Arts as Civic Commons (ArtC) believes that art is a common ground for exploring civic themes – themes related to how we live together, and how we aspire to live together. The project develops educational resources and tools for schools, museums, and other learning contexts that encourage learners to explore the complexity of contemporary civic themes through looking at and making art. In particular, the ArtC approach emphasizes how art offers unique opportunities to explore and express identities, to analyze systems that shape our world, and to construct visions of what the world could be.

Banner Image: Featured artworks created by students from Independent Schools Victoria. Thank you to Josephine Gullan, Amelia Lim, Cara Thomas, David Bennie, Caitlin Preyser, Alexandra Ragg, Jackson Palmer, Yukako Sunaba, Darcy Thomas, Isobelle McGrath, Louise Ying She Lai, Ally Wu, Jackson Bleasby, Madeleine Moraitis.

The Arts as Civic Commons (ArtC) project is founded on the belief that the arts can provide common and fertile ground on which to explore and engage with the forces that shape civic life. These forces include the values, social conventions, power dynamics, institutions and systems that shape how we live together—and how we believe we should live together—at every level of community life, from the local to the global.

As educators, we believe that learning experiences in the ‘civic commons’ of art have a place not just in the art classroom, but in subjects across the curriculum and in contexts outside of school. These experiences, which involve viewing as well as making art, might include: creating or discussing an artwork that explores a pressing theme of civic importance such as climate change or social injustice; visiting a museum and considering whose stories are told through the work on display and whose aren’t; working with a local artist to develop a public artwork that encourages dialogue about an issue of community concern. To support learning experiences at the intersect of art and civic engagement, the ArtC project is developing a range of ‘thinking routines’ and other practices to help learners:

  • build their own civic visions about the way the world is or should be, and reflect on the visions expressed by artists and by their peers;
  • explore how art can reveal, interrogate, and even change the systems that shape civic life, including institutional systems, belief systems, and power systems;
  • engage in thoughtful, inquiry-oriented dialogue that builds knowledge about civic themes and illuminates diverse perspectives;
  • reflect on their own civic identities, and explore how their own lives are connected to larger systems and stories;
  • develop a sense of agency with regard to civic life, along with an expansive conception of the civic domain and what counts as civic action.

At present, the project is focusing mainly but not exclusively on contemporary visual art, recognizing that many artists today are working with multiple media and across disciplines. We hope to expand the project to include areas of the performing arts in the future. Also at present, most of the tools developed by the project apply mainly to viewing art. But we recognize and wholly endorse the unique power of artmaking as a form of learning and expression. While the project doesn’t aim to offer a full-scale blueprint for teaching artmaking, we are developing tools to help educators facilitate accessible artmaking experiences that can be done in any classroom and that don’t require extensive technical expertise. These artmaking experiences—often collaborative, and often inspired by the work of contemporary artists working in the civic sphere— have two goals: one is to help learners expand their ideas about what art can be and who can make it; the second is to help learners investigate civic themes and understand themselves as actors in public life. Relatedly, the project is also developing strategies to help educators connect students with local artists and arts organizations who are working in the domain of civic inquiry and action.


See | Think | Me | We

A thinking routine for making personal and community connections with works of art

Lenses for Dialogue

A thinking routine for looking through lenses and exchanging perspectives

See | Think | Make | Discuss

A thinking routine for thinking about civic art through making

Values | Identities | Actions (VIA)

A thinking routine for exploring values, identities, and actions

Dialogue Moves

Short strategies to deepen dialogue. For use by educators and students whenever it’s desirable to scaffold a respectful exchange of ideas and perspectives between two or more people.

Viewing Moves

Short strategies to deepen observation. For use by educators and students whenever it’s desirable to sustain and enrich the solo or collaborative process of close looking.

Art to Systems & Back

A thinking arc for exploring connections between a work of art and civically-related systems.

More resources coming soon!



With permission from the artist, this video features “Meanwhile in Hong Kong” by Tommy Fung / IG @surrealhk


This video features Kylie Banyard ‘Photography and cabbages’ 2017 oil and acrylic on canvas 86.5 x 135. Courtesy of artist.


With permission from the artist, this video features Worry__Lines, “We’re all on the same rough seas together, but we are not all in the same boat.”

Project Info

Project Dates: 2018 - Current
Principal Investigators: Shari Tishman, Carrie James
FUNDER: Independent Schools Victoria