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What does it mean to be a discoverer? What makes a discoverer relevant today? These are questions posed to Middle School art students as they embarked on an Arts in Action Discovery project. Students were asked to first think about what it means to be a discoverer and then to brainstorm as a group about people who have added to our society or culture in positive ways by discovering something new — in science, music, art, or even in how we think about ourselves and others. Based on their discussion and some broad parameters, each student then chose a discoverer they felt had relevance for them.

Students did research and wrote a short paper describing why they chose their discoverer, which they shared with classmates. Choices ranged from Anne Frank to Lin Manuel Miranda, and included people from all eras and all walks of life. From images obtained through their research, students then began creating stencils of their discoverers as well as a symbol they felt was representative, to be included in a collaborative mural. Under the guidance of art teachers Nathan Florence and Stephen Phillips, students learned about stencil design, technique, and application as they prepared to add their discoverer to the wall. Using acrylic paints, they chose one color for a diamond background, and another color to stencil their person onto the mural.

The mural, which is still a work in progress, is essentially a work about progress. “Students working on the project have been inspired by the people who have made or are making a positive impact on their world,” observes Stephen Phillips. “They are beginning to understand that they themselves can be discoverers and that they can also make a positive impact.” Making the connection from written research to visual art has been a meaningful method of self-expression for students. “My hope is that, artistically, we will continue to build on this idea of Discovery at WSD.”