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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.

We the Activists

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

Grade Level: Pre-K–Grade 2

Keywords: Activism, photography

Conceptual Basis

In this lesson, students will learn what activism looks likes and how it can be demonstrated through the community mural The Freedom Wall. Additionally, students will view Carrie Mae Weems’s series of photographs Family Pictures and Stories and learn how Weems’s use of photography enables her to advocate for something that she has a passion for while telling a story. Students will develop an idea they are passionate about and channel that passion into a documented work of activism.

Featured Works

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

Carrie Mae Weems
American, born 1953
Family Pictures and Stories, 1978–84
Gelatin silver prints and audio
Courtesy of Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

Lesson Objectives

  • Learn about the local and national Civil Rights activists represented on The Freedom Wall
  • Create a photograph inspired by The Freedom Wall and Carrie Mae Weems's Family Pictures and Stories
  • Connect the concept of activism to a passion


Please note: If the technology is not available to take photographs, use the last two items to create an accordion storyboard.

Vocabulary for Students

mural: a painting or other work of art placed directly on a wall

passion: a strong feeling about something or someone

activist: a person who feels passionately about an idea or issue

color: the aspect of things caused by differing qualities of light being reflected or emitted by them

style: recognizable characteristics of art or design that are found consistently in historical periods, cultural traditions, schools of art, or works by an individual artist

line: a long, narrow mark or band

shape: the outline of an area or figure

Discussion and Artmaking Activity

Discussion and Art Activities have been combined and segmented into five blocks. This project can be as involved or as simple as the educator chooses.

Block 1

Students will view pictures of The Freedom Wall activists and have a whole group discussion on any previously known figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and/or Rosa Parks. Read a short introductory book (of your choosing) about one of the activists and lead a discussion combining newly learned and previous knowledge.

Additional video and audiobook resources:
Grade 1:
Grade 2:

Block 2

Anchor chart the four vocabulary words color, style, line, and shape. Discuss, compare, and contrast what they mean from an artistic perspective versus how we use them in everyday terms. Breaking into small groups or partners, students should view four portraits at a time and look for artistic similarities and differences, focusing on color, style, line, and shape.

Introduce the vocabulary words passion and activist. Define the words according to grade level understanding. The whole group should discuss things students are passionate about. Brainstorm ways they could act on their passion and become an activist for their cause.

Ask students what they think Martin Luther King, Jr.’s passion was? How do you know? What did he or Rosa Parks do to show the world what they were passionate about? How can you show what you are passionate about?

Have students decide on one strong passion and draw a picture about that topic.

Block 3

Introduce the artist Carrie Mae Weems. Discuss her history as an artist and how she uses photography to document her passion and use it for advocacy. While reviewing the photographs of Family Pictures and Stories, ask students what story they think the artist is trying to tell and why.

Students should write/draw a four-step plan on how they can photograph their passion (see example of student work below). They can use their drawings from the previous day as inspiration. Explain that they will be using the following four-step plan:

First: Recognizing a problem or injustice
Next: Choosing a solution that helps to solve that problem
Then: Demonstrating the solution
Last: Results of the solution

Two photographs - one of an African American girl reading and one of an African American girl watering a plant
Example of student work

Block 4

Divide students into small groups. Using the First, Next, Then, Last model students should use a tablet to take a sequence of four pictures that demonstrate how they show the world their passion and become an activist for change.

Block 5

Completion of artwork:

  • Create a slideshow of students’ photographs according to the First, Next, Then, Last Model
  • Print students’ photographs and arrange in order of First, Next, Then, Last Model
  • Have students complete the steps using an 11 x 17–inch sheet of paper folded into four sections to make an accordion storyboard

Presentation of student work:

  • In class from peer to peer
  • Parent and/or whole school slideshow of videos with music
  • Display accordion storyboards on a school hallway wall
  • Individual presentations on iPads/tablets

Please note: If the technology is not available to take photographs, use materials in Block 5 to create an accordion storyboard. Students should be able to express their thoughts about taking their passions and using them to become an activist.


Students choose a figure from The Freedom Wall that they feel best resonates with them and their individual passions.

Cross-Curricula Activity

Collaboration between art teachers and general education teachers would fully support the success of this activity. Teachers can “push-in” to the sessions and break into small groups and scaffold, or chunk, the activities.

Using parent volunteers to support small group activities throughout the lesson would be beneficial.

Optional Reflections and Lesson Wrap-Up

Optional Wrap Ups:

  • Have a Publishing Party and present all forms of artwork to invited guest with light refreshments
  • Visit The Freedom Wall mural as an extended field trip activity

Optional Reflections:

  • Create an artist statement (what is the artwork about, how did you create it, and why).
  • Personal reflection about their work:
    • What difficulties did they face in the process?
    • Would they do the project again?
    • What techniques are they looking forward to using again?
    • Were there any unforeseen conflicts during the project?
    • Did you use problem-solving skills like the figures on The Freedom Wall to solve any conflicts?

New York State Learning Standards for the Arts

Kindergarten VA:Re7.2.K
a. Describe what an image represents.

1st VA:Cr2.1.1
a. Explore uses of materials and tools to create works of art or design.

1st VA:Cn10.1.1
a. Create works of art about events in home, school, or community life.

2nd VA:Cr1.2.2
a. Create art or design with various materials and tools to explore personal interests, questions, and curiosity.

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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