Sheila Griffin

unnamed-4Hi, I’m Sheila. I’m an artist, photographer, and new(ish) mom, close to finishing my art ed degree! After spending 18 years in Brooklyn, I moved north a little to the Hudson Valley a few years ago. I have a BFA in studio art (with some teaching experience) as well as a degree in documentary photography. I’ve been running my own event photography business for the past 11 years, but started to really miss getting messy and working with kids. I found CCNY’s program and was really inspired by the focus on social justice through art, and I have been loving it for the past 2 years.unnamed-3


My thesis deals with representation in the elementary school art classroom. I’m collecting data on what artists are shown and discussed during class as inspiration for projects or examples of techniques. I’m also curious about whose pictures and artwork are hanging on the walls of the classroom. 


unnamed-2The National Center for Education Statistics reports that in the 2015-16 school year, 80% of teachers were White women, and this figure has been consistent, if not higher, for the last 20+ years. As a White woman about to enter this homogeneous field, I’m interested in the practical effect of this statistic on diverse student populations. How does my culture and race influence my thinking and teaching (subconsciously or otherwise)? As Lisa Delpit puts it in The Silenced Dialogue, “Those with power are frequently least aware of – or least willing to acknowledge – its existence. Those with less power are often most aware of its existence.” 


There is a recent (but long overdue!) movement in media and advertising to be more inclusive. From the #OscarsSoWhite criticism to An Open Letter to Victoria Secret, people of color, and all abilities, sizes, genders, faiths, ages, and sexual orientations are demanding to be recognized. Whether for sales dollars or morals – or perhaps both – it seems that people in powerful positions are listening.


So presumably children are seeing a more diverse range of people in pop culture, TV, and magazines, right? But I wondered, is the same push for inclusivity happening in the art world, and by extension the art classroom? How are teachers questioning the so-called “Canon” of masters? And what do we mean exactly by “inclusivity”? Some inspiration has come to me from the thoughtful, moving, and informative New York Times podcast, The 1619 Project, which aims to reframe the country’s history by putting “the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center”. 


As I think about these questions and the idea of reframing – as opposed to “adding diversity” – I am reading about Critical Race Theory, Master Narratives, Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy, and the “Hidden Curriculum”. I have sent surveys to a large sample of teachers in my area asking about the artists they show, and I am observing classes and looking at teachers’ lesson plans. I hope that by shedding light on the  choices that art teachers are making in the classroom, we can think critically about them. I think most teachers these days would say that they strive to have a“student-centered classroom,” and I’d like to help generate ideas about how we can choose to talk about artists that are as student-centered and culturally relevant as possible.


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