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Art for Inner City Youth

written by: Lynn-nore Chittom • edited by: Donna Cosmato • updated: 9/11/2012

These art lesson plans focus on graffiti and murals with the intention of bridging the gap between art and inner city youth.

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    Art in the City

    While some of the world's best art museums are located in big cities, so too are some of the most underprivileged neighborhoods and schools. Students who live just blocks away from the Art Institute of Chicago and the Metropolitan Museum of Art may never find themselves experiencing, appreciating, or even setting foot in, some of these amazing museums. It is up to the art teachers in their lives to make a way for these students to bridge the gap between the experiences of the inner city and art appreciation.

    These art lesson plans for inner city youth are designed to do just that. By examining what these students already know and building on that knowledge, art appreciation can meet them in the inner city and help expand their definition of art.

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    Graphic Connection

    A can of spray paint and a bridge overpass may be the closest some city kids have ever come to doing artwork outside of the classroom. Rather than rejecting this as graffiti, why not consider this as a starting point for discussion. By tossing out some questions to the class, you might find that they already have a sense of art appreciation, without even knowing it. Here are some questions to help generate discussion with your inner city youth.

    • What do you think of when you think of art? Is all art in museums? Does art have to be in a museum?
    • How many pieces of art do you think you've seen this week?
    • Did you see any art on the way to school today?
    • Not including graffiti which includes certain words, have you seen any graffiti that you might consider beautiful? (Be prepared for some kids to get stuck on the idea of swear words in graffiti, and gently continue the conversation where you need it to go.)
    • Think about a piece of graffiti that you like. What would you say that you like about it? The colors? The shapes? The shades? How does it make you feel?
    • Is graffiti art? Why or why not?

    Remember, you can start at many different points in this discussion to get the students where you want them -- you can start with questions about art and connect that with thoughts on graffiti or start with questions on graffiti and move the kids toward understanding that it is art. Either way you can direct the students to an understanding that art comes in many different forms and some might already be familiar to them.

    If it doesn't seem likely for your class to enter into a discussion with you, perhaps showing them photographs of famous artwork with graffiti and murals mixed in, you could start a class discussion on what constitutes art.

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    Graffiti for Hire

    After introducing graffiti as an art form, students may be interested to learn about community mural projects. One good example of an inner city community mural program is the Groundswell Community Mural Project in New York City. Since it was established in 1996, about 500 14 to 21 year olds participate each year in graphic art projects around the city. Professional artists are hired to design the art and students and volunteers participate in art training and completion of the art projects. Most of these projects are painted murals on large walls throughout the city. These murals brighten up the landscape of the city and cover over areas that might have been otherwise deteriorating. In every case the images are bright and colorful and send an inspiring message of peace and unity.

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    Classroom Project

    To inspire students toward beauty in graffiti, the students need to break away from the mindset of vandalism. It is important to encourage the class to participate in programs that might allow them to express themselves through art without getting in trouble with the law. A little research may help you determine what art programs are available in your city. A call to your city's chamber of commerce may help direct you to mural art programs in your city.

    In the mean time, try these art lesson plans for your inner city youth. Provide them with an opportunity to work together on an art project for the school. Ideally, having the students work together on a wall mural project to enhance the beauty of the school would be perfect. If this is not an option, try covering a wall with paper and having the students work together to design and complete a mural either in the art classroom or a school hallway.

    If vandalism occurs, remind the students that unsolicited outdoor graffiti is also vandalism. Perhaps they will learn something greater than just a lesson in art.

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