Suburban teachers' project emphasizes that Black art matters

Suburban teachers promote diversity in course material

  • "Dear Mama" by Bisa Butler is one piece of artwork included in the Black Creatives Matter project started by teachers at Mundelein High School and Niles West High School.

    "Dear Mama" by Bisa Butler is one piece of artwork included in the Black Creatives Matter project started by teachers at Mundelein High School and Niles West High School. Courtesy of Claire Oliver Gallery

  • Jonathan Pruc, a visual art and photography teacher at Mundelein High School, is working with other Illinois teachers to promote the work of Black and Indigenous artists, as well as the work of other people of color in school curricula.

      Jonathan Pruc, a visual art and photography teacher at Mundelein High School, is working with other Illinois teachers to promote the work of Black and Indigenous artists, as well as the work of other people of color in school curricula. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

  • Nick Hostert

    Nick Hostert

  • Deanna Sortino

    Deanna Sortino

  • A detail of "Asantewa" by artist Bisa Butler.

    A detail of "Asantewa" by artist Bisa Butler. Courtesy of Claire Oliver Gallery

  • "Human After All" by Oscar Joyo is among the artwork included in the Black Creatives Matter project.

    "Human After All" by Oscar Joyo is among the artwork included in the Black Creatives Matter project. Courtesy of Oscar Joyo

  • "Samurai Champloo" by artist Oscar Joyo.

    "Samurai Champloo" by artist Oscar Joyo. Courtesy of Oscar Joyo

 
 
Posted8/24/2020 5:30 AM

A group of Chicago-area teachers is working to ensure Black and Indigenous artists are included in classroom curricula.

Called Black Creatives Matter, the project is an ever-expanding digital document featuring information about more than 500 artists, as well as anti-racist resources.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Jonathan Pruc, a visual art and photography teacher at Mundelein High School, founded the initiative with Deanna Sortino, a visual art teacher at Niles West High in Skokie.

"While some schools are making diversity inclusion a school goal, we knew a grass-roots, for-teacher-by-teacher resource would (have) the most impact for educators," Pruc said.

Other participants include Cristal Sabbagh, an art teacher at Lincolnshire's Stevenson High, and Nick Hostert, an art teacher at Palatine High.

"As teachers, it's imperative for us to be intentional in designing curricula that is truly representational of our contemporary world," Hostert said. "This initiative represents a call to action for our fellow educators to champion the diverse perspectives, narratives, and visual techniques of artists (of color)."

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Pruc and Sortino were inspired to start the project in June after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police and the subsequent resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. Along with Hostert, they work together on the board for the Illinois High School Art Exhibition, an annual student art show.

While checking in with students and colleagues during the protests, Pruc and Sortino began sharing the work of artists who are Black or represent other minority cultures.

"We found new hashtags to follow (and) new accounts focused on showcasing the work of Black artists," Sortino said. "We kept sending amazing Black artists to each other and realized we needed to start documenting the work of these artists onto a platform that could be shared with other educators."

Pruc and Sortino began crafting a spreadsheet they dubbed Black Creatives Matter. It features artists' names, their websites and social media pages, images of their work, biographical information and more. Artists are grouped by their defining discipline, such as drawing, fashion, photography or sculpture.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The initial artists on the list included painter Oscar Joyo, mixed media and textile artist Bisa Butler, graphic designer Natasha Cunningham and photographer Jon Henry.

The first edition of the database was published online in July.

As the project grew, Pruc and Sortino solicited help from colleagues including Sabbagh and Hostert.

Community participation is encouraged. Anyone can suggest an artist for inclusion at ilaea.org/black-creatives-matter-artist-suggestion-form.

"We have been getting a steady stream of submissions, and I am adding more artists as I discover them," Pruc said.

"Our collective mind is stronger and more representative."

Pruc and his teammates hope the document makes it easier for teachers to include more artists of color and Indigenous artists in their lessons. Pruc envisions turning the group's work into a presentation for teaching conferences.

"We have done the first step in doing the research," Pruc said. "It's imperative that educators continue to do the work that social justice demands, to facilitate a more equitable and inclusive classroom where diverse perspectives are shown and celebrated."

Mundelein High School Superintendent Kevin Myers praised the project as a way to help students reflect "on our current environment" using the arts and other forms of expression.

The group also has been posting the work of Black artists and others on an Instagram page, instagram.com/bcm_edu. Captions include information about the artists and tips for including the artists in curricula.

"The real change will be in the community of art educators meaningfully including (these) artists in their classrooms and teaching communities," Hostert said.

Project: Artists are grouped by their defining discipline

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