Art and Action

Intervention project

Students engaged the question “What makes art valuable?” by creating installations in the school. These installations were designed to invite audience participation and served as tools to assess how the students might move forward to more effectively make art that encouraged participation from the school community. Students worked individually and collectively with the intention of learning how to use artwork to initiate meaningful conversations in their community.

Goals + Objectives
The goals of this project were for students to establish a process for working collectively. I asked a lot of questions to provide students with the environment they needed to design goals for themselves and to help them consider how they might collaborate to produce artworks that engaged a broad audience. I wanted students to think about how they could make artwork that was both meaningful to them and to their community.

Guiding Questions
How can we make art that is socially engaged? How can we make art that serves as a tool in the production of school culture? What does it mean to make art that “does work”? How does making art that “does work” help facilitate dialogue, insight, and growth in the community for whom the work is intended? How do we know that this type of artistic production is valuable?

Documentation + Assessment

What did the students do to record their process?
Students took pictures and videos, monitored social media, and observed the interactions that community members had with their artwork. These strategies were not very successful, largely because I did not give them specific enough guidelines on how or what to document. I will establish documentation criteria for future versions of this project.

What did the students do to reflect on/assess their process?
Students participated in collective conversations about “what happened” over the course of their projects and during the time the installations were up. Students monitored audience interaction with their works closely. Ultimately the assessment came down to the effectiveness of the projects in engaging the audience, and the reflection on how we can use this experience to inform future collective projects. For example, the public interacted in an exciting way with the project that asked people to take a slip of paper with a positive message inscribed on it. In the passing periods between classes, we observed students jumping up and catching the messages with enthusiasm, with exclamations of “Ooh, that’s so nice!” or “Oh man, I really needed this.” Even if it was for a small second, the space between classes became energized. Within two days all the tabs had been removed.

Timeframe + Learning Activities


  • 9 class periods, 1.5 hour each
  • This class was structured as a bi-weekly seminar, so I saw the same group of students one time every two weeks.

Learning Activities
Day 1:
Inspired by artist Faheem Majeed, students participated in the Sticks and Tape activity. For this activity, students used sticks and tape to collectively create a structure representing the space they would need in order to feel free within the institution of the school. This structure was intended to remain in place for two weeks.

Day 2:
Reflection on Sticks and Tape process and product: What happened?
Students participated in a discussion about what it meant to create a structure that represents “freedom” in the institution of the school. Due to an unforeseen space conflict out of our control, the structure had to be moved halfway through the time that it was intended to occupy the public space. Students questioned if this move lessened the connection the artwork had to the original concept of freedom. Questions arose: What was more valuable about this artwork — the process of creating it or the final product? What are our motivations for creating art? How did we observe the public interacting with our work, if at all? How does our community interact with artwork in general? Is art important? How do we want to engage people through their interactions with our artwork? What power does art have within our community? What power can we imagine it having?

Reflecting on the process and implications of the Sticks and Tape activity, students discussed themes and methods we could use in our next installations to directly engage the community in conversations that were relevant to the culture of the school.

Day 3:
Establishing protocols for collectivity:
The students decided to work as a collective because we were a group of artists interested in having the audience participate in the creation of our artworks.

The students established a protocol in which the group discussed the possibilities and limitations of any proposed individual artwork before installation. This process was purely democratic, and all members of the collective had to agree on the content of the proposed works before moving forward.

The purpose of this process was to help students consider and understand the multiple perspectives through which the work would be perceived by the diverse members of the school community. We also wanted to ensure the artwork was effective at inviting the community to engage with it authentically.

Brainstorming small group installation projects and artist statements:
Students were given the task of developing, either in small groups or individually, an intervention-style artwork using these collectively determined guidelines.

  • The artwork should invite conversation with the community about a topic important to the artist(s).
  • The specific installation site would enhance the message by interrupting a particular space in the school.
  • Students must justify why and how their artwork would contribute to a dialogue in the community about their chosen issue.
  • Students had to plan for how to handle the temporary quality of the installations.
  • Students would use the installations as experiments or tools to gather data about how members of the school community engaged with artwork in a public space.

DAY 4:
Creating small group projects:
Students developed the design of their projects. Approaches included appropriating infamous graffiti quotes from the bathroom into a more publicly viewable space and placing encouraging messages about overlooked aspects of student life in doorways for students to take with them.

Day 5:
Installing small group projects:
Students installed their projects in the locations selected previously with the intent of attracting and engaging their audience. For the most part, the students used heavily trafficked hallways and stairways for their locations.

Day 6:
Reflecting on public responses to group projects:
Students took down small group projects and reflected on their impact. The work that used appropriated graffiti, for example, sparked a lot of dialogue within the school—so much so that we took it down after about an hour. I struggled with the decision to remove the installation, because I believed the students had good intentions with this message, but without the explanation of their intention publicly posted, teachers misinterpreted the message as suicidal thoughts. When we reflected on the experience as a group, it was revealed that one teacher confronted a student because the message used “STRONG LANGUAGE” and the student thought the language was, in fact, not strong enough. In this way the work achieved the goal of generating community dialogue about lesser discussed but important issues, and we as an artist collective were forced to confront the responsibility we take on when trying to start conversations via a presentation of work to a diverse community.

Day 7:
Brainstorming potential final project (Large Group Project):
We brainstormed a large-scale follow-up project that we could collectively implement given the time to do so in the future, using the knowledge we gained from our installations as a foundation. The students discussed what they had learned from their small group installations and the audience response. We compared how different installations had varying levels of effectiveness in their execution and response, and we reflected on how we would do things differently in the future.


General art classroom materials and additional found materials as needed.

MCA Connections

The Freedom Principle exhibition served as the foundation for our interest in working as an artist collective. Students were inspired by the works of AfriCOBRA, and by how the collective used artworks to generate discussion around important issues in their communities.

References + Resources

Naomi Beckwith and Dieter Roelstraete, eds., The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015).

Devan Picard

Walter Payton College Prep

Devan Picard teaches Art Survey and Drawing and Painting as part of the Visual Art Department at Walter Payton College Prep. Born in Ontario, Canada, Devan moved to the United States as a teenager and attended high school in Maine. She earned her BFA with a concentration in printmaking at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). She received her Masters of Art in Teaching (MAT) from the School of The Art Institute of Chicago. Prior to teaching at Payton, she was proud to have taught at Bronzeville Military Academy, Kenwood Academy, as well as Nicholson STEM Elementary school. Other creative endeavors have included apprenticing at a tattoo shop in Wisconsin, as well as curating and operating an outsider art collection and gallery space in Taos, New Mexico.

Devan reflects on her process:

Students worked collaboratively through uncertainty as they took on the task of trying to figure out how to make works that encouraged the public to participate directly in an artwork’s creation and existence. Our project of working collectively was different from other projects, in that students were the center of directing the development of their own projects for their own community. My role as teacher was merely to advise, not to instruct them on what to do. I came to understand that my contribution to the collective was to craft and re-craft really good questions that would lead students to their own solutions as they were thinking about what to say and how to say it.

The structure of this seminar was very improvisational on my end, and it relied on the students to generate their own structures and processes for executing their investigations, so the class ended up feeling disorganized. When I do this seminar again, I will work on providing them with a more clearly defined structure. It was hard and stressful to design a project that provides students with a safe space so that they can feel the freedom required to learn through their experience of creating this type of artwork, but navigating this process and its difficulties was a rewarding challenge for all.