Going on beyond zebra: A middle school and community-based arts organization collaborate for change

Krensky, B. (2001). Going on beyond zebra: A middle school and community-based arts organization collaborate for change. Education and Urban Society, 33(4), 427-44.

Abstract:

This ethnographic case study examines the impact of an arts-integrated service-learning project on students’ social responsibility. The project, Peace Park, was a collaboration between a local youth arts for social change non-profit, youth and adults from a mobile home community, two sixth grade classes and their teachers, professional artists, architects, local businesses, municipal agencies, adult volunteers, and community members who came together to transform an empty property into a playground and public arts space in an ethnically and economically diverse community outside of a major metropolitan area in Colorado. The project developed out of an absence of arts programming in the community, a history of racial conflict, and the opportunity to engage alienated young people in a social responsibility project.

This study focused on the collaboration between the arts organization and two sixth-grade classes totaling 60 students from a public middle school. The collaboration consisted of a three-month integrated arts service-learning unit that was developed by the staff of the arts organization and taught in collaboration with classroom teachers, artists, and community members. Students formed seven different committees including: park design, art design, public relations, web page, survey, landscaping, and fundraising. Teachers collaborated with professionals to engage students in arts-based envisioning techniques including drawing, collage, photography, and media arts to design and plan for creating a new and much needed public space for the community. The study examines the effect of the Park Peace project on students’ development of three dispositions of social responsibility: awareness, envisioning, and efficacy.

Key Findings:

Students developed a greater awareness of the issues in their community and an understanding of their own power to contribute to creative solutions. This included envisioning themselves in new ways as artists, designers, architects, and community leaders. Students also gained a sense of efficacy by engaging with their community and having a positive impact.

Significance of the Findings:

This study suggests that there is a strong correlation between skills associated with the creative process and ability to impact change.

Methodology:

As a participant-observer, the researcher documented the collaboration of sixth-grade students and an arts organization working on the Peace Park project with extensive field notes over the course of eight months. She also administered pre-project and post-project questionnaires to evaluate participating students’ knowledge of the arts and of social issues of relevance to their local community. In addition, she interviewed parents, students, and teachers about the impact of the project on the students.

Limitations of the Research:

This study was limited to a specific project at a specific time. We have a sense of the impact this collaboration had on participating students, but the researcher does not detail how this collaboration fit into the larger project of constructing the Peace Park nor the results for the community at large after the project was finished. The study also offers little information as to whether the collaboration between the arts organization and school was a one-time project or an ongoing relationship.

Questions to Guide New Research:

How might this collaboration between the school and local arts organization inform middle school arts curriculum and instruction for urban students?

How can this project be replicated as a model for collaborations in other urban communities with similar social issues?

What was the unique role of the arts in this social responsibility education project?