THE ARTIST: Creative Activism

Students will learn the power of visual storytelling by exercising their artistic skills through creative expression, igniting critical consciousness.


  • Engage with a piece of media.
  • Consider and take different perspectives. 
  • Collaborate with peers.
  • Practice artistic expression.
  • Practice reflective writing skills.
  • Generate creative group brainstorm.
  • Critically evaluate social issues.
  • Exercise presentation and communication skills.
  • Engage with the ecosystem of a social issue and apply learning to one’s own community.

STEP 1: INSPIRATION Art for social justice

Begin with a discussion of art for social justice:

What does social justice mean to you? A few working definitions include: 

Social justice is the view that everyone deserves equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities.- National Association of Social workers 

Social justice is a communal effort dedicated to creating and sustaining a fair and equal society in which each person and all groups are valued and affirmed. -John Lewis]

What is the primary use of art? [decoration, creative expression, social commentary? political descent?]

STEP 2: EMPATHY How does it feel?

Prior to viewing the films, introduce the SIFT Worksheet. This is a graphic organizer designed to help students keep track of their reactions while viewing the films. Using the worksheet during the film viewing, ask students to notice and record any physical SENSATIONS, any IMAGES that are particularly evocative, any FEELINGS that they experience, and any THOUGHTS that occur to them. Be sure to supply one worksheet per film for each student. 

In addition, ask your students to write down any thoughts and questions they had while watching the films.

Screen the film(s). After watching each film, allow time for students to discuss their reactions either as a class or in small groups. 

Hint: This reflection is a critical step in learning from the film as it allows an opportunity for participants to make an emotional connection to the issues through the storytelling.

STEP 3: CRITICAL THINKING How might you use art?

Begin a class discussion by offering a definition of social justice. Ask students to name any social justice issues that are relevant to them,and to their community, be it school, neighborhood or town/city. Use this opportunity to clarify with students what the issues are about, and to understand what they would do to improve or resolve the issue. 

Ask students to form small groups (4-6 students) based on the social justice issue that is of most interest to them. In their groups, students come up with an idea for an art installation (or performance) that makes a statement about their chosen issue. 

Present several art forms for inspiration:

Once the concept takes shape, students create an action plan to implement the project in their community. Included in their plan should be:

  • full description of the installation
  • project timeline including an associated events and when it will be taken down,
  • specific role for each group member with tasks and deadlines,
  • identified location for the installation with permissions granted,
  • list of resources and materials needed, and where they will be acquired.

Ask groups to write an artist’s statement describing their art installation, the motive behind it and what they hope viewers will learn from the piece.

Hint: Consider in advance whether you wish to include environmental justice issues in this project. Consider connecting their projects with other events happening at school, or a celebration of one of the UN social justice days.

STEP 4: COLLECTIVE ACTION Share your genius

Students present their art installation, artist statement, and concept to the class. Consider filming these installations and/or performances for social media exposure and to amplify student voices.


This lesson plan requires one class period for discussion and viewing, and an additional class period for group project planning. Any additional time depends on the scope of the art installations planned by student groups.


Select 1-4 films related to uprising and to art as a tool for change. When curating the films,  check the SIMA Art for Good Spotlight or use “uprising” on the thematic search. You’ll find bold and beautiful titles such as:

Prepare for a discussion on the forms of protest seen in the film(s): guidelines for peaceful protest and the difference between free speech and hate speech. Educators may wish to familiarize themselves with their region’s legal rights to protest and speak out, for example the ACLU articulates rights in the United States. Consider what your goals are and how you would like to inform and empower students with this lesson.

Bonus Option

Students work together to create and install their art piece in their school or community, making sure to get all the requisite permission. If possible, install the art in public places so that the community can participate and enjoy. Invite a local reporter to document the pop-up art gallery.