How it all began . . . . .

In 2007, while working at Berkeley High School in Berkeley California, I began to imagine a different way of structuring an art classroom.  Simultaneously, I was doing my masters at SFSU, with Dr. Julia Marshall, a leading theorist in Arts-Based Research, and Dr. Jamal Cooks, who was focused on writing integration across curriculum, as my advisors.  

The following questions were foremost in my mind:

What if we completely re-think how art could be taught at the high school level? What would that class look like, and how would it benefit students?  


Dr. Marshall suggested enlisting the students as co-collaborators - a sort of participatory research team in how to make art classrooms more interdisciplinary, student driven and research-based. Dr. Marshall's suggestion turned out to be pivotal to what developed.  As a team, and with her guidance, the students and I developed those two original guiding questions into the 3 below:

  • How can we create a class where every student can choose what they want to study at a depth that works for their level of skill?

  • How do we create a class that intertwines all disciplines and explores them through the lens of art?

  • How do we learn to think, research, write and work like contemporary artists?


Such a radical re-thinking of how to teach art required an entirely new curriculum, pedagogy and way of teaching.  Students became active collaborators in curriculum design. We designed a new form of conversation in the classroom, which we called a "curriculum critique", a structured activity where students regularly gave feedback about my teaching, telling me what was working and not working for them and making suggestions for gaps I needed to fill to help them learn.  With their frequent feedback, we developed structures to help students tackle research in a guided way, and to connect research to art making in a way that younger artists could understand. Dr. Marshall guided and documented all these realizations and student work, and adeptly contextualized our developing method for teaching ARB into the existing canon of Art Education Theory.  She also contributed core aspects, most importantly her idea of  "creative strategies" that visually communicate ideas in contemporary art.


A huge group of thinking partners have helped at every stage, including theorists, student teachers, parents, other teaching artists, core discipline teachers and students who had graduated but were so excited by the project that they kept coming back to help. Ten years later, those initial musings have developed into a coherent new approach to teaching contemporary art making based on four essential tools to teaching researched based art making, which include a:

Set of stages that can be used by young artists to go from a topic to an artwork as a process of research

Classroom management style

Philosophical approach for teaching arts-based research

Coherent written curriculum that teachers can personalize to their own students needs

This website documents our tools, insights, lessons, students work and contextual theory created by members of this team.  Sharing this work was made possible by Jean Sanchirico, who is responsible for the beautiful design, organization and creation of this website.