Art for Action at Rutland Middle School

Art for social change?

How do you engage students in an exploration of the ways that art impacts social change? Sounds challenging. Right?! 

But the teachers at Rutland Middle School decided to tackle the task anyway. Through this exploration, students learned more about the UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development, visited local murals in their community, and had some fun creating their own art for action. 

We know that middle schoolers enjoy learning about real world problems and issues. Especially given their need for justice, middle schoolers are hooked by relevant and authentic learning. This We Believe by AMLE states that in successful middle schools, “Instruction fosters learning that is active, purposeful, and democratic”. Some teachers choose to tap into this strength by engaging students with the UN Global Goals, and then let students explore what feels compelling and important to them. 

At RMS, students explored four social issues in need of change. Each issue corresponds with an outcome for 2030 in the UN Global Goals – Zero Hunger, Quality Education, Reduced Inequalities, and Climate Action Each of these four goal areas can connect to multiple content areas. Through instructional lessons, students explored the global, local and community impact of these four issues. 

Real world art

Rutland Middle School students explored how artists in their community and in our world have conveyed the need for social change through their art. Some of it lives in their own backyard, like these Rutland City murals. Murals like “We Who Believe in Freedom Cannot Rest Until It Comes” and “Greta Thunberg”, both by LMNOPI show students just what it’s like for an artist to create work that inspires social action and change. The coolest part of this unit was to watch the students grasp a new appreciation of the creations around them. They may have walked by these murals dozens of times, but once they knew the story and vision behind them, things would never be the same. 

“Greta Thunberg” by LMNOPI at the Vermont Farmers Food Center.


Picture of a mural.
“We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes” by LMNOPI at the Center Street Marketplace Park in Rutland.

Then, students went out and saw art! 

Finally, students created their own pieces of artistic expression to convey or inspire change in one of these areas. They displayed their works of art at the Art for Action Fair – inviting their school community and 6th graders from the neighboring school to explore and engage with these pop-up galleries. 

The culmination was a celebration of art and passion for social change. Students wrote poems, built conceptual pyramids, and made paintings and drawings. Their art called for gender equality, climate action, quality education, and so much more. 


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Are you inspired to try this at your own school or classroom? Here are some resources that might help you get started. 

Art, Imagination, and the Quest for Racial Justice

Just Art: Social Justice Through Art

Using Art to Explore Injustice and Social Justice

If you’ve done similar work, please share it with us! 

We’d love to hear about your own experience with students. 

Rachel Mark

Rachel Mark joins the Tarrant Institute as a Professional Development Coordinator in the southern part of Vermont. Prior to working with TIIE, Rachel was a middle school literacy and social studies teacher at Tarrant partner school Manchester Elementary-Middle. As a teacher, Rachel loved exploring new content and new methods with inquisitive young adolescents. She thinks middle schools are the most dynamic learning centers in the state. Rachel is passionate about supporting teachers and helping them overcome obstacles; it’s her mission to break down the barriers that teachers face in implementing change. She is interested in student reflection and portfolio based assessment, inquiry and project-based learning When she's not reading, researching and supporting teachers, Rachel loves to play. She balances her life shuttling three busy kids around by getting sweaty and zen - yoga, exercise, and being outdoors are how she recharges her metaphorical batteries.

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