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How Can Contemporary Art Reshape Civic Education?

Lydia Ross, Ed.M.’13, will be at the Ed School to speak on the importance of art and the role of museums in youths' civic engagement.

Lydia RossOn Thursday, February 22, arts educator Lydia Ross, Ed.M.’13, will return to HGSE to give the talk, “Radical Imaginings: How Can Contemporary Art Reshape Civic Education?” — an event sponsored by the Civic and Moral Education Initiative (CMEI). The manager of school and teacher programs at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Ross was named the 2017 Museum Art Educator of the Year by the Illinois Art Education Association. When accepting the award she said, "I believe museum education, driven by the vision of artists and the expertise of teachers, can play a critical role in fostering social and civic imagination, and can empower young people and communities to critically reflect on and shape their world." Through her work, Ross uses contemporary art as a catalyst for civic engagement by young people. Ahead of the CMEI event, we spoke to Ross about the importance of museums and their role in getting young people civically engaged.

When you came to HGSE as a master's candidate in Arts in Education, was your focus always on museums? If not, what put you on that path?

In my application to HGSE, I projected an interest in working at museums after graduation, but I kept an open mind to different options. I knew that museum education could be an exciting platform for the kind of work I wanted to do with young people, but I knew I first needed to learn more about the public school system, educational policy, and curriculum design. I took a wide range of classes to get a big picture view, and was hugely influenced by courses like Fernando Reimers’ Educational Policy Analysis and Research in Comparative Perspective, Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot’s Ecology of Education, and Helen Haste’s Civic Education and Civic Action.

The more I learned about systemic challenges but also opportunities to shape a more equitable education field, the more I wondered whether museum education versus community organizing versus policy work would be the best career pathway for change. Ultimately, my love of art and working with artists stayed at the forefront, and after graduation I found I applied almost exclusively to jobs at museums. That said, it was important for me to be open to change and it speaks highly of HGSE that there are so many different options available for students to consider.

What is your current role at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago?

As the manager of school and teacher programs, I oversee the planning and implementation of all teacher professional development programs and in-depth school partnerships, working in close collaboration with artists, educators, and young people. Most recently, I led on researching, designing, and implementing the School Partnership for Art and Civic Engagement (SPACE), aimed at empowering Chicago teens to create positive change in their communities. SPACE places socially engaged artists and their studios inside Chicago public high schools, physically transforming unused or under-utilized spaces into hubs of artistic production and civic conversation with students. Artists work in partnership with art and social studies teachers to co-design and co-teach an interdisciplinary, socially engaged curriculum. This is the second year of the program, with last year serving as the pilot program. Last year, the students at Curie Metropolitan High School focused on community safety, both physically and psychologically. For their final project, they organized a public festival called “Sanctuary,” with teachers, the SPACE artist, local community organizers, and neighbors, to create community-wide dialogue and imagine possibilities for change.

How can contemporary art educate students about civic justice?

Contemporary artists are impactful on three different levels. The first, they ask provocative questions and compel their audience to look at issues in new ways. Second, they propose alternative strategies to systemic problems. Finally, they imagine radical possibilities for change, which encourages students to dream instead of feeling like they have to operate within an existing system.

After working for about four years at Creative Time, New York City’s vanguard public art organization, I was inspired by the artists I collaborated with and their work addressing social and civic issues. Later at Harvard, I asked myself, “How can we take the work these artists are doing and bring it into the classroom?” 

Young people already have a voice, and contemporary art can provide students a creative toolkit for expressing their voice and taking informed action.

Event Details:

Radical Imaginings: How Can Contemporary Art Reshape Civic Education?
Thursday, February 22, 4:30 - 6 p.m.
Larsen Hall G01
Appian Way
Cambridge, MA 02138