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The Power of Art: Paving the Way for Social Justice Curriculum

The Arts Leadership program wins a competitive grant to launch a new class: ARLD 4397/6395 Art and Social Justice.

The Arts Leadership program in the Kathrine G. McGovern College of the Arts announces a new course, Art and Social Justice, that will explore current issues of social justice and how they interface with the cultural sector. To foster and promote anti-racism, the Dean of the McGovern College of the Arts, Dr. Andrew Davis, announced the college’s Culturally Inclusive Curriculum Grants Program as an opportunity for McGovern College faculty to develop courses that address structural racism and other related topics. In response, Dr. Davis states “The grant program created an opportunity for McGovern College faculty to contribute in a substantive, sustainable way to the very important and highly relevant national dialogue on how our arts curricula are responding and keeping pace with our changing society.” Receiving one of the grants has allowed the Arts Leadership program to launch the first Art and Social Justice course for the Spring 2021 semester.  

The new course, open to undergraduate juniors and seniors, and graduate students, will  examine how art can be used as a transformative tool for social critique, community engagement, and political action. The course will be classified as an Arts Leadership course based on its connection to the program’s four tenants; administration and management, ethical leadership, community engagement, and social justice.  

Taught by Dr. Sharbreon Plummer, the class will feature 10 -12 artists from Houston and across the United States working in the art and social justice arena or community engaged art practices. Each artist represents a diversity of arts disciplines within this specific area of professional practice, and each brings cultural, racial, gender, and geographical perspectives. As an artist, strategist, storyteller and educator with over a decade of experience in arts and community engagement roles, Dr. Plummer looks forward to facilitating relevant discussions and conversations about the intersection of social justice and the arts. She states Arts management/leadershipas a field, still has a great deal of work to do if it seeks to combat the systems of oppression that directly affect artists and arts workers who shape the field. I am excited to learn and grow with students as we interrogate such issues as racism, sexism, transphobia, class, etc. and the power that art has to shape dialogue and facilitate change for those most marginalized. I hope this experience will challenge students to re-enter their careers with the tools needed to challenge complicity within their lives and respective institutions.” 

Local and national artists have been carefully selected to exchange best practices and share experiences working in the arts through the lens of social justice. Aram Han Sifuentes, Andrea Chung, GONZO247, Shaun Leonardo, Lovie Olivia, Lance Smith, Preetika Rajgariah, Robert Tejadas and more will be featured as guest lecturers providing varied viewpoints on art and social justice within communities and professional settings.  

Arts Leadership Program Director and recent McGovern College Anti-Racism Task force member, Fleurette S. Fernando, sees the course as an extension of vibrant student discussions that have been ongoing in both core and elective courses of the Arts Leadership program. She states, “Through my eight years creating and leading the Arts Leadership program here at UH, it became apparent that the majority of our students enter the program with a strong understanding and commitment to social justice work. Whether it is though the creation and dissemination of bold artistic initiatives, community engaged programming, advocating for accessible arts education or examining inequitable cultural policies, our formal and informal discussions on leadership often cover the prevalent issue of inequity. One might say that to be a working artist in a modern society automatically positions you to be a proponent of social justice. I am thrilled to bring Dr. Sharbreon Plummer into our Arts Leadership family to further dissect, analyze and refine this discourse with our students across the college. Winning the college’s first grant for Cultural Inclusivity is a testament to the importance of this work and to our Dean’s ongoing commitment to advancing these important issues for students and faculty.”  

The demand of students over the years and current dialogues spurred out of recent summer 2020 anti-racist movements and protests over lost Black lives, police brutality and systematic racism demonstrate the urgent need for more courses like Art and Social Justice. The course is a first step in moving toward creating long-term and sustainable cultural inclusivity in the McGovern College of the Arts. It also paves the way for other disciplines and courses to increase discussion and engagement on topics of race, class, gender, sexuality and physical ability.