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 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
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 ones 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
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
#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