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Jaime Yuhas

Building Community: Stencil Art Of Memory And Place In An Urban Public School Art Classroom

Students are shown a stencil example: how to make connectors.

Students work intently designing and cutting stencils.

         Large urban art classes that are void of discussion, group work, and personal experience contradict life experience worthy of curriculum. Relevant curriculum engages students in a way that allows them to be the experts. The basis of this thesis project was to utilize observations of previous art projects where creativity was limited, personal voice was non-existent, and students were in effect not engaged. In order to bridge my experiences with the students involved in this study, I concentrated on themes of memory and place, and demonstrate how discussion, group work, and artwork based on students’ lives can be critical, meaningful, and transformative. 

         This research was conducted at an overcrowded public high school located on the west side of Chicago where many students are first or second generation immigrants from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Central America, and South America, and most are bilingual. This study involved four beginning art classes with an average of twenty-five students in each room.

         This six-week action research study explores how to build trust and community in the art classroom. Art is a personal expression, so it is imperative to foster a safe space of support, especially when asking students to create artwork about their lives. I consider how students learn about their classmates' experiences, and observe how they may take pride in their art and support each other, which may cultivate creativity and discovery. Through reflection of self and place, I seek to better understand how to build confidence and invite students to embrace and recognize their experiences as valid, significant, and meaningful.

A student scrutinizes the finished print.

A student colors her memory cards.

         Students created artwork based on visual culture such as the popular game, “Memory,” stenciled postcards, and finally participated in a community communication stencil wall. I believe that using such aspects of visual culture helps students conceptualize the modernist hierarchy between art, popular culture, and everyday life. Art may lie in the visualities of the everyday and in popular culture. Through this media, students recognized art as a part of their everyday life, their life experiences as curriculum, and themselves as producers of culture.

         Through this thesis project, I document outcomes when urban high school students create artworks of memory and place outside a generally traditional art curriculum. I compiled data that is characteristic of action research, such as daily journal entries, participant observations, discussions, videotape, questionnaires, evaluation, and student work. I conclude that creating art about self and place is engaging, and builds community, trust, and confidence in the art classroom.

         Jaime Yuhas received her BA in Fine Art from Augustana College in 1999. While in the MAT program at SAIC, Jaime developed visual culture curricula that focused on building community in the art classroom.


Thesis Advisor: John Ploof, Assistant Professor, Art Education; Director, MAAE Program

Thesis Reader: Kevin Tavin, Assistant Professor, Art Education; Director, MAT Program

Peer Reader: Molly Flanagan, MAT Candidate

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