(Graeme) Welcome to Week 3's discussion. Have you had to struggle with
implementing a multicultural approach to education? This week the panel
addresses this issues and we are pleased to be able to include some comments
from Joan Podd, a Maryland teacher who contacted us during the week. Let's
start in the area of Museum Education.
(Amir) . . . as a[n] . . . Educator/Curator who deals with contemporary
art, I have had many opportunities to implement a multicultural approach to
art education. This has been due to the relatively informal context of
gallery (Museum) education as well as the pluralistic nature of contemporary
art practice. Many artists working today deal directly with issues of
cultural appropriation, identity, sexuality, ethnicity... There have, of
course, also been struggles. I think that initially I had to overcome some
of my own eurocentric attitudes and perspectives on art that was not western
or which didn't fall neatly into the accepted canon of art. Many of these
attitudes were absorbed through my own education.
Although contemporary [museum] education and curatorial practice has become
much more sensitive to pluralism (in all senses of that word), the work that
is predominantly curated, shown, and discussed is done so from a eurocentric
stance; when the perspectives of artists of color or gay and lesbian artists
are shown, it is often done as an add-on type program or show, further
ghettoizing and marginalizing the work of these artists. The usual ways of
doing business are otherwise still in place. A [museum] educator must work
with art that they do not choose nor necessarily "like"; they work with
choices made by curators or that exist in the permanent collections of the
institutions in which they work. I've been able to deal with this struggle
by working both as a curator and educator . . . I learned early that
sometimes having to discuss a work of art, that is say racist, or blatantly
appropriating images and forms from other, un-named cultures, can still be
very useful in art education. These are opportunities to seriously discuss
these works' eurocentric assumptions. In short, I found that it was
possible to talk about what wasn't there as well as what was. Implementing
a multicultural approach to art education isn't just about the inclusion of
art from other cultures; it is about the general attitude of the educator,
especially their ability to handle and value differing cultural) perspectives.
(Gail) This week I've been thinking about what I've been doing in my art
teaching over the past three years. My struggle . . . has been much more to
do with making art important to the students who, although they enjoyed it,
seemed to regard the art program merely as an add-on to the rest of the
curriculum. When I began there was little of the students' art work around
the school and what was . . . had been there for quite a while. So my main
focus was to do something about this. First I wanted . . . to find and
organize projects which reflected student interests and which would fire
their enthusiasm for art, making it a relevant and integral part of school
life. It was also to promote an atmosphere which promoted self esteem . . .
and healthy social interaction which included reducing gender prejudice.
And to encourage students to really look at and discuss art, their own as
well as others by implementing a DBAE approach to art education. Something
I had not heared of until two years ago.
. . . Since reading CELEBRATING PLURALISM I have become aware of the
limitation of the art program from a multicultural point of view, so my
struggle continues and has turned toward implementing such a program. How
have I stuggled? There is so much information in your book that it becomes
overwhelming. The process of sorting through and getting at just exactly
how to implement a program does take time and a lot of reflection. There
are so many things in our lives that demand priority, that making this a
priority takes effort. This is one reason why I accepted the offer to be
part of this group. It would make it a priority
(Graeme) That's interesting because this week we heared from a teacher who
made a multicultural approach to art education a priority 13 years ago.
Joan Podd is an elementary teacher in a private school in Richmond VA where
she is also chair of the k-12 art department, and an adjunct faculty member
in the Department of Art Education at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Joan has implemented an integrated multicultural curriculum at the
elementary level, and has served as a multicultural curriculum consultant.
At the university she has developed two courses: Multicultural Art Education
and Integrating Art Into the Curriculum and Cross Cultural Connections.
Joan <jpodd> writes:
(Joan) Concerning your questions "Have you had to struggle to implement a
multicultural approach to art eductaion? How? Why?"
In 1984 I made the decision to implement a multicultural approach and
integrate art into the regular classroom language arts and social studies
units k-5 . . . [Joan then goes on to describe the supportive ways in which
she has worked with classroom teachers] . . . What began 13 years ago as a
five minute meeting has turned into continuous dialog between not only
myself and the classroom teachers, but also dance, music, and drama
teachers. . .
To give you an example of this, let me tell you about a recent project I did
with my 5th. grade classes. As they were studying Egypt, I did a project
with them on mazes and labyrinth. They saw videos of labyrinth and mazes
and read myths. Then they wrote their own myths and constructed a maze to
illustrate their myth. Their classroom teachers were so impressed by their
creative storytelling, that their myths were then used in their classroom as
a creative writing assignment. Students learned the connection between the
disciplines of art and creative writing, learning a trememndous amount about
the cultures which built labyrinth and mazes, and used their incredible
imaginations to create fabulous mazes.
I believe that the key to my success was beginning slowly, making myself
approachable, and being willing to learn and listen to regular classroom
teachers about what they are teaching . . .
(Graeme) Gail, can you say any more? How do you relate to this? Where are
(Gail) [D]oing it "right" is a big concern. . . I have looked at material
I use for ideas in light of my new awareness and analysed its limitations
from a multicultural point of view. Another approach has been to analyse
past projects. Could any of these become culturally diverse/cross-cultural
if done again and if so how would I adapt them? This, for me, was an easier
place to start and will I hope show the way to new, more culturally diverse
projects in the future.
(Graeme) What about when teaching art in high school?
(Daun) Philsophically, I am committed to a multicultural approach to art
education. I believe that a multicultural approach should not be injected
into single lessons or isolated units of art but should be woven through the
fabric of the curriculum. The implementation of this . . . has its
challenges. Finding resources that truly reflect the art of diverse
cultures can be hard work. Although recently there have been improvements .
. . and some inclusion of non-mainstream art . . . it is still difficult . . .
When I first started teaching five years ago, I struggled to find resources
from across cultures. I felt this incredible responsibility to do in-depth
research on cultures that we were studying. This was and still is important
to me. Eventually though, I realized that I . . . cannot be the fountain of
all cross-cultural knowledge. I started bringing artists into my classrooms
from a range of cultures and I called upon students who belonged to diverse
cultural groups, to share their knowledge with other members of the class.
Reaching out to other members of the community and experts within the
classroom has helped me with the struggle. This has also brought a richness
of experience to the classroom. But, it would be dishonest to say that I am
not still struggling to implement a multicultural approach to art education.
To keep the curriculum vital and alive and new, I will always be struggling.
Struggle is good.
(Graeme) Would any of you be willing to talk about something that you have
tried that just hasn't worked? I think that we, and others, can learn a lot
from our mistakes.
(Daun) Every Semester I take my classes to Seattle for a day of gallery
visits and a hands-on project . . . Last winter I took my fabric art class .
. . Visiting the Seattle Asian Art Museum was to be one of the highlights of
our day. The museum was featuring a show of textile arts from China.
Normally before a gallery visit I go to the exhibit in advance so I know
what my students will be experiencing. In this case, because of distance, I
was unable . . .
I had the students do a written assignment in the gallery and asked them to
prepare their thoughts for a group discussion which would happen in class
the next day. The following day, I asked the students to share their
impressions . . . The group was silent at first . . . Then a voice chimed
up from the back of the room. "All those Chinese fabrics were really
tacky," said one of the students, "I mean the colors were loud and tacky and
they totally clashed."
A silence fell over the room . . . This was a class that was over 60% Asian.
I could tell that some of the students were feeling uncomfortable. . . . I
heared some of the students speaking to each other in . . . Cantonese.
"Can you share your comments with the class?" I asked.
"He just doesn't understand our art." said one of the students.
"Can you help us to understand?" I questioned.
(Graeme) Daun went on to describe how the project was retrieved and
developed in an assignment where the students each did a presentation and
taught their classmates about the fabric art of another culture. We talked
for some time about cultural relativism and "taste" and the difficulties
that are sometimes encountered. We agreed that knowledge would held breed
appreciation and that we shouldn't aim for one without the other.
(Amir) A few years ago I was able to co-curate and program the education
component for a show for children at the Richmond Art Gallery, in British
Columbia. The theme was "art and spirituality"; the title of the show was
Art and Spirit I & II. Part one focused on the work made by Huichol artists
in Mexico as well as the paintings of Jeffrey Birkin that depicted the
people and landscape of the Mexican provinces where the Huichol live; part
two showed the Huichol artists' work along with the work of local
contemporary artists dealing with similar themes and whose work was
concerned with the connection between art and spirituality. Images of
Huichol artists working on their bead work and yarn paintings were shown
along with video of interviews with some of the artists whose works were in
the show. A translator's voice was dubbed in English on the video. The
catalogue essay dealt with the transformations in traditional Huichol art
forms through contact with Europeans and the contemporary world. The intent
of the work, seemed to remain the same.
Art and Religion for the Huichol are not separated. Dreams and visions are
still the primary sources for imagery used by these artists as are their
oral traditions and mythology. What became problematic was the fact that
the Huichol artists used peyote, a hallucinogenic cactus, in their search
for visions and spiritual experiences. Many viewers here, including parents
and teachers were not able to see this as valid or appropriate, equating the
recreational and criminal uses of drugs in our own society and cultural
perspective to that of the Huichol, whose use of peyote is highly
ritualized, controlled, and certainly not seen as recreational. Although I
feel that the discussions that were planned for students and the activities
of art criticism and art making that were also planned for them were of high
quality and did "work" with the groups of children that did come to the
gallery tour/hands-on workshops. Attendance by school groups was very
disappointing; many teachers that normally brought their students to shows,
particularly those aimed at a school audience, did not book their classes.
I learned from many of these teachers, in later conversations, that the
theme of spirituality was daunting to them; it seemed potentially
controversial and they weren't quite sure about what to expect from such a
show, tour and workshop. I had sent a brief description of the show and
programming to teachers, but it was apparently not detailed enough. Making
"godseyes" out of yarn was not exotic enough to them as I did not explain
how these long-time-favorite first-time-weaving art lessons were, in fact,
part of the traditional ritual art made by the Huichol. They are actually
nearika or portals into the spirit world; in the context of this show the
godseyes took on a new meaning; they became portals or nearika..
(Graeme) If you were to do this show and programing again what would be
(Amir) . . . I certainly would pay more attention to the communication
between the schools and the gallery. I would consult with teachers before
selecting themes or devising programing. I would have provided teachers
with more detailed and specific information about the show and program. In
terms of the hands-on workshop that students experienced, I quickly realized
that merely copying the form of traditional nearika would be meaningless,
and an act of appropriation for the students. We modified our approach by
suggesting to students that they create their own personalized weavings,
incorporating found objects. I think that next time I would go even
further, focusing on the theme of "portals" or "openings"- ways that we can
enter another frame of mind, and how that is expressed in the images and
objects made by different people and cultures. Students would respond in
either one or both two-dimensional and three-dimensional media, in a highly
(Graeme) Gail, a few minutes ago you said that you have been analysing past
projects and asking yourself "Could any of these become culturally
diverse/cross-cultural if done again and if so how would I adapt them?" You
then went on to say "This, for me, was an easier place to start and will I
hope show the way to new, more culturally diverse projects in the future."
Can you give an example?
(Gail) I have come to realize that my vision, or the themes that I have
focused on have been too narrow. As you say [Graeme] in CELEBRATING
PLURALISM "We need to focus on broad themes and functions of art that are
cross-cultural" (p.71) In a project that I did on the cave painting at
Lasceaux and Altamira in conjunction with a grade 7 social studies program
we discussed the significance of the images to the people who painted them.
Why had they chosen these images and if we were to paint on cave walls what
images would we choose. The students came up with symbols that were
significant to them and which related to the themes we had identified in
the cave paintings. They found it quite challenging. We painted murals
based on the cave paintings and superimposed our own symbols on theirs. The
project stopped there. We could have gone on to look at murals from other
parts of the world and at other times. We could also have examined examples
of exterior and interior murals in Vancouver. Why have people painted
murals? Are the reasons similar across cultures? . . . This would provide
a much broader and more local view and pose questions not encountered before.
Another example of too narrow a view is when I ask students to bring in art
work that they had in their homes, or if they couldn't bring it in to
describe it. It was very definitely a cross-cultural collection. Although
we discussed it I don't think the "why" question was asked. We looked at
the materials used, the colors and the images but we didn't really get into
why they had art in their homes. My focus in this particular instance was
to show that art is all around us but again the function of the art was not
(Graeme) Now that you have this knowledge what do you think are some of the
main problems with some art education that claims to be multicultural?
(Gail) In CELEBRATING PLURALISM (p.45) you mention the five approaches to
art education identified by Enid Zimmerman. . . . The main problem with some
art education that claims to be multicultural is that it stops around the
first or second approach that Zimmerman describes. Much of it is not
cross-cultural and . . does not emphasise the similarities between cultures.
Also teachers seldom ask the "why" of art. In the elementary school [we] .
. . do not often look at art for reasons of equity and social justice, and
[we] . . . do not challenge the dominant culture's art world canons. In
part this is because many teachers and parents . . consider art to be a
frill, something easy and fun to be done on Friday afternoon. But it is
also because many teachers are already overwhelmed by adapting their
teaching to the many new programs appearing in the schools. Looking at art
from a more socio-anthropological stand point requires a rethinking that
takes thought, work and a lot of discussion between students and teachers .
. . To be successful it is not something that can be tacked on to other
parts of the curriculum.
(Amir) Some "multicultural" art education can actually do more harm than
good. In my own experience as both student and educator I have seen
teachers discuss the art or cultures of "others" from a perspective that
assumes western superiority. The artwork of other cultures is described as
primitive or unsophisticated, because of superficial comparisons between
appearances, and the prevalence of a eurocentric framework that adores
categorization. This spills over into the way that multiculturalism is
addressed in the art classroom where exploration of a cultural artifact may
be limited to copying form, without searching for the connections to
students own lives and cultures. Sociocultural context is often ignored and
it is precisely this contextual information that allows us to shift our
perspectives and see the art from a non-ethnocentric place.
Multicultural art education conceived of as "adding" on to the western canon
becomes marginalized unless the canon itself is continually scrutinized for
its eurocentricism. A lesson here and there added onto the usual
curriculum, may be a strategy that just furthers the ghettoization of the
art of other cultures, especially if viewed solely through a western value
(Daun) A problem with some multicultural art lessons is that they are
superficial and only look at the surface of art from various cultures. In
your book you mantion "making totem poles out of toilet rolls" as a weak
attempt at teaching First Nations art. Studying the the art of diverse
cultures . . . should be in-depth and should include . . . the history and
aesthetics . . .
(Graeme) Joan also had some things to say about this, so we'll give her the
(Joan) . . . Until very recently, art education majors were being taught
that emulating cultural art was implementing a multicultural approach. As
we know, this is a very shallow disrespectful, and inadequate approach . . .
Of course there are valid arguments which teachers use to defend their lack
of depth in teaching multicultural concepts. How do I do an in-depth study
when I only see students once a week? I need to "get through" the concepts
mandated by my county's curriculum. I don't have time to prepare an
in-depth lesson for every grade level.
There are not simple answers . . . but there are solutions. I think the
Getty [Education Institute for the Arts and the regional institutes] ha[ve]
done a fabulous job of offering teachers lesson plans which include
everything needed to give students an in-depth lesson . . . Another solution
is to teach art teachers how to work with regular classroom teachers, so
that regular classroom teachers are enriching the art curriculum instead of
the other way around . . .
I see the main problem as teachers who are uneducated as to how to implement
a quality program. But more importantly, . . [some] teachers haven't a clue
why multicultural art education should be a fundamental part of every
child's education. We need to start with teacher preparation programs which
require courses that teach multicultural art education from all facets. At
our local, state, and national conferences multicultural art education needs
to include more than workshops on emulating cultural art. Teachers need to
be . . aware that having students making toilet paper tube kachina dolls is
no longer acceptable.
Department of Curriculum Studies
University of British Columbia
Canada V6T 1Z4
Tel: 604 822-4842
Fax: 604 822-9366