Sample Syllabi & Course Work

Coming to terms with the suffering of others has never meant looking away from our own.  And, we must look deeply.  We must acknowledge that to change the world, we have to change ourselves - even sometimes our most cherished block-hard convictions....I must confess I hate the thought of this....But this state of war we live in, this world on fire provides us with no other choice.

                                                            Cherrie Moraga, This Bridge Called My Back (1981)

 The artivist (artist+activist) uses her talents to fight and struggle against injustice and oppression - by any means necessary.  The artivist merges commitment to freedom and justice with the pen, the brush, the voice, the body, and the imagination.  The artivist knows that to make an observation is to have an obligation."

                                                            M.K.Asante Jr. It's Bigger Than Hip Hop, p. 201.


Course Structure

The arts are an important locus for social change work.  This has been true in times past and is increasingly the case locally, nationally, and globally.  This course aims to bring together students with an interest in investigating and investing in social change work through the arts.  Goals for our seminar community are threefold.  We will:

  • engage in discussion of readings and video viewings,
  • host and visit local leaders from the arts and social change movement,
  • engage in volunteer opportunities as required parts of the course. 

Papers, journals, digital stories, and hands-on projects will all be included as mechanisms for our reflection and learning.

Course Goals

The goals for this course are practice-based and are three-fold:

  • To provide an orientation to the history of this field through available literature, video/DVD and web-based resources, as well as through personal interaction with local artist/activists currently engaged in this work. 
  • To provide opportunities to observe/assist in such work in action on campus, in Chester, and in Philadelphia.
  • To result in each student's ability to map a potential path for participation in artist/activist work during the remainder of her/his undergraduate career and, perhaps, following graduation.

Guiding questions for the course

  • How do the arts forward social change? 

We will examine significant historical examples, experience current local efforts in and around the Philadelphia region and learn about how such work is growing internationally.

  • What skills are useful in shaping social change through the arts?

We'll read about and view examples provided by the work of individuals and organizations and then discuss what commonalities they share.  We'll explore strategies for building skills and have the opportunity to begin developing some specific techniques (such as storytelling circles, digital narratives, grant writing, etc.) in class and in volunteer placements.

  • How does one acquire necessary techniques in art disciplines and in organizing?

We'll hear from local leaders in the field regarding their experiences.  You will interview on and off campus expert sources regarding their paths.  Reading and video resources will provide additional supporting documentation.  Your volunteer placement will also provide considerable information and questions that you can each share in class with your peers.

Required Texts

  • Art in Other Places edited by William Cleveland, New Village Press, 2000, Arts Extension Service Press, University of Massachusetts.
  • Art and Upheaval edited by William Cleveland, New Village Press, 2008.
  • Acting Together: Performance and the Creative Transformation of Conflict, Volume I, Cynthia Cohen, Roberto Gutierrez Varea, Polly O. Walker, editors, New Village Press, 2011.


Assessment of work will be developed from class attendance and participation as well as from a variety of assignments.  Short essays intended for in-class discussion, journal writings/responses on readings, video viewings, and observations made while visiting various placements, hands-on projects (both individual and group) and a final project will each comprise part of course evaluation.  Attendance and active participation at all seminar meetings is required and any absence will have the potential to negatively impact a student's grade. 

Course assignments will be weighted as follows

  • Short response papers for in-class discussion: 3 at 10% each (One essay will be based on course readings, one on an interview you will conduct, and the third will be based on your response to one of the DVDs listed in the course syllabus).
  • Digital story: 1 at 10% each
  • Journal submission: 1 at 10%
  • Volunteer placement hands on activity and in-class dialogue: 1 at 30%
  • Final project: 1 at 20%


The community we build within the classroom is an integral part of the subject we are studying.  Given this fact, I strongly encourage you to ask questions (especially those you think may be naïve or otherwise not 'brilliant'), offer your own opinions, and engage in dialogue that seeks to build the knowledge base and discourse for all of us.  Recognize that class participation will be part of your grade.  Equally important, it models a capacity we are attempting to build as you grow in your work to become someone bringing the arts and community together within social change work.

Guidelines for class meetings

  • Plan to be ready to begin one class meeting a week with a check-in.  The prompts for these will vary and, once you are familiar with the practice, you are encouraged to offer prompts for the group.
  • Please bring all current readings to be discussed to a given class (even if we are behind schedule).
  • Read assigned readings before coming to class and be prepared (through referring to your notes) to engage is active discussion/questioning around what you read.  We will hold the following in common during our class discussions:
  • Central argument of the reading/s
  • Ideological orientation of the reading/s
  • Social, political, historical, or aesthetic context of the reading/s
  • Ways in which some or all of the readings do or do not relate.
  • Turn written assignments in on time.  Late work will be penalized at the rate of 2 percentage points per day, unless you have received permission to submit work after the due date.  This permission for late submission needs to have been requested via e-mail at least 24 hours before the due date. 
  • Encourage and respect our class discussion community.  We will all learn more as a result.
  • Please turn off all cell phones during class.  Should you be expecting a call due to a family emergency, please let me know that prior to the beginning of class.
  • Plan to arrive on time and to stay until the end of each class period.