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Curating a Promising Future through Artistic Literacy

Date: 22 February 2022

“In curatorial practice, attending to decisions made in selecting, organizing, analyzing, and documenting content, as well as reviewing the evidence of learning, opens layers of realizations and insights for teachers and their students. Increasing opportunities to reflect in process as well as at the end of a lesson yields…aha moments and insight[s]. As one teacher shared, “This work puts the thinking back into teaching and learning.”¹

Now more than ever, teachers and students need support in an ever-changing educational environment that has been ridden with social and emotional challenges, learning loss and changing health and safety conditions. By their nature, the arts encourage student voice and choice, inviting students to build capacities that lead to becoming resilient and curious learners. The arts can address the critical social and emotional needs of diverse students while providing opportunities for them to make connections through artistic literacy, curation and interdisciplinary learning. 

Teachers can be curators of educational experience, creating space for structures and processes in arts-specific and arts-integrated learning – where students explore connections, relationships and applications across the curriculum through dance, media arts, music, theatre and visual arts. 

A curatorial approach to teaching empowers the practitioner to make choices that impact teaching and learning. One generally thinks of a curator as a person in a museum who is responsible for the care, selection, preservation and presentation of artifacts or artworks. Teachers are also curators as they select the standards they address, the curriculum they use, and the student work and learning results they document.

A curator selects, foregrounds, and presents ideas and information. This lens adds “a new level of intentionality and expertise to your process and can have a profound effect on your work.”²  A curatorial teacher gathers and reflects on evidence of learning in the classroom to deepen their own practice and to learn more about the growth of their students. The arts provide many ways that students can demonstrate their learning, revealing many indicators for customized instructional approaches.

Educators can apply skills of curation as they:

  • develop their own expertise
  • reflect on their practice and creative choices in the classroom
  • select materials that reflect the diversity and learning styles of their students 
  • document and tell the story of learning

These curatorial approaches can create a feedback loop for educators to tune into the impact of their intentional choices and connect educators and their students to what’s unfolding in their classroom. “At the core of a curatorial approach is a careful tending to the needs of diverse students and creating space for many ways of knowing. The goal is to bring in more voices and new examples, so students see themselves and trust that their experiences are valued.”³

Developing creative capacities through arts integration while curating key educational experiences opens a wide range of opportunities to dig deeper and highlight decision junctures that invite a host of teachable moments and analysis. Teachers do this by planning for the incubation of ideas, taking time for the experimentation that is part of any creative process and inviting students to translate ideas through one or more art forms. With a critical eye on curating, teachers often thrive as they see students develop multiple means of demonstrating their understanding. 

In the context of COVID-19, many educators are addressing gaps that have resulted from pandemic-challenged learning environments. Effective professional learning propels teachers to employ curatorial skills to create vibrant learning spaces, respond to needs of students in these times, and use evidence of learning as a critical means of formative assessment in the classroom. 

Imagine a world without the arts! We urge decision makers to consider providing professional learning opportunities for curation, arts learning and innovation so that our students leave 2022 with new possibilities for artistic literacy. 

¹ Donovan, L. & Anderberg, S. (2020). Teacher as Curator. New York, New York: Teachers College Press. 

² Donovan & Anderberg, Teacher as Curator, 8. 

³ Donovan & Anderberg, Teacher as Curator, 182.

Title: 2280 Pasos Bajo un Cielo Nublado | Artist: Hernán Jourdan | Medium: Film

When I was asked to create a work of art exploring literacy, I wanted to create a dance but I had no dancers or a studio, so I chose to use my own body in the space I had, my yard. Fluent Nature is video of micro-choreography that explores what cannot be expressed with words, how nature has its own language, and how placing the human body in nature changes the story.

Title: What Is Me and What Is Not Me | Artist: Alex Chadwell | Medium: Music

My thinking on arts and literacy centers around the concept of literacies and artmaking as both sense-making and meaning-making processes that organically and inevitably overlap, intersect, and reciprocate. Compositionally, What is me and what is not me is a sound collage of sorts (there is no notation for the piece, and I'd be hard pressed to recreate it accurately) that abstractly and aurally represents the relationships between literacies and artmaking.

Title: A Curious Honeybee | Artist: Gideon Young | Medium: Film

Offering welcome through traditional and digital elements of literacy, A Curious Honeybee provides an experiential learning environment by activating visual, musical, natural, and emotional literacies.

Title: Tercera Llamada | Artist: Karilú Forshee | Medium: Audio

La Carpa Theatre is a project that I am currently directing in the Detroit Latinx community. The project aims to strengthen and uplift youth voices through devised theatre, in the style of the Mexican Carpas. This audio was created in the theatrical environment envisioned for our project. The ways in which literacies are re-defined are at the heart of La Carpa Theatre's mission.

Title: Literaseas | Artist: MJ Robinson | Medium: Graphite and ink on paper with digital edits

Title: A Riddle | Artist: MJ Robinson | Medium: Graphite on paper with digital edits

Title: False Binaries | Artist: MJ Robinson | Medium: Graphite on paper with digital edits