DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.

Featured High School Teacher:

Jack Watson

Chapel Hill High School, Chapel Hill, NC


Click on this link to access Jack's website: 



For an overview of Jack's teaching, click on the link below:

Jack Watson, NAEA presentation, New Orleans, 2015.pptx


Jack Watson teaches visual art and AP art history at Chapel Hill High School in Chapel Hill, NC.  He earned a BA in studio art and art history from James Madison University, and a masters in art education from Ohio State University. Jack has taught all levels of high school visual art since 2005, with a special focus on two-dimensional applications (painting, drawing and printmaking) and contemporary approaches to the studio process.  In 2011, he participated in the Art21 Educators Program, a small, competitively-chosen national cohort of interdisciplinary arts educators working together to develop curriculum around contemporary art.  He has remained active with the Art21 Educators Program as Fellow, mentoring new participants and managing inquiry groups.  Jack frequently presents at state and national conferences, and in 2012 published an article in the NAEA journal titled We turned your world upside down: Contemporary art practice in the high school classroom and spaces beyond.

DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.




Public Space Interventions
By Jack Watson, 2014


For a PDF of this lesson click on this link:

Public Space Interventions - Unit Plan.pdf

BIG IDEA: Public Space and the Creative Disruption of the Everyday


SCHOOL/CLASS CONTEXT: Art III (11th-12th grade), but could be modified for other contexts


• What is public space? What are the habits, patterns and rules that govern public spaces? How does the physical structure of the space reinforce these rules?
• How do artists create actions in public spaces that disrupt the everyday in creative and productive ways?
• What role does the spectator play in creating and generating meaning in socially-engaged artworks?


Attempting to bridge a gap between artist and spectator while also challenging the elitism and preciousness associated with art, artists have long sought ways to blend the art experience into the everyday. From the ephemeral performances and “social sculptures” of 20th century conceptual art to the culture-jamming interventions of contemporary street art, there is a rich historical context for engaging directly with the spectator in public spaces. Taking artwork into public spaces in the form of actions rather than objects – actions which involve the participation of the spectator – bypasses the negotiations and mediations that take place when a viewer experiences something presented as “art”, and opens generative (and unexpected)
spaces of dialog and meaning-making.

In this unit, high school students will collaboratively plan and implement public space
interventions of their own design. This unit challenges traditional, formalist modes of art education which emphasize media manipulation and craftsmanship, instead favoring concept development, risk, experimentation and collaboration while engaging with contemporary artistic practices. By addressing issues that arise in public spaces, it is dealing with issues that are relevant to the everyday lives of student-artists. It is broken into 3 (roughly) week-long segments: Thinking & Brainstorming, Planning & Strategizing, and Implementing & Documenting.


• To explore the physical and social structures of public space and the habitual patterns of social organization
• To research, discuss and apply nontraditional, contemporary artmaking practices, and to explore the potential of public space as compositional tool
• To brainstorm ideas and develop concepts in small and large groups culminating in a
series of creative, socially-engaged works in a public space


• Education for Socially Engaged Art: A Materials and Techniques Handbook, Pablo Helgeura
• Escultura Social: A New Generation of Art from Mexico City, Julie Rodrigues Widholm, editor
• Games for Actors and Non-Actors, Augusto Boal
• The Interventionists: Users' Manual for the Creative Disruption of Everyday Life, Gregor Sholette and Nato Thompson, editors
• Living as Form, Nato Thompson, editor
• What We Want Is Free: Generosity and Exchange in Recent Art, Ted Purves
Suggested Artists:
• Alex Villar, “Temporary Occupations”
• Allora and Calzadilla, "Chalk"
• Barbie Liberation Organization
• Gustavo Artigas, “Ball Game”
• Improv Everywhere
• Institute for Applied Autonomy, “Graffiti Writer”
• Jason Eppink, “Pixelator”
• Ji Lee, “The Bubble Project” & “Abstractor”
• Joe DeLappe, “deadiniraq”
• Joseph Beuys
• Krzystof Wodiczko, “Homeless Vehicle”
• Lee Walton
• Liz Magic Laser, "Guerilla Theater"
• Maria Alos, “Resistencia”
• Michael Rakowitz, “ParaSITE”
• Oliver Herring
• Rebar, “PARK(ing) Day”
• Rirkrit Tiravanija
• Sarah Ross, “Archisuit”
• Stephen Colbert, “The Colbert Report”
• The Reverend Billy
• The Surveillance Camera Players
• The Yes Men


The sequence below lasts 3 weeks in hour-long class periods that meet every day, but the sequence can easily be modified for different schedules and contexts


WEEK 1: Thinking & Brainstorming


Day 1: Warm-Up / Space exercises
To introduce the unit, use theater games in an unfamiliar space as a way to
get students moving, interacting with each other and transforming spaces.
Augusto Boal’s “Theater of the Oppressed” exercises create an effective
model for some of the concepts at the heart of the unit (such as creative
resistance and collaboration). After the exercises, debrief about the ways
in which these actions transformed the space by creating new and
memorable experiences and subverting the function of the space.


Day 2: Introduction / Transforming public spaces
Introduce the unit in overview by outlining the sequence, and ask the
central questions. Discuss the nature of public space, and the rules and
habits that govern it by having students share their own experience in
public spaces. Present the work of Improv Everywhere (especially “Frozen
Grand Central” and “High Five Escalator”) as demonstration of sociallyengaged
artmaking in public spaces. Ask students to discuss why these
spaces were chosen, and how these actions transformed those spaces.
Then, have students brainstorm a list of the public and pseudo-public
spaces that they encounter in their own lives.


Day 3: Theory / Exploring spaces
Introduce the theoretical framework and art historical context of socially engaged
artmaking, especially The Situationists and the concept of the
“Spectacle”. Ask students to read some of Guy Debord’s texts, and discuss
psychogeography and the concept of the dérive. Then, take students on a
directionless walk through campus to explore and discover unfamiliar
spaces on campus.

Day 4: Artist examples / Reclaiming public space
View and discuss a variety of contemporary artists, especially the culturejammers
and interventionists who create actions that reclaim or repurpose
public space (including Rebar, Jason Eppink, Michael Rakowitz, Sarah Ross,
Krzystof Wodizcko, and others). Begin brainstorming ideas for projects in
groups or as a whole class, letting ideas surface organically, without
concern for logistics.

Day 5: Artist examples / Other forms of public space
View and discuss contemporary artists who create interventions in other
types of “public space”, such as online spaces, print, television, and other
media. Continue brainstorming, moving towards developing project ideas.
Students may participate in multiple groups, if so inclined. Once student
groups settle on a project idea, ask them to write a Project Proposal: Who
(students participating), Where (the space), What (describe the action),
Why (discuss the rationale), When (select a specific time), and Resources.


WEEK 2: Planning & Strategizing

Day 6-10: Planning, strategizing and preparing for actions
Each day this week, begin class with additional project examples to
continue the conversation about the nature of public spaces, and the
artist’s role as creative agent within those spaces. Most of the class time
this week will be used for large and small group project planning: Students
will finish and submit their project proposals, then present them to the
class for an in-process critique, in which other students in the class offer
suggestions or ask questions of the group. Once a project idea is fully
developed, and the students and teachers verify that it is without major
areas of concern, the groups may proceed with preparing supplies and
resources for their actions.
(Depending on the unique characteristics of any particular class, the level of
structure to this week may need to be modified. Some flexibility of typical
classroom rules for student interaction is important given the collaborative
and social nature of the project, but some students may struggle with the
challenge of open studio time and freedom to interact with peers. Then
again, many students may defy teacher expectations and thrive under the
trust and agency afforded them in this unit!)


WEEK 3: Implementing & Documenting

Day 11-15: Implement Public Space Interventions
During this week, student groups will implement their public space
interventions. It is important that students assign roles to various people in
their group and to plan for contingencies, including potential response
from spectators and legal issues. One of the roles should be
documentarian – each group should have someone who is in charge of
documenting the action in pictures or videos. Encourage students to
view/participate in the other groups’ projects.


Some notes:
• Throughout this unit, it is natural to have periods of lull. There is
typically an arc from initial inspiration and excitement during the first
week, to lower energy or occasional off-task behavior in the second
week, and then high energy and excitement again in the final week.
• Depending on the level of risk in any particular project idea, it may be
wise to send home letters to parents explaining the relevance of the
unit and asking for permission to participate (if it requires an action offcampus
during non-school hours, for example).


After the conclusion of all public space interventions, students will present
documents of their actions to the rest of the class in a large group critique,
sharing anecdotes, interpreting the actions, discussing the spectator’s
response, and evaluating the outcome. To conclude the unit, students will
complete a written response, evaluating their own work, and connecting it
back to the discussions that started the unit.


• What is public space, and what are the physical and social structures that govern it?
• Why do some contemporary artists make actions rather than objects?
• What meanings are generated when the artwork engages with the spectator?


Social Engagement, The Spectacle, The Everyday, Social Sculpture, Dérive, Détournement, Culture Jam, Artist as Agent, Viewer as Participant, Situation, Intervention



Public Space - rubric .doc




Monthly Meeting Marathon

These students chose the space between two buildings
on campus during class change before an assembly as
their site for intervention. These monthly assemblies
are met with a high degree of cynicism by most
students, and are viewed as one of the occasions when
the oppressiveness of school is most challenging to
bear. They staged a mock marathon in the 50-foot
walkway between buildings complete with a sign-in
table where students could pick up runner’s numbers,
to a hydration station a few paces down the path, to a
finish line with steamers and applauding onlookers.
Every 9th and 10th grader who passed through this
space became an unwitting marathon runner.


Leash Children

Inspired by the unsettling sight of toddlers wearing
harness leashes, these students decided to walk
around a large shopping mall in groups of two where
one student was leading the other around on a leash.
They did not act conspicuously, but just went about
their way as they shopped in the mall. Onlookers felt
inclined to approach them and ask them what they
were doing, but they would reply with cryptic
responses such as “It’s a really big mall” or “You can
never be too safe”.


Colorful Shopping


The stressed-out hustle & bustle of the late-afternoon grocery store
became the site to explore for this group of students, who wished to
create a subtle intervention into the routine of the everyday. Each student
dressed in a single color of clothing, and pushed around a cart shopping
only for items of that color – the girl wearing white filled up her cart with
toilet paper and milk, the girl wearing yellow picked out bananas and

DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.