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art in action: a culturally responsive social-emotional art program (CRSEA)

Art in Action is a culturally responsive social-emotional art (CRSEA) program for young people ages 5-17.  We utilize culturally affirming art-based interventions to address the social emotional learning (SEL) competencies outlined by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL).  Informed by the Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education (CRSE) framework, our programs are rooted in "a cultural view of learning and human development in which multiple expressions of diversity (e.g., race, socioeconomic status, gender, language, sexual orientation, religion, ability) are recognized and regarded as assets for teaching and learning." - CRSE

Our approach to the standards set forth by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) for Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) and Fine Arts is to dismantle the goals and objectives that are largely white-centric, and to center the students' identities, cultures and wisdom.  Our programs are guided by their stories and lived experiences, and our interventions foster cognitive, emotional, compassionate, and historical empathy through art.  We aim to encourage connection through the development of a school climate based in collective care, authentic relationships, and to promote community building using art-based experiences.

"Art in Action is about amplifying the voices of young people through art making and storytelling as a form of social justice work.  We create spaces that center multiple expressions of identity as strengths, and offer opportunities for young people to share personal narratives, learn about history, and discover the power they own to make change in the world.  These are spaces of community care grounded in empathy, healing, justice and hope."

Melissa Raman Molitor

Social Justice Through Art

How do we ground our work in antiracist practices?  We view art as a meaning-making system, a process by which we can create new understandings of social justice and actively disrupt systemic racism.  Our curriculum weaves images, symbols, and artifacts of global cultures, and integrates stories and art work of persons of color in everyday life.  We hold space for young people to voice their opinions and share their experiences.  We actively create meaningful entry points for children and teens with multiple expressions of identity to engage when talking about and making art, and explore the meaning and various forms of allyship.  We encourage young people to not only express their feelings and share their perspectives, but to also participate in imaginative problem-solving and to view their work as creation of a world that is equitable and just.  The themes we center are those that effect social change, including empathy, respect, care, bias, stereotypes, and negative portrayals of people whose identities are othered by the norm.  Our art projects are informed by artists of color who have and are exploring relevant themes in their work. Students have the opportunity to see, hear and engage with the work of BBIPOC and LGBTQ artists, and artists with diverse cultures, genders, and abilities.

The Art in Action program is designed to meet the social-emotional and socio-cultural needs of a school and classroom.  We collaborate with principals and teachers to identify how we can best share our knowledge and skills to develop activities that encourage an equitable, care-based school climate.  


We create our programs to meet the needs of the schools and classrooms we work with.  This includes: 

  1. time and length of sessions to meet schedule constraints e.g. one-time workshops to multi-week installments/a class period or longer if held during out-of-school hours

  2. activities to complement existing classroom curriculum and/or supplement learning with out-of-classroom activities for students and their families

  3. interventions sensitive to developmental abilities and social diversity of the students

  4. program implementation to compliment existing restorative justice practices

  • explore feeling identification

  • learn empathy-related vocabulary

  • discover tools for talking about and managing emotions that are both culturally informed and inclusive

  • discover creative methods to recall personal experiences that involve different emotions and sharing them with peers

  • achieve skills needed to see things from multiple perspectives

Art in Action Program in Schools:



elementary school

Kids Create Change offers programs for elementary schools that create opportunities for children k-5 to engage in art making and creative collaboration that encourages social-emotional learning and sociocultural awareness.  Through art, we create spaces where students are able to:​​

middle through high school 

Programs for middle school and high school students are centered around service-learning, community engagement and organizing, public art making and exhibition.  Students are able to:

  • explore issues around power and racial, gender, socioeconomic, and (dis)ability oppression

  • understand the potential of art as a tool for nonviolent communication and action

  • utilize art making to express identity, and exercise visibility and voice in their community

  • employ art in addressing social injustice and effecting change in the community

"Empathy is the most revolutionary emotion."

Gloria Steinem

what is empathy?

Empathy is the feeling that you understand and share another person's experiences and emotions.  It is being mindful of our own feelings, and being responsible for how our words and actions affect others. Empathy is understanding that everyone has their own story; it is listening to those stories, and sharing your story as way to respect and embrace individuality and participate in diversity.  Cognitive, emotional, compassionate and historical empathy are the most powerful tools we have to create connections between people and to build community.  

At the heart of our programs is art making and creative collaboration. We believe in the capacity of empathy through art, and the power of making art, sharing art, exhibiting art, art exchange, dialogue through art, art as inquiry, and art as social revolution.

"Humans aren't as good as we should be in our capacity to empathize with feelings and thoughts of others, be they humans or other animals on Earth. So maybe part of our formal education should be training in empathy. Imagine how different the world would be if, in fact, that were 'reading, writing, arithmetic, empathy.'"

Neil deGrasse Tyson

Marcis - Feelings Photo Book_Page_01.jpg
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Examples of ISBE SEL Standards for Early Elementary Students addressed in this program are:

  1. Recognize and accurately label emotions and how they are linked to behavior

  2. Recognize that others may experience situations differently from oneself

  3. Use listening skills to identify the feelings and perspectives of others

  4. Describe the ways that people are similar and different

  5. Explain why unprovoked acts that hurt others are wrong

  6. Make positive choices when interacting with classmates

  7. Brainstorm ways one could contribute to their community 

Examples of ISBE SEL Standards for Middle and High School Students addressed in this program are:

  1. Describe emotions associated with personal experiences

  2. Demonstrate an ability to express hurt without withdrawal, blame, or aggression

  3. Identify personal strengths, obstacles, and goals

  4. Identify feelings and perspective of others, and explore situations where one's behavior impacts the feelings of others either positively or negatively

  5. Explain how a lack of understanding of social and cultural difference and histories can contribute to racism

  6. Demonstrate strategies for collaborating with peers, adults and others in the community

Examples of how we address these standards by de-centering the white, cisgendered, heteronormative, able-bodied experience to increase equity:

  1. Explore feelings and feeling management with a culturally- affirming lens

  2. Introduce stories and featuring BBIPOC, nonbinary, lgbtq, and differently abled people as the main characters

  3. Center visual artists, writers, musicians and performers of color and from different social backgrounds and cultures in the curriculum

  4. Co-create guidelines for the group that will foster courage in participation and non-judgement in sharing

  5. Illustrate the value in contributions of many people from different backgrounds by creating opportunities for the students to share who they are, who their family is, what their communities are, and their cultural backgrounds and histories

  6. Explore what students notice and witness in their classroom and school that seem unfair or exclusive, and use art-based activities to identify how they can help to make things more just and inclusive

Examples of how we address these standards by de-centering the white, cisgendered, heteronormative, able-bodied experience to increase equity:

  1. Utilize stories featuring BBIPOC, nonbinary, lgbtq, and differently abled people to support discussion around issues of privilege, access and power

  2. Center the work of visual artists, writers, musicians and performers of color and from different social backgrounds and cultures to explore race and racism in America

  3. Co-create guidelines for the group that will foster courage in participation and non-judgement in sharing of personal experiences

  4. Employ art-based activities that connect historic events to the challenges we face in our society today

  5. Explore the role of art in social justice movements and community development

  6. Facilitate a process for the students to identify issues they feel a connection to and explore how they might learn more about them and what they might do to address them

  7. Create opportunities for students to use art to elevate their voices and visibility in their community


2017 Art Exhibition of D65 Student Work at Gallery 901 in Evanston

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