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Lexi Coffee

Through a Wide Angle Lens:
A Critical Multicultural Approach to Art Education Focusing on Identity, Visual Culture and Photography

          How can I as an art educator utilize aspects of visual culture, including the works of contemporary artists, to explore issues surrounding racial identity and race representation in a densely populated urban high school? How can this exploration encourage transformative understandings of our own identity and the identities of those in our community within the social, political, and historical contexts we inhabit? These two complex questions are the focus of this action research thesis project.

            Having grown up in a predominantly white upper-middle class suburb of Phoenix, Arizona, my experience in the elementary and secondary art classroom was mostly concerned with western European notions of fine art appreciation and production that rarely brought student experiences and popular culture into the classroom. Although I maintain an appreciation for the artworks and techniques I was taught, I am interested in how art education can incorporate a critical multicultural approach that stems from aspects of students’ experiences and cultural identities.

            This research is limited to a group of approximately 75 high school students in three elective photography classes at Lane Tech High School, a diversely populated public magnet school in Chicago, Illinois. Within a five-to-six-week lesson unit, the students and I will develop two portrait projects that critically examine issues of identity specifically related to race and race representation within contemporary art, popular culture, and mass media. Students will be introduced to contemporary artists that utilize photography to express ideas and concerns about racial identity. Combined with explorations of images and objects found in popular culture and mass media, students will create projects that express their own ideas and concerns surrounding race issues in their lives.

            Attempting to understand the role racial identity plays in students’ lives and how it may or may not impact their own art production in the classroom is one of the most important aspects of this project. With this experience I hope to develop a better understanding of how issues of race can be successfully incorporated into culturally and ethnically diverse art classrooms, allowing for more meaningful and relevant understandings of our complex and ever-evolving identities. BIOGRAPHY

           Lexi Coffee received a BA in Fine Arts in 1995 from the University of California, Santa Barbara. She was photo editor at a magazine publishing company in New York City, and has volunteered for an arts program for homeless children in San Francisco, the American Museum of Natural History’s education department in New York City, and with Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education.


Thesis Advisor: Kevin Tavin Associate Professor, Art Education; Director, MAT Program

Thesis Reader: Angela Paterakis Professor Emeritus, Art Education

Peer Readers: Janet Szeto MAT Candidate

Andrea Saenz MAT Candidate

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