How can we use art to engage in activism? At Cool Culture’s Curators for Educators workshop, participants from our partner schools and centers discussed civic wellbeing and how art can amplify and bring attention to community needs. They also viewed “Black Power to Black People: Branding the Black Panther Party,” a new exhibit at our host cultural space, Poster House. Parent coordinators, teachers, and leaders started with a survey on how they are currently engaging families, and discourse followed on how to expand that involvement in their communities through art and culture. Cool Culture staff introduced our Civic Wellbeing Toolkit to prompt discussion about rights and responsibilities, the healing power of art, and civics not only as duty but also community agency and advocacy.
As educators pondered dominant narratives on art and culture and how to change them, Poster House curator Es-pranza Humphrey led them on a tour of Black Power to Black People: Branding the Black Panther Party. Participants learned how the Black Panther Party created a unifying message through visual language and considered additional questions like, “who is disseminating Black art?” The organization used their newspaper to show the humanity of its members in contrast to the violence of the police and to combat the pervasive stereotypes of Black people seen in mainstream media. Es-pranza chose to highlight women’s involvement in the Black Panther Party through the exhibit as well.
“I want Black people to feel that this is a very safe space, to understand history and to understand that Black pride is something that we can still take part in today. Black power is something we can take part in today, and this exhibition is to help us remember the spirit of the Black Panther Party,” said Es-pranza, speaking on what she hopes visitors will experience from the exhibit. “For the general public, I want you to… understand that this is an American story. It’s Black history [and] it’s America’s history, and we should all know it and we should all be inspired by it.”
Educators were able to take some of what they learned from the exhibit about the power art has to bring people together on social issues and apply it immediately to their own poster making. Poster House Museum Educator Gabriella Kula conducted a collage making activity where educators adapted themes from the Black Panther Party Ten-Point program to create front page images for a mock newspaper to spotlight community issues such as food insecurity and affordable housing. Two educators used the art project to develop ideas for promoting a community garden program at their school, and others created images to advocate for kindness. The groups discussed how to adapt curriculum on civic engagement for young children.
Educators considered how art can open people to different perspectives and artmaking can be a vehicle to making connections. Cool Culture staff closed out the day asking, how can we move families and communities from awareness to activism? Suggestions from attendees included creating space to exchange stories, making pronoun buttons, starting a class recycling competition at school, and contributing to community closets and other forms of mutual aid.
Check out our Civic Wellbeing Toolkit for more resources to connect art, learning, and civic engagement.