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Art lessons that focus on culture and community

Your art classroom is the perfect place for students to explore different cultures as well as their own community and their place in it. Read how these teachers are widening students’ perspectives and download seven art lessons that will help you do the same.  

Teachers share the ways they build culture and community 

  • We do schoolwide collaborative murals. They are always a hit and bring everyone together to find their piece within the entire work. – Angela H.  
  • We riff on what our community is famous for: Johnny Appleseed, apples, pink plastic flamingos, combs, baby carriages, etc. Observe, draw, repeat! – Linnea R. 
  • To explore community and culture, I have “Masterpiece Mondays,” where I highlight an artist’s work in PPT format. We look at four to five images and have a discussion of how their culture informs their work and what message they are portraying. Students tend to relate to more contemporary voices, and we travel the globe looking at how art communicates and expresses ideas and beliefs. – Bibba M. 
  • I choose art assignments inspired by different cultures that reflect the demographic of my students, in particular the Black and Hispanic/Latino populations. – Sharon S. 
  • It’s great to enter community art competitions, especially at our local art museum. – Danellen D. 
  • I like to invite visiting artists to share their wonderful and inspirational art with my students. – Debbie F. 
  • Virtual field trips are a great way to explore when there is no budget for it. – Noel M. 
  • My students are exposed to work by contemporary artists across a range of cultures. Using a variety of mediums, students create work that reflects who they are and the inspiration they get from each other. – Heidi L. 
  • The art room is the perfect place to explore community, diversity, and inclusion. Every Monday we feature a different artist and one of their artworks. Students then do a See, Think, Wonder and write a few sentences about the artwork or the artist. By featuring different artists from around the world, students are able to see how we all have things in common, no matter how different we seem at first. – Melanie W. 
  • I introduce different cultures and communities throughout the year by researching cultural celebrations, traditions, fiber/textiles, food, weather, and geography. I try to find books and videos to go along with the presentation. I incorporate a variety of mediums that work with the lessons.
    – Pam H. 
  • I love connecting our community to our art lessons! We talk about our school theme, other subjects, and the neighboring community and animals (we are by the water) to tie into our artwork! – Kristina G. 
  • Every October we switch to ink and participate in Inktober in my high school art room. We build community by sharing our ink ideas and drawings. My students are loving it! – Enjoli B. 
  • My students bring creativity and tradition from their culture. We have been working on Day of the Dead skeletons for Hispanic Heritage Month and they are very excited about them. – Bridget L. 
  • We most recently are celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month. We’re celebrating Spanish artists, Joan Miro, Frida Kahlo, and Pablo Picasso. – Rebecca T. 
  • My students bring ideas and traditions from their families. Every student lends a portion of their heritage. Greatness is created when student culture and student art intersect. – Mrs. Monyhan 
  • Building a community in my classroom is essential to all teachers! I take pride in bringing in all my students’ cultures and interests with art, decor, and conversations. My students feel safe in my room!
    – Missy K. 
  • We create bowls for the Empty Bowls Community Project. Our 7th and 8th grades create and we have our own event with foods classes providing the soup! This year, I’d like to get the Jazz Band to come and perform! – @art_inthe_middle 
  • We focus on identity in the first part of the school year with projects about who we are, then share artworks and poems in the community (classroom) setting to build a sense of belonging. – Camellia T.  
  • I teach my students in the beginning of the year about myself and my Hispanic culture through art to set the tone for the year that my class accepts, welcomes, and likes to learn from all. Then we study art from other countries and artists. – @running_with_scissors_art 
  • Looking, analyzing, and exploring a variety of media through techniques, play, and artworks. We use our art journals to house these explorations while annotating the purpose and use for our own projects. By looking at artists, we are able to see how they have used these media in traditional or new ways. Then our artists can find which medium works best for their project ideas. – Laura K.

7 community and culture art lessons 

If you’re looking for new ways to deepen students’ understanding of what community means and expose them to different cultures, check out these popular standards-aligned art lessons.  

The art of personal storytelling: This lesson teaches self-awareness, social awareness, and cultural awareness. Students explore the narrative artwork of Faith Ringgold and Romare Bearden and then create their own narrative multimedia works. A writing component and community-building extension invite students to share their stories and actively listen and understand the narrative artworks of their peers.

Watercolor quilt: This lesson that covers the art of quilting also ties to the work of Faith Ringgold. Students each create a piece of a themed quilt and embellish it with embroidery. They then work together to decide the best composition for the completed quilt.

The Community Circle Project: Around the world, the circle is a symbol of unity, connection, inclusiveness, and continuity. Invite students to build connections by creating individual circles that make up a larger part of a themed art installation.

Aboriginal dreaming: In this lesson, students learn the history of “dreaming” or “creation” stories (Jukurrpa) of the Aborigine culture in Australia. After learning about the dot paintings made by Aboriginal ancestors, students create their own concentric dot paintings on ceiling tiles.

Oaxacan pattern animals: While exploring the work of painter and sculptor Pedro Linares, students discuss the patterns and designs that are found in traditional Oaxacan art and alebrijes. They then choose an animal to draw and develop their drawing with painted neon patterns of dots, lines, zigzags, and wavy lines. This one is perfect for a black light display! 

Egyptian cartouche printing: In this lesson, students not only gain an understanding of Egyptian hieroglyphics but also of themselves. After learning about the symbols of ancient Egypt, they use printmaking techniques to create a personal cartouche, or protective emblem. As students think about the design for their cartouche, they examine character traits they feel they possess or hope to attain. Each hieroglyphic symbol they use illustrates a positive, empowering, or protective characteristic about themselves. 

Making metal mandalas: Students explore the origin of mandalas and their symbolism and discuss the various ways they can be created in this lesson. To create their own mandalas, they use the process of metal tooling and learn about how it has been used throughout history to embellish objects.

Explore more diverse art lessons 

Continue to help students make connections to their broader community as well as the world with more diverse lesson plans on our Teacher Resource Center. You’ll help open students’ eyes to new perspectives and show them how art can bring people together.  

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