In particular, I used this approach on two longer-term, collaborative art and research projects that I conducted with Chicago teens at community art centers. In one of these, called CultureSpy, I provided the students with the parameters of the project, but left all other aspects up to them. CultureSpy was a critical participatory action research case study that I conducted with teenage collaborators. The study explored the symbiotic relationship between media conglomeration, marketing and teenage visual cultural production. During the course of the study, participants collected cultural data on their peers employing the same surveillance techniques used by teen correspondents working undercover for marketing agencies. From this data, the participants formulated a profile of contemporary teen culture. The participants then compared their profile of teen culture with representations of teen culture presented in popular media texts marketed specifically to teenagers, including movies, television shows, commercials, magazines, catalogs, Web sites, etc. The participants then expressed their findings in commentaries they produced in the media forms they critiqued: video, audio, photography, and digital/new media art. And lastly the students shared their media commentaries along with written reflections on their experiences as researchers on a website: CultureSpy.com.
As the project unfolded, the students were surprised to find out that their tacit knowledge of teen culture was so valued by marketers. They realized that this tacit knowledge was indeed cultural capital that they should not give away so frivolously to commercial entities. Through this process, their awareness of the value of the capital and its import became quite explicit to them. If you want to find out more about the project, here is a link: http://artplusmedia.net/art+media/researcher.html
Based upon the success of this project, I wanted to take this approach further and co-taught a class with media artist Kerry Richardson, where the students would almost entirely dictate the content of the class and the resulting project. The class, Guerrilla Art Action, was a course designed to introduce secondary students to activist art and street theater; in it, the students collaboratively created and performed a conceptual piece. The students developed “The Committee for Better Labeling,” a satirical organization whose mission is to facilitate snap judgments and promote stereotypes. The students produced packets of stickers that mock the stereotypical labels people assign to one another. These labels were handed out as part of the performance on a busy downtown street in Chicago. The labels and other paraphernalia from the street performance were featured a gallery exhibition in the spring of 2003.
The students in the Guerrilla Art Action class determined the topic of the performance as a group. Kerry and I only instructed them to choose a topic that they believed was important to teenagers, but was relatively unimportant to adults. The process of agreeing on a unified topic was trying for them, as each student drew upon his/her tacit knowledge of a particular socio/cultural topic. But ultimately, they did agree on a topic and proceeded with organizing the art performance. Upon completion, they reflected upon how their tacit knowledge, when made explicit brought them together, and provided a platform for them to engage adults in matters of import. If you would like to see video documentation of the project, you can follow this link: http://artplusmedia.net/art+media/guerilla_art_action.html. I wrote an article about the Guerrilla Art Action project that was published in the Harvard Education Review. It gives a much more detailed explanation of the process through which the students made their implicit knowledge explicit. Let me if you are interested and I can e-mail you a copy.