We Want You!: Teaching Art as Civic Engagement at New Canaan Country School
Sixth grade two-dimensional visual arts students created “get the word out” posters to inform local citizens about the efforts of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) to stop the proliferation of the invasive Spotted Lantern Fly, Oct. 5. The project was inspired by the recent increase in local public service announcements and graphic signage, warning the general public of the oncoming scourge of the invasive species.
“Art is a means of expression, and can be used to inform and also persuade public opinion,” explained Visual Arts Teacher Elizabeth Ferran to the students. “Government officials know that we are more likely to pay attention to their warnings or be moved to take action if they include an eye-catching graphic or visual and a catchy phrase or slogan.” Ms. Ferran projected onto the class’s smartboard a collection of World War II era posters that were commissioned by the U.S. Government in the early-40s. Signs with slogans such as “We Want You!” were designed to galvanize the broader public in support of the allied effort. Amongst them was the iconic Rosie the Riveter poster, with her message of strength to women back home: “We Can do it!” its slogan proclaimed.
Students were encouraged to choose an issue about which they felt strongly and create a poster which would persuade viewers to take action. In addition to the Spotted Lantern Fly campaign, a few students chose to shed light on topics including the Black Lives Matter movement, climate change, conservation, plastic pollution, the importance of mask wearing and gender non-binary awareness.
Edie Goodyear of New Canaan borrowed imagery usually associated with “Wanted Dead or Alive” posters for her project. She carefully replicated the spotted lantern fly, adding a tape measure up the left-side to lend the aura of a mug shot and changed the wording to Wanted Dead. Not Alive. The ironic juxtaposition of the seemingly innocuous fly, with its outspread multi-color wings, and fugitive on-the-run text and imagery is visually striking. “I knew immediately that this is what I wanted to do,” said Edie. “I used a lot of color and detail on the moth to make it as pretty as possible, because I knew it would be funnier, but also stand out more.”
Barrett Hanson of New Canaan used a similarly concise approach to grab viewer attention. “Save the Trees by Killing,” proclaimed the text on her poster, with a watercolor depiction of the Spotted Lantern Fly and a tree beneath. “I wanted to make my message as direct as possible,” explains Barrett. “I’m trying to say that it’s either the tree or the fly. If you don’t act now and kill the flies, the trees will die. That’s how this will end.”
“Art as civic engagement has always been and continues to be a very powerful tool,” said Ms. Ferran who this year celebrates her twentieth year teaching at the Pre-K through Grade 9 school. “I have been impressed by the engagement and awareness that my students have demonstrated whilst working on this project.”
New Canaan Country School admits students of any race, color, national and ethnic origin and are afforded all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, age, sex, sexual orientation, national origin or ancestry, or disability in administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, financial aid policies or any other school-administered programs.