5 Ways to Bring Art + Activism to the Classroom

Since art is so important—how can we empower students through art? Here are 5 resources for you to use to empower your students.

By Ashley Wen

“When I started to step into saying, ‘I am an artist,’ I started to understand my why.” — artist-activist and XQ #Artivism Challenge host Brandan “BMike” Odums   

Art is a powerful way for students to explore their creativity, express their emotions, and learn about social issues. In fact, many youth activists across the nation have begun to use artivism—a blend of art and activism—to exercise their voice and choice

Since art is so important, how can we empower students through art? From sparking challenging conversations around critical social issues to developing creative solutions to address community needs, we’ll explore why arts education is crucial for student development. 

Sound good? Give me five! 😉

Preparing students for the future means giving students the opportunity to create content with purpose through music, dance, and visual arts.

Why it matters: Students need art and creativity in their lives—now more than ever. In a time when arts programs are undergoing budget cuts in high schools across America, it’s pivotal that we champion creative spaces for students to explore their artistic side freely.

That’s why XQ partnered with BMike on the XQ Visual Arts and Activism Challenge

In the Visual Arts and Activism Challenge, part two of the XQ’s #Artivism Challenge series, students will work with Brandan “BMike” Odums to harness art to amplify their vision of the future—all with a community of artistic peers and mentors.

Extra Credit: Art and Activism Classroom Resources

Illustration creds: Kitsap Youth Activism Team 

“For me, this is about change. Art is a good way to heal and bring peace to the community and to yourself…This is my protest.” – Jasmine Quiroga, artist and muralist

Why it matters: Art allows students to process and explore pressing and complicated social issues, such as racial violence and toxic masculinity. For many students, art allows them to process, articulate, and express how they feel about difficult subject matter. 

Last summer, artists and students came together to transform boarded-up storefronts in downtown Oakland into a gallery of showcasing murals that express the community’s pain, solidarity, and demands for justice.  

With these murals, students brought awareness to the #BlackLivesMatter movement by:

  • Bringing awareness to the nuances of racial bias and violence in America
  • Coming together in community to foster empathy
  • Creating a space to imagine a more just future

Extra Credit: Black Lives Mural Painted All Over Oakland by Students and Community

Founder and Chief Creative Officer of Off-White Virgil Abloh sat down with XQ to talk about the ability to create social change through art, education, and community.

Why it matters:  In XQ’s interview with Virgil Abloh, he reminds us that individual success and social change necessitate community-wide efforts. If we can come together to fight the injustices in all areas of our communities, we have a real opportunity to build a more equitable, fair, and just society. 

According to Abloh, activism is “rooted in this idea that you can spread knowledge so that change can happen.”

We must inspire the next generation and equip them with the tools to materialize their imaginations. 

We encourage students and educators to watch Virgil’s interview and explore how to use his insights to create change:

  • Unleashing your curiosity through the intersections of art, education, and community
  • Fostering community to make the impossible, possible
  • Making the world your classroom

Extra Credit: Off-White Founder Virgil Abloh Interview on Education, Art, Culture, and Design

We know that arts education plays a significant role in helping students find their voice, express themselves, amplify social causes, and problem-solve. 

Why it matters: “Creativity and innovation are aligned.” – Renée Fleming, singer

Creative thinking is an integral part of critical thinking and lifelong learning. In fact, nurturing well-rounded students ready to take on the world’s most complex problems is at the heart of XQ’s work.

Where do young people find creative inspiration?

  • In their communities—by way of families, friends, peers, and mentors
  • Through reflection and self-discovery —upon their own multifaceted identities, and lived experiences
  • New avenues to explore their creativity, such as the visual arts, dance, and music

Extra Credit: Renée Fleming on sparking students’ passions through new experiences

In XQ’s #MakeASongChallenge, students told us what issues matter most to them. 

Why it matters: When we give youth the opportunity to make art about the world’s most pressing issues, we’re empowering them to imagine—and realize—a better future. 

Through creative expression, students can become generous collaborators and original thinkers for an uncertain world (two of our XQ learner goals). Imagination and creative thinking allow students to deeply understand the issues that are front and center in their worlds.

In the recent XQ Music + Activism #MakeASongChallenge, students creatively explored topics including:

Extra Credit: Submissions from XQ’s #MakeASongChallenge Reveal What Matters Most to Students Today

Encourage students to harness the power of visual art to imagine the future they want to see with XQ’s Visual Arts + Activism Challenge ft. BMike.

Join the challenge