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.


Paola Quintero – Master’s Thesis

Hello, my name is Paola Quintero. I am a graduate student in the Art Education MA program at City College and I’m also a museum educator. Before joining the program I did many other things: I traveled and lived in many places, worked in the art world, I went to law school and got a law degree, and I worked in the film industry in various roles including costume design and stop-motion animation. As you can assume from this short bio, I am very curious about a lot of things in this world! Above all, I am passionate about all forms of art expression, creativity, and the power of imagination.

For my thesis project I started out by using my imagination. I asked myself, if I could design my own world, how would it be? What would I change? I was inspired to think of the future by the book “Education in a Time Between Worlds: Essays on the Future of Schools, Technology, and Society” by Zachary Stein. Then I started thinking about the lack of balance in the world- lack of balance in the treatment of Mother Earth, lack of balance in life/work/school and I thought, “If I could design my own world, I would like to see more harmony in educational spaces”.

I reflected back on my own educational experience (in the mid 90s) and realized that even though I had received very strong academic training in elementary, middle, and high school, there had been no balance. The school I went to was very competitive and focused on grades and test scores. I definitely think my high school was harder than college! How well did this school prepare me for challenges that have nothing to do with test scores and memorization of facts? How about imagination? Critical thinking? How about play? Joy? Pleasure? How about compassion- not just for your neighbor- but for yourself?

Trying to find answers (and healing) to this lack of balance has been my life-long project. Several years ago I started looking at East Asian traditions and philosophies like Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism. Particularly interesting to me is the concept of dualism called “Ying and Yang” and in the concept of “Wu-Wei” (non-action). Consequently, for my thesis I will be looking at the implications of applying a Taoist approach to teaching and communicating with students. In order to collect my data I will seek out and interview educators who already incorporate these principles in their work.

In chapter 42 of the book Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu it says, “The ten thousand things carry yin and embrace yang./ They achieve harmony by combining these forces”. I am excited to research this topic as I believe Art Education is in a unique position to create the education movements that will be needed in the future. 


Liz Harper

lizHi CCNY Art Education Community! My name is Liz. I am an artist and a graduate student in the Art Education master’s program at CCNY. For the last three years, I worked part-time at a daycare, teaching children from ages 3 to 5 in pre-school and pre-kindergarten classrooms. Unfortunately, the daycare closed down, so now I am in my third year of the masters and my final semester before student-teaching in the spring. Since I was in first grade, I knew I wanted to be teacher as I spent my childhood lining up my stuffed animals teaching them art and writing skills. My mom works as a teaching assistant in the suburbs, in which I grew up in the education field surrounded by educators. I often helped her out in the classroom. As I moved to NYC recently, I am taking the opportunity to explore the visual and cultural arts. Prior to CCNY, I have my AS in fine arts and my BS in educational studies from Saint Thomas Aquinas College, or STAC. Below, you will find one of my artworks I created over the summer. “Liberty” was drawn from the Statue of Liberty, representing my research topic through artwork.

unnamedAs a preservice art educator, I know that art education can be expanded through other areas besides school. During my junior year at STAC, one professor proposed the opportunity to collaborate on an artwork with a death row inmate at a maximum-security prison. Her class, Art in Prison also was a major influence. Comparing the pros and cons, I pushed myself and jumped on the project. This project consisted of exchanging letters (my name was anonymous), while drawing on the same artwork started by the inmate and exchanging the drawing back and forth through my professor. drawing back and forth on the same art piece. As the project went forward, I learned more information about the inmate and how the art classes he received transformed his life about wanting to give back to his community and the youth. Thus, my thesis topic was inspired through this exchange. artworks created by the youth who have been incarcerated and finding different themes.

My research topic is exploring artwork created by the youth who have been incarcerated or held in prisons and finding emerging themes within the artworks. During my research, some of the artworks that inspired the topic was through the University of Michigan Prison Creative Arts Project. My goal is to shed the stigmas and stereotypes that society associates with juvenile detention centers and incarceration in order to allow the youth voices to be heard. So far, I am using document analysis as my methodology and found themes such as identity, acceptance, and self-expression. While I have interviewed three people, some of these people don’t keep the artworks, so it will be my challenge to locate more artworks. I feel very confident in this topic after talking with three people and exploring the University of Michigan Prison Creative Arts Project.  



Defining Social Justice in the Museum

leaBy Lea St-Arnaud-Boffa

(MA in Art History, concentration in Museum Education)


Social justice… what does it mean? As a CCNY graduate student, we talk often about issues of social justice and how they can relate to the field of art education. However, it was not until I started my first art museum internship in New York that I heard about social justice. During the summer of 2013, I interned at the International Center of Photography in their Continuing Education Department. The institution is rooted in social change, founded with the desire of preserving Robert Capa’s legacy of concerned photography. It opened my eyes to a new world that I had not known before.  Having interned at ICP that summer and later on working in the same department for over 4 years, I understood issues of social justice as inherent to the future of art and museums. I later started thinking about applying to graduate school and wanted to use art as a way to access social issues prevalent in today’s society, including, but not limited to, identity and community, race and racism, nationality and citizenship, sexuality and gender, or capitalism and consumer society.


Flashforward to a few years later and I am currently working towards my final (!!!)  paper for the completion of my Masters in Art History, with a concentration in Museum Education. For the museum education component, I am exploring the idea of social justice in museums from a very basic perspective – how it is defined. As I’ve learned throughout my studies, intentionality and defining your terms is imperative, to ensure that you, as an educator, know exactly the reasons for what you are practicing and what it means to you and others. The idea of social justice in museums has increasingly become a buzzword (whether that is positive or negative is another story!), but are we all on the same page about what the term actually means? Those who are already interested in social justice get excited that its becoming more normalized in institutional discourse, whereas others may get incapacitated, scared, or discouraged that social justice is not for them. But social justice can take on many forms and means something very different to a variety of people, especially as a result of our intersectional identities.


I started researching this topic last spring in my Museum Education II class and am developing it further for my qualifying paper. My research question asks: How do museum professionals and educators at the International Center of Photography and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art define social justice? Through interviews with museum educators, a curator, a program director, and museum administrators, I am collecting data about how social justice is defined by various people in the museum, how social justice informs their practice, and how their definition might have changed overtime based on where they work. At this point in my research, I have found that social justice in the arts is more about asking questions than providing answers. It is about opening up challenging dialogues, difficult truths, and topics that might be difficult for some people to understand or talk about openly. For example, the art object in gallery teaching is primarily a vehicle for those conversations. It can also simply be about visibility in the museum sphere or about educating groups of the types of (free!) resources that are available to them, like Teen Night – Teens Take The Met. The museum has historically been a colonial space, but slowly, it is becoming a public square in which important dialogues can take place.


Cindy Ferrer

cindyHi! My name is Cindy Ferrer and I’m an educator, artist and photographer. I have been involved in the arts since I was a young kid and I always knew I wanted to be an art teacher but most of all I always knew I wanted to be an artist who did something positive for my community. I studied photography in my undergrad and graduated with a B.S degree in sociology and studio art. Finding a program that combines social justice, activism and art education at CCNY was a dream come true and I have learned so much these past 3 years.


The influence that art education has had on my own life has been a major pre-cursor in solidifying my purpose as an educator in the arts. Art education has shown me my true value and lead me into a journey of self-discovery and deep reflection that has healed my traumas and reminded me of the true creative genius that lives within us all.


Now at the end of my road towards receiving my Master’s Degree in Art Ed. I have been sparked by own experience with art education and focusing on writing a thesis paper on how students view the importance of art-making on their own self-worth and value. Growing up in lower-income communities and coming from immigrant parents the connection to having low self-esteem was something I had never considered until now. Research shows that people who come from low-income communities and individuals in poverty believe themselves to be fundamentally flawed and any achievement is tempered by a lack of confidence and subconscious self-loathing. From my observations of students in low-income schools I have also experienced students have behavior issues, such as lashing out and I have listened as students talk about themselves and feel incapable in their abilities. It is prevalent that the connection to low self-worth exists and is much more traumatic for students who are living and growing in poverty. My research will interview students in hopes of understanding the challenges they face in their communities and the benefits they have acquired through art making in their art classes. I will also creatively examine images created by these students to evaluate their perspective on what self-worth and the arts mean for them through photo voice. My hopes for this research is that educators and policy makers will begin to deeply understand student perspective and how the arts create an empowering learning experience that can uplift student self-perception and transform students from low-income communities into students with infinite potential.


Aya Vegh

ayaHi, I’m Aya. Previously I studied art education and art studio, and these days I’m a graduate student at the art museum education program at CCNY. Besides the arts, I study Japanese and practice Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. In recent years I’ve worked as a special education high school teacher, and interned in various NYC museums, including the Rubin Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History.

For my qualifying paper I’m writing on the topic of visitors experiences of interpretive technology at the Rubin Museum of Art. A recently new field, museum interpretation is in the intersection between museum education and curatorial practice. Different scholars and practitioners define it in different ways, but most agree that interpretive planners facilitate thinking about thinking. In other words, they help museum-goers recognize their own thinking patterns and reflect upon them. Anila Swarupa, director of interpretive engagement at the Detroit Institute of Art in 2017, defines museum interpretation as a form of activism, stating, “When integrated with critical multicultural education […] museum interpretive practice in itself can be a form of liberatory, social justice.” This definition echos my own view of the field and the direction of museum interpretation I would like to pursue in the near future.


The Wheel of Intentions at the Rubin Museum of Art, 2019. Photo by Dia V.


In my research I’m interviewing visitors who interacted with The Wheel of Intentions at the Rubin Museum of Art, asking them in what ways their engagement with the participatory interpretive technology influenced their museum experience. This is important since understanding their experience would help advocate for further implementation of digital participatory devices in additional art museums.

My interest in interpretive museum planning that juxtaposes multiple narratives next to each other, stems from my aspiration to promote discussion and understanding of different, sometimes contradictory, perspectives. As I grew up in Israel, a country torn by numerous conflicts, I aim to do museum work that promotes bridging over cultural, political, and religious differences. In this context, The Wheel of Intentions, which promotes understanding of Tibetan buddhism traditions, has inspired me to pursue this route.

While further analysis is still underway, at this stage of my research I can share that the bulk of participants felt their overall experience with The Wheel of Intentions had shifted their perspective, and inspired a greater sense of focus and intentionality when viewing the artworks. The interactive experience also encouraged reflective thinking among multiple participants, as they compared and contrasted their own goals to those of others and noted differences and similarities, as one participant commented: “it gives you like a goal, a perspective, what do you expect here, what do you want to do? It also helps people to, like, for a second to step back and think, okay, so what do I want in life? Like just small thing, but just pause for a moment and just think, which is also a great experience the museum is like asking people to do.” In addition, empathy and resonance with intentions inserted by other visitors was a dominant experience among the participants. As another participant reported, “Even the silly things people wrote, there is some real intention behind that […] Little everyday, small things, for me it didn’t…it made me feel empathy towards people.”

In my own future practice as museum interpretive planner, I would like to implement these findings and utilize practices that inspire such experiences.