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The Freedom Wall, 2017—by John Baker, Julia Bottoms, Chuck Tingley, and Edreys Wajed—on the corner of Michigan Avenue and East Ferry Street. Photograph by MK Photo.

Defining Change-Makers

Inspired by the AK Public Art Project The Freedom Wall, 2017

Grade Level: Grades 4–5

Keywords: Community, poetry, graphic design

Conceptual Basis

This lesson is designed to give students the opportunity to learn about leaders in both their own community and throughout the United States. Artists often create works that make a positive impact on the community, but they can also be important in recording and honoring the stories of community leaders. Students will use The Freedom Wall—a community mural that depicts local and national leaders in the civil and social rights movements—as inspiration for designing a digital poster.

Featured Work

John Baker, Julia Bottoms, Chuck Tingley, and Edreys Wajed
The Freedom Wall, 2017
Commissioned by the Albright-Knox Art Gallery Public Art Initiative in partnership with the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, 2017

Background Information for Educators

Lesson Objectives

  • Identify leadership traits through researching the lives of those represented on The Freedom Wall
  • Define “change-maker” and identify attributes to incorporate into a writing activity
  • Research other examples of positive leaders in the students’ communities
  • Design and create an educational digital poster of a community leader


  • Drawing paper
  • Pencils
  • iPads/tablets


  • Freedom Wall portraits and biographies (displayed or in print)
  • Interview sheet
  • Canva app

Vocabulary for Students

portrait: an artwork depicting a person

acrostic poem: a type of poem in which the first, last, or other letters in a line spell out a particular word or phrase

change-maker: one who desires change in the world and, by gathering knowledge and resources, makes that change happen (definition added to by class discussion)

typography: the style and arrangement of text

graphic design: the art of combining text and pictures to communicate a message

layout: the way in which text or pictures are set out on a page

variety: a principle of design concerned with diversity or contrast; variety is achieved by using different shapes, sizes, and/or colors in a work of art


  1. Begin by showing students images of The Freedom Wall (if possible, show students the documentary: After sharing some history, explain to students that the people depicted on the wall are recognized for their positive impact on their communities. Some of them are nationally known leaders and some are leaders whose impacts are most known by people in Buffalo. Whether people are only known to their close communities or across the country, their work is important to celebrate.
  2. Break the class into small groups, assigning each group one individual from The Freedom Wall. Give the groups print outs of individual Freedom Wall portraits with biographies (teachers choose how many and which portraits to include). Have students write down qualities and information about their assigned person that led to their being chosen as part of The Freedom Wall.
  3. As a whole class, discuss how the individuals studied were the same and different: What was similar about the people you read about? Different? What surprised you? What characteristics did they have in common? What characteristics were different? What attributes do all of these change makers have?
  4. Work together to create a definition of a change-maker: What makes that person a strong leader? What kinds of qualities? Chart students’ responses until you have come up with a list of attributes or leadership qualities (examples: honesty, vision, competence, ability to inspire, intelligence, persistence, charisma, passion, hard work, leadership, etc).

Cross-Curricula Activity

  1. Ask students to choose one to three qualities from your class brainstorm and think of a person in their community who exemplifies these traits/qualities. Allow students to discuss their ideas with a partner, sharing who they will focus on and why. Optional: Have students complete a proposal sheet, naming two to three options and why.
  2. Have students research or interview their chosen change-maker and complete the interview sheet.
  3. Students will engage in a writer’s workshop in ELA class to draft and finalize their acrostic poems or biographies.

Artmaking Activity

  1. Ask students to bring in a photograph of their chosen change-maker and their final draft of their acrostic poems or biography. They will be combining type and portrait together and using the photo for reference.
  2. Have students sketch three to five different layouts and ways to combine their text and portraits.
  3. Discuss graphic design principles such as typography, layout, and variety.
  4. Have students pair up and share previous sketches and critique.
  5. Students should make changes to their layouts based on the feedback they received during the critique process and their new knowledge of design.
  6. When a final sketch has been chosen, have them create an educational poster of their change-maker using the app Canva. These posters can serve as a motivational resource throughout the school. (If technology is not available, traditional media can be used.)

Optional Artmaking Activities

Have students incorporate symbols into their layout that represent their change-maker.

Optional Reflections and Lesson Wrap-Up

As a final reflection, students can write short reflective essays on how learning about these community change-makers will help them make positive impacts on their own communities in the future.

Teachers are encouraged to lead a whole-group presentation and discussion in which all students present their works and ask questions about the people they chose.

New York State Learning Standards for the Arts

  • Visual Arts Standards: 1.2, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, 6.1, 8.1, 10.1
  • Common Core College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards: R.2, R.7, R.10, W.4, W.5, W.6, SL.1, SL.2, L.5, L.6

Public Art Initiative Sponsors

The Public Art Initiative was established and is supported by leadership funding from the County of Erie and the City of Buffalo.

Project Sponsors

AK Public Art mural projects are generously underwritten by the New Era Cap Foundation. Additional support for this mural has been provided by Hyatt’s Graphic Supply Company.

Program Sponsors

This program has been made possible through the generosity of KeyBank in partnership with First Niagara Foundation. Additional support has been provided by Jeff and Karin Meyer, Marion and Philip Henderson, and Maria Scrivani and John Lipsitz.

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