Evaluator's Report
Contemporary Community Curriculum Initiative

Deborah L. Smith-Shank

Associate Professor of Art Education
Northern Illinois University

This report is presented as my response to several explicit and implicit goals of the CCC Initiative. The products of the project, which include 1) the gallery exhibit, 2) lesson plans generated as part of the project, 3) written material about the CCCI, as well as personal and group dialogue with participants, serve as evidence for this evaluation.


Community:

Community building seemed to be the most obvious direct benefit of the program. Even if there were no other concrete benefits, the sense of community and the general ambience of support that was in evidence during the final meeting of the group make the value of the CCCI incredibly important. The isolation of art teachers and the misunderstanding of the role(s) of art in school culture are regular topics of conversation and scholarship in the field of art education.

In the meeting in Gallery 400, art professionals from several fields came together, looked at children's artwork, and discussed critical issues. The forum for this type of collaboration is not often available to in-service art teachers. While no issues were "solved," the conversation allowed for a process that enables continuing dialogue, support, and the validation of teachers and their educational practices, while also investing other arts professionals, who do not generally serve as teachers, in the educative process.



Quality and innovation of curriculum developed in the CCC Workshops:

The CCC Initiative is a relevant and timely intervention for art educators. According to the National Standards for Art Education, practitioners in the field should be addressing issues relating to interdisciplinary and cross-curricular concerns. This is a difficult enterprise. Artificial boundaries that effectively serve to separate subjects in public school curricula do little to enhance communication between the various subjects in schooling. As evidenced by the products on display at Gallery 400, the CCC Initiative has effectively brought reading, writing, critical thinking, and visual art into the context of students' projects.

Another incentive at the national level in the field of art education is to think of "art" as the study of visual culture. This project has encouraged an issues-based conception for the projects that the teachers designed for their students. The teachers have begun thinking as cultural critics, and have therefore begun to develop and implement curriculum focusing on contemporary artistic practices, interdisciplinary investigation, and vital themes of contemporary culture. The teachers and students effectively considered important issues that are oftentimes omitted from the curriculum including war, racial bias, poverty, and media issues.



Efficacy in supporting evolution in in-service art teachers' thought, artmaking, and teaching strategies:

Unfortunately, the time and energy requirements of teaching often effectively block art teachers from continuing their art practices. By encouraging in-service art teachers to work directly with professional artists, the teachers had opportunities to engage with new ideas and build new art-related skills. By further encouraging the art teachers to do the assignments with their students, a connection was made between the concept of artist and the concept of teacher. The teachers served as art experts within their classrooms. An added benefit was the self-confidence that regular art making brings to one’s art teaching.



Support urban and suburban teachers in their growth as creative teachers and arts professionals:

The teachers, gallery directors, and other arts professionals who participated in the CCC Initiative were well served by this project. Unfortunately, the scope of the innovation is limited due to funding, time, and resource constraints. It is hoped that the website can serve as an outreach vehicle to more teachers, students, and arts professionals. In order to broaden the scope of the project without additional funding, members of the original cohort (and their students) could present issues, ideas, and art projects at local, state, and national art education conferences. This would serve as a vehicle for empowering the teachers as arts professionals.



Encourage development of communication capacity in both visual and verbal culture in ways that allow them to understand themselves as both creators and consumers of culture:

This seems to be an overarching goal of the project. In several of the artworks on display, issues were presented which showed that the children and their teachers thought about the production of culture and responded to the manipulation inherent in hegemony. Children and their teachers responded visually and in written form to critical issues in U.S. culture. It is unclear, however, from seeing the results of only one production from each classroom how much development there will be unless this issue becomes central to each teacher's practice. I would suggest at least an outline describing the interlocking projects that are presented throughout the school year in order to develop students' capacity to be literate consumers of visual and verbal culture.



Develop a thematic approach to curriculum design that combines formal elements of art with diverse practices of contemporary artmaking:

I am unable to comment effectively on this issue as I saw only one project per class, per teacher. However, the opportunity is clearly available to effectively combine the languages of art with contemporary art practices. The MCA's support of this project is an especially noteworthy component that may facilitate this goal. As in my previous statement, a school year long outline that explains the thematic, contemporary art, and languages of art focus would be helpful.



Suggestions for further action:

#1 Be proactive. Invite cohort art teachers to be as visible and vocal as possible in their local, regional, and national organizations. The Director, Olivia Gude, is very visible/vocal, but she is only one voice. The teachers (and their students) can bring the ideas of this initiative to the larger art education community.

#2 Encourage cohort art teachers to volunteer to write art questions for art tests at all levels of instructions. The questions that appear on these tests come from art teachers in the field. This is a type of activism that is labor intensive and unsung, but essential for change. Unfortunately, test questions serve as the armature of the public educational enterprise, and if modernism is in full swing, the questions are at least partially responsible.

#3 Continue work on the website and use it as a voice for art education reform, issues based art education, and for helping to eliminate some of the isolation of art teachers. Find a way to include issues of special-needs students and multicultural issues.

#4 A further step in the encouragement of the CCCI's innovative way of developing a socially responsible school curriculum would be to bring teachers of subjects other than art and art teachers into a similar cohort for conversation and collaborative process. This way, awareness of the unique place that art can take in the school curriculum will be further enhanced and boundaries that separate subjects could begin to be moved aside.