Research Agenda–Engaging with Art: Identity, Community, & Opportunity

Engaging with Art: Identity, Community, and Opportunity
Team Ziggy Stardust is comprised of Wesley Akers, Susannah Simmons, and La Dawna Minnis, based upon a common curiosity for and appreciation of public art. After initially connecting on social media, we soon found that although we have different professional backgrounds and are in different ILT tracks our common passion for creative endeavors united our efforts. Each one of our diverse research topics shares a common thread of designing, creating, or engaging with art; moreover, the impact on individual and community identity, civic engagement, and future economic opportunities.

bowie sheet music

Q#1: How is community identity impacted through designing/creating/engaging with music in public spaces?


The “A” Center for Engaged Spirituality has been evolving and reinventing itself for the past 116 years. Its roots in Christianity have expanded to meet the needs of broader beliefs and  accommodate those looking for a more inclusive spiritual community. At “A” Center, music is being used as a tool to take people to places that exist beyond words. The World Music Program Director organizes stellar live music to promote connection and higher awareness every week at “A” Center. Hence the question, “How does community identity occur through designing/creating/engaging with music in community groups?”


The words church and religion detour many people from such community places like “A” Center. How is “A” Center promoting community identity by engaging members through music, which indirectly increases membership, affords financial stability, and influence the larger community? Creating new possibilities for members to design, create, and engage with music could contribute to growing community identity, increasing civic engagement, and developing future economic opportunities.


Participants will include musicians, members of the congregation, and any social media connections made in this process.

Data Collection:

Interviews will be conducted with, videos taken, and surveys will be given to

  • Members of the congregation
  • Musicians

about their beliefs around

  • “A” Center community identity, engagement, ownership, and pride
  • their economic future in Capitol Hill
  • music
  • tools for designing, creating, and engaging with music


Positive impacts of exploring “A” Center’s engagement through music could broaden awareness of the music program, higher attendance, and more financial stability. Negative impacts could include that focusing on the music only will detract from other programs at “A” Center as well as potentially distracting members from worship through surveys, videos, and pictures during musical performances.

Q#2: How does learning occur through designing, creating, or engaging with public art in schools?


Graffiti can be seen all over a subsect of the larger Denver community in Colorado, including School “A”, being used to vandalize buildings and to identify gang territory.  In the spring, School “A” sixth graders participate in a 9 week instructional unit focusing on the impact of graffiti art and vandalism on communities.  At the end of the unit, students create a blueprint for a graffiti mural they believe would have a positive impact on their community and/or school and justifying it with an written artist’s statement.  


Stigmas attached to graffiti vandalism limit it’s use as a learning tool for fostering identity as a school community and negatively impacts school ownership and pride.  Additionally, graffiti stigmas limit possible future economic opportunities for students in Denver area.  Teaching about public art and graffiti presents an opportunity for students to develop positive individual and school identity and increase sense of ownership in their life and community.  


School “A” students, faculty, and staff will participate by sharing their beliefs about the impacts of designing, creating, and engaging with public art.

Data Collection

Interviews will be conducted with and surveys will be given to

  • 7th and 8th grade students who have completed the graffiti unit in sixth grade
  • 6th graders who will take the graffiti unit in the spring
  • School “A” faculty and staff

about their beliefs around

  • school community identity, engagement, ownership, and pride
  • their economic future in this Denver subsect
  • public art
  • graffiti art and vandalism
  • tools for designing, creating, and engaging with art


Ideally positive impacts will emerge around learning how to create public art that encourages positive school identity development, engagement, ownership, and pride.  Negative impacts could present themselves because graffiti is illegal in most cases.  As students learn more about graffiti, there is also a concern that the amount of illegal graffiti vandalism will increase.

Q#3: How is individual identity impacted through designing/creating/engaging with art in online spaces?


Designing/creating/engaging with art has a big impact on developing individual identity and . Through the use of new technologies, designing/creating/engaging art is happening online more frequently.  New technologies also allow for collaborative production of designed online spaces and artworks.


Low accessibility to traditional cultural institutions limits opportunities for citizens in rural and underserved areas for designing/creating/engaging. Creating new opportunities for designing/creating/engaging in the arts through shared online spaces could minimize this lack of opportunity.


The participants in this study will include members of online affinity spaces that feature activities for designing/creating/engaging with art.

Data Collection

Interviews will be conducted with and surveys will be given to

  • members of online affinity spaces

about their beliefs around

  • how designing/creating/engaging in the arts has impacted their individual identity, sense of community, and economic opportunities
  • what tools are commonly used in their processes


Inclusion of data collection from online affinity spaces will allow for a more diverse demographic in data collection and potentially yield a wide breadth of responses. While the diversity of response could be helpful, it may also be difficult to identify trends and themes. In addition, due to the anonymity of online spaces there may be a portion of responses that are incomplete or off-topic.


  • Hello Susannah! Your inquiries are really cool! I imagine it will be interesting to hear during interviews how participants relate and identify with music/graffiti/online art, and how during perhaps a couple of cycles, these perspectives may change. As the feedback criteria suggests, how does your team “fit” in each one of these inquiries? Are any of you members or organizers of these communities? As with other studies that deal with young students, I think it would be important to include parents as stakeholders as parents, I think, are interested in their children’s education.If you pursue the public art/graffiti inquiry, I think it is important to define what you mean by graffiti and/or public art. This may sound silly, but you mention that graffiti is illegal, however, students could still do graffiti on canvases, and not illegally in public areas. And of course, not all public art is illegal. Then does graffiti equal art? I digress.
    As for the online art spaces inquiry, your Problem/Opportunity suggests that you want to engage with participants who feel that their area is underserved, and how the online space has affected their identity, yet your Participants looks like you want to include anyone in these online spaces. I guess I am just wondering if you are engaging underserved participants exclusively.
    Anyway, please reply if you want, or tweet me! Talk to ya’ later!

    • Thanks for your valuable feedback Mitchell! It’s good to hear from you.
      My focus on our research team is Q#1 How is community identity impacted through designing/creating/engaging with music in public spaces?
      Yes, I attend the public space known as “A” Center, so I am also a stakeholder. My hope is that I can easily step into the congregation with the my question. I am fairly certain the question will change once I start interview different stakeholders.

      My other two partners in crime are La Dawna who is researching community identity and art in online forums and Wesley who is researching community identity are graffiti in the classroom. We certainly have our work cut out for us!!Engaging-with-Art-Identity-Community-and-Opportunity/cmfg/55e1f4bc0cf28ffc7eeb904c

    • Hi Mitchell, you bring up some good questions about public art, graffiti, and vandalism. In the unit I teach my sixth graders, we explore those questions and they generate their own personal definitions for each word/phrase. I think it’s hard to create hard definitions of what is and isn’t art or vandalism; it’s a pretty gray area to me. Additionally, the summative assessment requires students to create a proposal and a computer generated graffiti mural ( that would have a positive impact in the school or community. They really get into it. I think involving families is also an important part of my process. Each year I’ve taught this unit, I always have a few students with parents or siblings who are graffiti artists. It’s a great way to bring their families into the classroom.

  • Hi Sussannah,
    Here is my feedback regarding your third inquiry: How is individual identity impacted through designing/creating/engaging with art in online spaces?

    Background: As indicated in the introduction, you and your team have an interest in the public arts. I would also agree that the act of creating art, as well as the final product itself, is a representation (or even extension) of the artist.

    If you and/or members of your team pursue this inquiry, I would be interested to know what specific technologies allow for collaborative production (i.e. Flicker). Likewise, what does “collaboration” of art mean? Is it simply sharing art or would it truly be a collaborative creation with members of an online community? If later is true, who shares the identity? Individual or group?

    Problem/Opportunity: Your problem statement is clearly stated– there is an inequity within many communities, namely access to institutions that could foster creative identity. This, in itself, opens up the opportunity for another research question:

    How can collaborative technologies foster creativity within underprivileged communities?

    I believe you and your team have the motivation and determination to dive deep into this inquiry. I would be interested to see if/how you engage with varying communities on the subject.

    Participants: I understand you and your team may engage in different audiences for this (or perhaps a different) research inquiry. Who are you and your team considering as “members” of online affinity spaces?

    What about stakeholders? Who, perhaps within underdeveloped communities, would have an interest in this research inquiry?

    Data Collection: I think surveys are a great idea considering your audience would be primarily online. What tools do you plan to use to administer, collect, and analyze the information?

    Depending on the affinity space surveyed, what restrictions are their for conducting research? Some online spaces may have strict guidelines on interaction with their members. What contingencies could you account for in this scenario?

    Additionaly, how will you hold anonymous members accountable for completing the survey. Even if you do receive a favorable response, is there anyway to identify a baseline surveyed vs actual responses (i.e. out of 100 surveyed, 65 responded)?

    Impacts: I agree that surveying online spaces will provide varying responses from many different demographic areas. How will the information gathered help individuals from underprivileged communities? Furthermore, how could amateurs and established artists benefit?

    What other risks do you or your team foresee before/during/after the information gathering of this inquiry?

  • Hello Susannah, La Dawna, and Wesley,
    I absolutely love your team’s name! David Bowie is the one and only celebrity I’ve ever seen in real life!

    So after reading through your blog post and other students’ commentary, I’m directing my feedback towards topic #1 as no one else appears to have commented about it.


    I love that this topic pertains to a nonprofit in your local community, and the use of that makes me believe that someone is possibly connected to this center in some way (especially since the adjective “stellar” is used)? Is that how you “fit” into this research? I do understand the background of the “A” Center, and you have framed the question you posed.

    Problem statement or opportunity:

    I’m a bit confused with the wording of this section, so I’m going to try and break it down… “The words church and religion detour many people from such community places like “A” Center.” Is this a problem you are trying to solve for? Or is it stated to suggest that this is why the “A” Center needs to “create new possibilities for members to design, create, and engage with music which could contribute to growing the community’s identity, increase civic engagement, and develop future economic opportunities?” But you also ask, “How is “A” Center promoting community identity by engaging members through music, which indirectly increases membership, affords financial stability, and influence the larger community?” So is the actual opportunity you’re trying to take action on pertain to the surrounding community’s identity? Or the identities of the members of the “A” Center?? Or are you trying to solve for how to get more community members engaged with the “A” Center? I’m so, so sorry! I think I might have confused myself even more here. I don’t think I am clear on what problem/opportunity you are trying to take action on. Am I missing something? I think I might be.


    “Participants will include musicians, members of the congregation, and any social media connections made in this process.” So does this mean you plan on setting up specific social media profiles for your action research? Also, since you haven’t mentioned members of the outside community, I’m starting to think your action research opportunity pertains only to the community within the center. Correct?

    Data collection methods:

    You’ve definitely identified various ways to collect your data and explained what topics your data will cover. Do you anticipate that everyone you approach as a stakeholder will be willing to participate?

    Positive and negative impact:

    With the positive impacts of broadening awareness of the music program, helping to create higher attendance levels, and helping with financial stability…is your action research more about focusing on helping the “A” Center?

    Okay, after reading the post multiple times and answering the feedback questions, is this your underlying opportunity question: “How is a specific community’s identity created (or how does it evolve) through designing/creating/engaging with music in a public forum such as the “A” Center?” Or is it, “How can engaging with music in public forums help create and foster a community’s identity?”

    I am so sorry for the confusion, but I refuse to abandon such an awesome topic! This would not be the first time during the short course of this class that I feel like I am struggling to understand…soooo…it’s probably me and not you.

    In any case, I love the overarching theme of Engaging with Art: Identity, Community, & Opportunity. I can’t wait to see what all three of you choose to use for your action projects. I look forward to reading all about them!

    • Thank you for tailoring your feedback to my specific research topic TiAnn.
      You bring up some excellent points, especially around wording, which is helpful. My biggest challenge is how to make sure my topic fits into our larger research agenda, while streamlining the question to fit research purposes. It’s tough, but I value your feedback and look to start implementing many of your key points.

      First Question. What the heck is my true research question?

      I will keep you posted…

  • Wes, La Dawna, and Susannah,
    Background: I like how you all thought out of the box and have found a common thread to connect your action research.

    Problem Statement or Opportunity: It seems feasible that each area of inquiry could be completed in our short timeframe; however, in regards to Question 2, you will really have to focus and ensure the project stays on track to meet deadlines.

    Participants: Our readings have shown that it is important to interact with multiple stakeholders; thus, Q2 seems solid, Q1 engages two groups, but Q3 only lists one at this point.

    Data Collection Methods: Your topics are linked by a common thread, but considerably different. I guess you will all be collecting separate data from the established participants. Will you each have enough time to collect it all?

    Positive and Negative Impact: The more evidence that presents the arts in a positive light- the better! You are all very passionate and I hope that the data you collect will lead to positive conclusions rather than negative.

    Best of luck in your future researching!

    • Thank you for the feedback Shan,
      I think we will be okay with our timeline, but agree with you about maintaining our common thread between our topics. It is particularly challenging to triangulate my data collection, while honoring our larger vision.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *