A lesson plan based on a photo feature on local Latino murals in the September-October 2001 issue of L.A. Youth, in which Oscar Rodriguez visited four Los Angeles murals and described why he liked them. To see the photo essay, click here.

By Libby Hartigan, Managing Editor

Grades: 6-12
Subjects: Language Arts, Social Studies, Art History and Art

Overview of lesson plan: In this lesson, students assess the role of art in their lives and discuss how murals can accomplish social change.

Suggested time allowance: 45 min. – 1 hr.

Students will:
1. Explore what makes “good” art.
2. Analyze community attitudes toward murals.
3. Discover that people have different views on art.

Resources and materials:
—paper or journals
—pens or pencils
—copies of L.A. Youth article “If these walls could talk” (one per student)
—classroom blackboard

1. WARM-UP: Ask students to list three examples of artwork in their journals, or on a piece of paper. Tell them they can include anything—and they don’t necessarily have to include artwork that they like. It might just be artwork they are aware of. If they are not sure of the title of the artwork, they can just write a general description (such as “portrait of a smiling lady” for the Mona Lisa). Go around the room and ask them to read their lists out loud. Write down the examples on the board.

2. Discuss the examples with the whole class. Questions to keep in mind:
    a.      What types of artwork are listed there? Paintings? Sculptures?
    b.     Did anyone choose artwork created by friends and family? Why or why not?
    c.     Is art always found in museums? What kinds of people in our society tend to be art lovers?

3. Write up a list of public structures on the board: The Statue of Liberty. The Staples Center. The 405 Freeway. Could these things be considered art? Why or why not? How do the students define art? Ask them to call out answers and write them on the board.

4. Ask students to turn to the pictures of Latino murals in Los Angeles on pages 14-15 of the September-October 2001 issue of L.A. Youth. Ask them to discuss the murals they see. You might want to ask some of these questions:
    a.      Which is their favorite and why?
    b.     The writer, Oscar, refers to “messages on the wall.” What kind of messages do these murals send?
    c.     Are these murals art?
    d.     What do these murals say about the experiences of Mexican-Americans?

5. These murals were catalogued by the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC), a nonprofit group designed to create, catalog and conserve public art projects. Judith Baca, 55, who grew up in Pacoima, is SPARC’s artistic director. She has devoted her life to public art, primarily murals, as a painter and arts administrator. She was recently honored with the Creative Vision award by the Liberty Hill Foundation.
     Write out the following quote on the board and read it aloud to the class:
     Judith Baca explained her decision to devote her life to murals: “I didn’t want to produce meaningless paintings that the rich would buy and be put in a museum where my family wouldn’t go. I wanted to be, you know, useful to the struggle for justice and to these kids who were in such despair,” she told the Los Angeles Times in an interview in August, 2001.
     “Muralism is the only art form that was so identified with communities of color [in the United States] that it came to be considered lower-class. But in reality, muralism is a very noble art form because it talks about civic space as an amenity to our lives. We require civic spaces to come together, and we should be inspired by those spaces to become better citizens.”
    Guide a discussion with your students about Ms. Baca’s remarks. You may want to ask them some of these questions:
    a.      Why did Judy Baca decide to spend her life painting and promoting murals?
    b.     What did she mean when she said she wanted to be “useful to the struggle for justice?”
    c.     She wanted to help despairing kids through her murals. Do you think murals could help a kid in despair? Why or why not?
    d.     Baca said “We require civic spaces to come together, and we should be inspired by those spaces to become better citizens.” How can a civic space inspire someone to be a better citizen?

6. WRAP-UP In class or as homework, ask your students to reflect on the class discussion and Judith Baca’s remarks and write a short essay about a mural that Oscar saw. Is the mural meaningful to them or not? If so, how is it meaningful? If not, what type of mural might be more relevant?
These essays could be mounted next to the mural they describe so that the class can share opinions on the murals.

Evaluation and assessment:
Students will be evaluated based on written work and participation in class.

Extension activities:
•      Find a local mural. Photograph and study it, and make a presentation about it to the class.
•      Work with a school art class to identify a spot for a mural at school or nearby, and help design and execute the mural.
•      Mexico is famous for its muralists, such as David Alfaro Siquieros, Jose Clemente Orozco and Diego Rivera. Research and write about one of these artists.