at creating urban/rural partnerships in K–16. Beyerbach is co-editor (with R. Deborah Davis) of “How Do We Know They Know?”: A Conversation About Pre-Service Teachers Learning About Culture and Social Justice (2009). R. Deborah Davis, Ph.D., is a professor emerita at SUNY at Oswego and a co-director of the Teacher Opportunity Grant. Davis is the author of Black Students’ Perceptions: Persistence to Graduation in an American University (2007). Tania Ramalho, Ph.D., a Brazilian American, is professor at SUNY at Oswego. She teaches critical literacy and pedagogy in the Curriculum and Instruction Department. She serves as a board member of the International Journal of Development Education and Global Learning, associated with the University of London’s Institute of Education and the London Development Center.


Title: Activist Art in Social Justice Pedagogy
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