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.

Project Info

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