The Weaving of Artistic and Political Voice in Art Making about Social Issues
Maggie Dahn

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



University of California, Los Angeles

Primary Discipline

Threats to reduce or eliminate funding for the National Endowment for the Arts have amplified the question of why art matters, and the arts have long maintained a precarious position in schools. For this dissertation, I expand on the notion that the arts are valuable because they teach how to express one’s voice. I use this platform to study how students developed their artistic and political voices as they participated in a visual arts class focused on making art about social issues. I define artistic voice as how students blend ideas with media to construct representations, political voice is how they articulate ideas about social issues that emerge from their experiences, and by social issues, I mean self-selected topics that impact a larger community and are important to students (e.g., immigration, cyberbullying).To study this, I returned to the classroom to work with 6th graders, many of whom were my former students. Borrowing methodological tools from the learning sciences, I created an environment that made space for discourse and interaction across what I term conversation spaces. That is, I planned for patterns of discourse so that I could study how students talked about the art they made. These included: (a) personal narratives about social issues, (b) peer critique, and (c) student reflections on presenting their art to the public. This dissertation is significant because it centers student experience at the classroom level to address broader concerns about designing for experiences in the arts.
About Maggie Dahn
Maggie Dahn is a PhD candidate in the Urban Schooling Division of UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. She is interested in how the design of learning environments can support productive interactions between teachers, students, and materials. Her background as a visual arts teacher informs her research on how students learn in and through the arts, art making and the development of voice and identity, and issues of access and equity in arts education. In related work she explores how art making can be a point of departure for student stories about the emotional experience of learning computer programming. She is also developing ideas that position improvisation as a lens for studying discourse and interaction in science, drawing from her experience working with mixed reality technologies in classroom settings. Maggie holds an M.A.T. from Dominican University and a B.A. from Northwestern University, where she majored in performance studies.

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