Inspired by the wide variety of artistic responses to the Trump administration in the Bay Area and beyond, visual arts instructor Caren Andrews this year challenged her middle school students at San Francisco Friends School to add their own voices to the nationwide conversation.
“Our kids had an intuitive understanding of why we create art, whether it’s to add beauty to the world or reflect ourselves,” Andrews says. “But we found that they struggled with their connection to art and action.”
Andrews hoped to forge that connection by asking her students to interpret the U.S. Constitution. The teacher saw the 228-year-old document governing the law of the land and its people as being particularly vital in an era where civil rights are constantly up for debate.
Inspired by a 1960s Bill of Rights poster published by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Andrews’ students created their own set of posters examining constitutional amendments. Andrews also encouraged her students to respond through visual art to other political issues, such as the gender pay gap and abortion.
Responses included a giant mouth representing the U.S.’s excessive consumption of global resources, and a person flailing off a treadmill as a way to represent the right to a speedy trial. But all are rooted in a deep reflection of the tangible relationship between this country’s laws and the students’ own lives.
Eighth grader Billie Breskin re-purposed the iconic photograph “Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima” by replacing the stars and stripes in the famous wartime image with the rainbow colors of Gay Pride. Breskin hopes her poster will open up a discussion about gay marriage legislation in the U.S.
“Part of being American is protecting what’s back home,” Breskin says. “I wanted to do something truly patriotic, but present it in a way that includes the LGBT community.”
The poster project is part of a class Andrews teaches at the school, titled The Space Between: Art, Justice, and Action. The class is aimed at finding active ways for students to question their roles both as artists and cultural consumers, especially in the era of fake news and the potential de-funding of public arts programs.
“I want them to be critical thinkers, to understand when they’re being pandered to and be discerning consumers,” Andrews says of the goals of the class. “In working with these young people, I feel like I’m developing the young artists-activists of tomorrow and today.”