Art as an agent of change

Dakari Randall

Dakari Randall

Drive down Woodward Avenue near Canfield in Detroit, and you’ll see the usual slick billboards put together by big-name advertising agencies: fast food restaurants, personal injury lawyers, cable TV.

Beginning today, add Dakari Randall’s design to the mix. Randall, a student at Detroit’s Douglass Academy for Young Men, isn’t selling a product, though. His is a simple message for his peers: Stay in school.

The billboard design is part of a project led by Julie Anne Taylor, University of Michigan-Dearborn associate professor of education, and Okezie Iroha, Douglass Academy social studies teacher. Taylor first partnered with Iroha and principal Berry Greer in 2012 to start the academy’s History, Art, and Culture Club.

This year, students explored community issues and learned about the impact of art on society. They discussed how public art influences people and how artists may be agents of change. Viewing Shepard Fairey’s Obama Hope, New Deal posters and international examples of billboard art and murals, they considered art as a form of soft propaganda.

Then it was their turn to create.

Joshua Johnson

Joshua Johnson

Students wrote billboard messages on the issues that were the most important to them. Education, safety and the environment were common themes. They used designs to strengthen their messages.

“This project allows students the opportunity not only to reflect on community issues, but also to express themselves in a public setting,” Taylor said.

Randall has that chance as classmates voted his design the winner. His billboard will run through April 20 just down the street from the Museum of Contemporary Art. CBS Outdoor donated all materials and space to display the work.

All 60 students who participated—both club members and students in Iroha’s classes—will have their work displayed at Douglass Academy and UM-Dearborn. Paul Bielich, director of UM-Dearborn’s Curriculum Lab, is preparing colored posters for each location.

Dakari Randall's winning design - Be Strong and Stay in School

Dakari Randall’s winning design

Complete winners’ list:
History, Art, and Culture Club

Dakari Randall, first place
Kenyatta Flowers, second place
Christian House, third place
Treshon Williams-Silar, third place

Social Studies Classes
Joshua Johnson, first place
Antoine Roberts, second place
Nathan Lymon, third place

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