Program Recap: Ethical Leadership in the Arts

Upper School Virtual Summer Program

By Ariel Sykes, Assistant Director of the Ethics Institute

Virtual 2020 Summer Program
Visiting Artist Panel
What is ethical leadership in the arts?
Led by: Ariel Marx, Mary Madigan, and Diana Van Fossen
Ethics Workshop
What do you value?
Led by: Karen Rezach
Spoken Word Workshop
Spoken Word Workshop
Speaking Your Truth
Led by: Jasmin Roberts
Leadership Workshop
Leadership Workshop
Exploring Leadership Styles
Led by: Ariel Sykes
Scribble Drawing
Scribble Drawing Workshop
Self Portraits
Led by: Jenny Dubnau
Ethics Workshop
Ethics Workshop
Crafting Ethical Questions
Led by: Ariel Sykes
Photography Workshop
photography Workshop
Partner Self-Portrait
Led By: Laura Larson
Ethics & Portraiture
History & Elements of Portraiture
Ethical Issues in Portraiture
Led by: Marie Micchelli
Gallery Curation
Gallery Curation Workshop
Virtual Art Exhibits
Led by: Ariel Sykes
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This one-week virtual summer program for high school students ran from July 13-17, 2020. As part of this program, students explored ethical issues in the arts, through art making, art viewing, and discussion. Visiting artists introduced students to their art-form, with a focus on: (a) the experience of being a professional artist with an emphasis on leadership, (b) the ethical issues explored through their art and that arise in their artistic practice, and (c) the technical and conceptual strategies they use to create their art.

Throughout the week students explored fundamental concepts central to ethics and art, that served to enrich their understanding of themselves, the world, and their relationships with others. Students broadened their awareness of ethical issues and used their unique voice to explore ideas through art. At the end of the week students curated a virtual art galley of their artwork and engaged visitors in dialogue about the ethical questions raised through their work.

The following provides a summary of the central questions and activities that grounded each day of this program:

Monday: Ethics, Values, and Leadership in the Arts

Questions Generated by the Students:

  • Values: How can different experiences lead to different values? Can your mood impact your values (can values change moment-to-moment)? Can values be interpreted and represented differently (and if so, is this based on your past experiences)?
  • Leadership: If there are different types of leadership qualities and different types of leaders, then who should decide what makes a good leader?
  • Communication: Why is communication important? What should you do when communication is difficult or not possible?

Exploring Values Workshop

Students opened the session by presenting an object representing one of their values. This activity got students to begin to consider the values they might want to express through their artwork. Students continued to think about their values throughout the day by making a value graphic organizer and challenging themselves to silently collaborate to artistically depict a value.

Visiting Artist Panel

Students also met with a panel of artists, who discussed ethical decision-making in the arts, and leadership in their daily lives. One idea the panel discussed was “Re-Lensing” and “Retelling” as Leadership in the Arts: Often the artist has a choice to represent an idea and tell a story through a chosen perspective. How you choose to capture a historical moment, including whom you cast, can help reframe a narrative. There are many important ethical choices:

  • Whose perspective are you focusing on and who is being left out?
  • Are you type-casting?
  • How should you honor the past, considering the current context?
  • Should your art tell someone how to feel or respond?

Ethical Leadership Workshop

Students ended the day by exploring different forms of leadership: collaborative, distributive and servant leadership. They engaged in self-reflection about leadership styles. Then students discussed how opportunities for leadership are presented in the arts, which led to a discussion about art curation and the question: “Who should be responsible for how an artwork is perceived and interpreted?”

Tuesday: Truth, Power, and Authenticity

Guiding Questions for the day:

  • How can you find and use your voice?
  • When should we speak out or stay silent?
  • What is the power of spoken word?

Visiting Artist: Jasmin Roberts, Spoken Word

Our visiting artist for today was: Jasmin Roberts, a spoken word artist and activist. They performed their piece “Hidden Figures” and worked with students to understand and unpack different styles of spoken word pieces. In their workshop, Jasmin shared examples of how slam poetry can advocate for change by: 

  • Humanizing someone’s experience
  • Highlighting a current injustice or problem in the world

Students were tasked with creating their own spoken word pieces. Each student was asked to give voice to an issue or meaningful experience from their own life. In one-on-one meanings, Jasmin was able to talk about the importance of structure and word choice to ensure that a slam poem meets the artist’s intended goal. Some of the topics of the student’s spoken word poems explored were:

  • Environment
  • Social Justice
  • Black Lives Matter
  • The Changing World
  • Using Your Voice

Ethical Questioning Workshop

Students learned the framework for asking ethical questions and then used this to revise their own questions for today’s discussion:

  • What is the idea / concept / issue you are interested in?
  • How can your question capture the ethical dimension?
  • Is your question clear enough that a stranger could understand?
  • Will your question invite multiple perspectives and meaningful disagreement?

Wednesday: Agency, Empathy, and Respect in Portraiture

Emergent Questions from today’s activities:

  • Empathy: How can you paint another person in an empathetic way? 
  • Agency: How can a portrait give the subject agency?
  • Authenticity: Can an artist capture the internal self of a person through external representation?
  • Values: How does your identity and values influence what, who and how you paint a person?
  • Respect: If you show someone with all their flaws, is that respectful?
  • Intention: Do you as an artist go into creating with a particular intention? What kind of intention is it: meaning, impact, message, structure, color pallet, etc?

Visiting Artist: Jenny Dubnau, Portraiture

Visiting artist Jenny Dubnau introduced students to her portraiture practice and led them in a discussion of different portraits.  Jenny talked about her intention when creating portraits: “I want there to be a strangeness that creeps up on you, that you may not notice, but that causes you to pause on the work.” To see Jenny’s work, click here.

Jenny Dubnau guided the student through different scribble activities, ending with a scribble self-portrait assignment. Students were challenged to let their “way of seeing a face” go and to think differently about shape and form. This activity also explored the pressure of perfection many artists experience while making art.

Ethical Issues in Portraiture Workshop

By examining portraits, students learned about how leadership can be portrayed in art and were challenged to consider the ethical implications of this portrayal. After learning about the key elements of portraiture, students compared historical works to a modern interpretation students and discussed issues of:

  • Intention/impact
  • Ownership
  • Plagiarism/originality
  • Change of meaning over time and the context of engagement

Students then applied what they learned in a virtual scavenger hunt throughout various art museums using google street view. They were tasked with selecting artwork that raised important ethical questions for them as a viewer.

Thursday: Empathy, Freedom, Truth, and Responsibility in Photography

Guiding Questions for the day:

  • How can photography take an empathetic and truthful approach?
  • What is the relationship between you and your subject? How can you ethically navigate this power differential?
  • What should you think about when determining how to share your work with the world?
  • What is the significance of saying “taking” a photograph vs. “making” a photograph?

Visiting Artist: Laura Larson, Photography

Today’s visiting artist was Laura Larson, a photographer and college professor who gave students insight on her artistic process. You can view her work here. Students examined the ethical responsibilities and difficult decisions that photographers face when choosing who, what and how to photograph a subject.  

During the collaborative photography workshop, students were asked to “take a self portrait of your partner, without your partner.” This challenged students to consider how they can represent the internal and external life of a person, without photographing the person themselves.

Ethical Inquiry about Art

Students generated a list of ethical questions they were interested in talking about and voted on one: “Should an artist be able to do what they want?” They explored the tension between the values of freedom, authenticity, safety, and responsibility. The students also considered the difference between impact and intent within art, arriving at some questions that all artists should consider:

  • Who am I making art for (myself, the world/general public, a client)?
  • What is the intention or goal of making this artwork?
  • What could be the potential impact of my art on other people?
  • How will I take accountability for my art, if it harms others?

Friday: Exploring Identity and Life-Experiences through Art

Guiding Questions for the day:

  • Who are you as an artist, leader, and ethical person?
  • What have you learned about yourself and others through this experience?
  • What ethical questions are brought up by your artwork?
  • How can you talk about your artwork with others?

Visiting Artist Panel Feedback & Gallery Curation

On the last day of the program, students worked to curate their own virtual gallery show. Through a series of workshops students worked on writing their own artist statements, naming their gallery exhibits and artwork, as well as crafting ethical questions to accompany their work.

Students also received individualized feedback from the panel of visiting artists from the week, to help guide students in finishing their artwork and then talking about it with others during the gallery show.

Virtual Gallery Show

The virtual gallery show was open to family and friends, many of whom joined us over zoom. Students led visitors through two gallery exhibits: “Internal Worlds” and “Experiences of Entrapment” both which explored how art can represent and capture the “non-visible” experiences of people in the world.

Internal Worlds Exhibit

The “Internal Worlds” exhibit explored the tension each artist feels between the external world and their internal experiences.

Internal Worlds
By: Karla, Emma, Margeaux, and Mary
Ethical Question:
Would it be bad to base your art off just emotions?
Ethical Question:
Can sharing your internal experience allow
others to experience the world like you?
Spoken Word Workshop
Ethical Question:
Can an interpretation of an artwork ever be wrong?
Leadership Workshop
ethical Question:
Are you authentic if you are playing the role that is prescribed by other people?
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This exhibit asked visitors to think about and discuss:

  • Are you authentic if you are playing the role that is prescribed by other people?
  • Can being too vulnerable or sharing too much ever be a bad thing?
  • Can self-expression be offensive?
  • Can sharing your internal experience allow others to experience the world like you?

Experiences of Entrapment Exhibit

The “Experiences of Entrapment” exhibit explored the ways in which a person can feel trapped because of themselves, others, or social norms.

Experiences of Entrapment
By: Avery and Sophie
This exhibit explores the ways
in which a person can feel trapped
physically and emotionally
by themselves, others, and society
Ethical Question:
How should someone get out of entrapment?
Ethical Question:
Should someone’s view of you change the way you view yourself?
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This exhibit asked visitors to think about and discuss:

  • How can you properly represent a person through art?
  • How should someone get out of entrapment (emotional or physical)?
  • Should someone’s view of you change the way you view yourself?