Colorado Students Inspired by DAM Exhibition to Design Social Justice Posters

Colorado Students Inspired by DAM Exhibition to Design Social Justice Posters

April 21, 2015 update: Four Colorado student posters were chosen for the exhibition Museums: pARTners in Learning 2015 sponsored by the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), in partnership with the United States Department of Education in Washington, D.C. The exhibition will be on view in Washington from May 6−June 30, 2015. See all of the posters designed by students at Vista Peak Exploratory and Arapahoe Ridge High School in the image gallery below.

Over the past year a socially charged poster exhibition graced the walls of the Denver Art Museum. If you were able to see Drawn to Action: Posters from the AIGA Design Archives curated by Darrin Alfred, associate curator of architecture, design, and graphics, then, like me, you were probably inspired by the striking images and bold statements in the posters. Thanks to the exhibition, the posters became the subject of two distance-learning classes for students at Vista Peak Exploratory in Aurora Public Schools and Arapahoe Ridge High School in Boulder Valley School District.

Joy Pack, visual arts instructor at Vista Peak Exploratory, first reached out to me as she was planning a weeklong intensive course that would challenge her middle-school students to explore the power of art to challenge social-justice issues. Joy collaborated on a distance-learning class to introduce students to the DAM poster exhibition to inspire them to design social-justice posters. I shared this project idea with Kim Walter, applied technology teacher, and Sarah Flynn, art teacher, both at Arapahoe Ridge High School in Boulder Valley School District, and they thought the topic would resonate especially well with their high-school students.

James Victore, Racism, 1993. Screen print. © James Victore. AIGA Design Archives: Gift of AIGA. 2007.2528.2. This poster was part of Drawn to Action. See the slide show below to see how one of the student's posters addresses the same issue.

I met with each group of students through webcam to introduce the DAM posters and explore designers’ deliberate choices in creating posters meant to immediately grab someone’s attention. We also discussed issues the students face each day in their school, community, and families. From drug use to gangs, it was apparent that these students had a lot of personal experience to inspire their posters. Students then worked at school to create posters to bring others’ attention to the relevant community issues. The project culminated in each group visiting the museum to tour the exhibition with Lindsey Housel, master teacher for architecture, design, and graphics. In addition to meeting with Lindsey, the high-school students met Jonny 5, Flobots emcee, who led them through some spoken word and rap exercises to demonstrate how he uses music to address social-justice issues. They also enjoyed a customized tour with docent Marty Corren, who helped students make the leap from understanding how posters, a very commercial and reproducible medium, could challenge social-justice issues to more traditional works of art that portrayed very significant and controversial issues from the past.

Seeing the students’ posters was the highlight of the experience. We were impressed by the range of topics students explored and the attention to design detail they demonstrated by carefully choosing colors, images, and text to convey their messages. We were struck by the impact the project had on the students. One student reflected on the project and said, “We made posters and now I know what I stand for.” While another realized that, “I can apply this in my life and use a different way (art) to express problems in my community.”

Vista Peak Exploratory students displayed their posters at the DAM for a critique session led by Lindsey Housel, Master Teacher for Architecture, Design and Graphics.

I hope to work with more students locally and nationally around the topic of art and social justice. Thanks to Marty’s customized tour I now see the potential for connecting this topic to various DAM collections.

Asthma, Jose Ordaz Zavala 11th grade, Arapahoe Ridge High School BVSD

Cancer Sticks, Miquel Barron Salas 10th grade, Arapahoe Ridge High School BVSD

Child Abuse, Rose Ahlstrand, Arapahoe Ridge High School BVSD

Cigs Kill, Ruben Duran, Arapahoe Ridge High School BVSD

Feel Safe Yet, Dennis Lamb, Arapahoe Ridge High School BVSD

No to GMO, Peyton Bestecki, Arapahoe Ridge High School BVSD

Racism, Megan Brown, Arapahoe Ridge High School BVSD

Say No, Maigan Francis, Arapahoe Ridge High School BVSD

Stop GMO, Tyler Lippincott, Arapahoe Ridge High School BVSD

Veteran, Josh Stone, Arapahoe Ridge High School BVSD

Choose Life, Melanie Vargas, Vista Peak Exploratory APS

Dreamland, Hector Guerrero, Vista Peak Exploratory APS

Finding the Balance, Briseda Cesneros Castenada & Mariah Medina, Vista Peak Exploratory APS

Home for the Homeless, Alexa Dwyre & Andalysia Ivey, Vista Peak Exploratory APS

Making Choices, Sydney Allen & Ashley Uribe Trillo, Vista Peak Exploratory APS

Save Homeless Animals, Ethan Buckner & Tyler Griffin, Vista Peak Exploratory APS

Too Fast, Jessenia Carrillo, Vista Peak Exploratory APS

We Follow, We're Next, DJ Cox & Julian Robinson, Vista Peak Exploratory APS

Angela Houdyshell was the coordinator of teacher resources in the education department at the Denver Art Museum.