Empathy + Action = Activist

The other day I walked in to the art classroom at one of our elementary schools. Third graders were on a mission.

As artists, how might we use our creative voices to affect change in

  • our school?
  • our community?
  • our world?


To get humans to use less plastic and/or dispose of plastic properly to protect our ocean creatures.

In order to tell the story of plastic’s toxic impact on the ocean, students planned a public art piece depicting the ocean, with the creatures and such made of plastic. It was ambitious, and meaningful. And they needed the help of the art teacher.

When I entered the classroom, it was hard to even find the art teacher. She wasn’t in front teaching the class. She was sitting with a group of students, encouraging them, inspiring them, and helping them turn their vision in to a reality. Other students were spread around the room working with different tools: saws, drills, paints, wire.

I also couldn’t find the classroom teacher! Oh wait…there she is. Not monitoring the room, or sitting in the corner grading papers, but she was making art right there with the students. With her goggles on. As equals.

Each student I talked to knew not only what he or she was creating and how it would tie in to the art piece, but each student also described for me why this art piece was important. I was told about jellyfish dying with plastic wrapped around them and dead fish full of plastic in their stomach. They asked me about my plastic usage, and if I knew how much of what I used would end up floating in the ocean.

They had a reason for their art. A passion for their art. Activists for a cause important to them.

It was truly a moment when I said, “Yes! This is what learning should be like for students every day!”

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