SchoolArts Room

The Hexagon Project: Ten Years of Interdependence

By Nancy Walkup, posted on Sep 16, 2016

2016 marks ten years that The Hexagon Project has been building a social justice art education opportunity for teachers, young people, and communities worldwide through the use of a small yet challenging downloadable tessellating hexagon template, a metaphor for Interdependence.

by Beth Burkhauser
The Hexagon Project is based upon the belief that the arts can be the vehicle of action and catalyst for change. In our September 2016 International Hexagon Project Exhibition, we added another 1000 hexagons, making 8000 since 2006. The outcomes of 10 years are many:
  •       Hundreds of teachers have become facilitators of social justice-oriented lessons that share a commitment to create art that “draws attention to, mobilizes action towards and attempts to intervene in systems of inequality or injustice.”
  •       Thousands of young people throughout the world have had opportunities to explore real-world themes, issues, and ideas within schools and communities.
  •       Testimonials now exist that, through creative thinking, self-selected and directed research, hundreds of people have taken a stand and made art about their beliefs and understandings. Changes of attitudes and action have occurred both in the creators and in the viewers.
  •       Hexagon Project is a design education challenge for teachers and students with its limited format yet open-ended themes.
  •      Hexagons visually connect and document young artists’ ideas and their art from Europe, Japan, Nepal, Australia, Rwanda, Cameroon, Haiti, the Philippines, Jamaica and across the United States and Canada in unique and inventive ways;
  •       Commonalities are celebrated, differences are respected through art. Solutions to social, political and environmental issues that impact us all are visualized and, in some instances, realized.
For 2017, we will have our new optional theme revealed by press time on our updated website, Teachers can view and upload student images on Artsoniain 2016 and 2017. 
2016-17 and Onward: Status Report
Our 2016 optional theme was “WE DO: Acting Interdependently” and Karen Gustafson’s grade 9th and 10th graders from Polar Academy of North St. Paul, MN addressed it squarely. They wrote and illustrated hexagonal storybooks about compassion and friendship and read them to lower elementary students. 
She writes: “The "Every Life Matters" Club is made up of at-risk students who struggle with reading. They are doing projects to reach out to elementary and middle school students... to encourage taking education more seriously and to help deal with the challenges they face.” They also collaboratively wrote Hexagonal “zines” which report research on solutions to topics such as “How Music and Art Can Change People’s Lives and Neighborhoods,” and “Discovering How People Can Work Together to Change the World.” 
English Teacher, Sonoko Katagiri, Nagano, Japan, pushes the concepts further to express more clearly the need of her students to communicate about themselves in English, and has reached out to US schools in Oregon and Washington and created “SEIBU Pen Hexagon Pals.” 
The University of Melbourne’s Early Learning Center integrated the hexagon in response to their study of local endangered animals and forests. “What a truly wonderful outcome for everyone... the Hexagon Project voice to so many children and young people to speak out for protection of our world. As Director Joy Palmer notes, ‘education is about healing and wholeness. It is about empowerment, liberation, transcendence, about renewing the vitality of life and importantly it is about finding and claiming our place in the world’ ...the Hexagon Project takes all who participate into this space.” 
Our high school participants in Adelaide, AU installed their 2015 14-foot Ceramic Interdependence mural prominently outside of their school. Art teacher, Susana Close, sent reactions from some of her art students: “The mural shows what we can do to make a difference. It has two sides to it, one that shows that we aren’t making a difference and the other is what we can do “ “We want to encourage more local food sources around the whole world as in some areas this is needed.”  
We have had many partnerships and invite them. 2016’s has been Seton Hill University in Greensburg, PA, where the exhibition has moved to The Westmoreland Museum of American Art, for October. Costume Designer and Yarn Bomber, Professor Susan O’Neill’s, undergraduate students paired with kindergarten students from their Child Development Center: “Our goal as collaborating artists was to listen together to the story “Squircles,” by Andrea Skyberg, and then draw pictures of how we interdepend on others in our everyday lives. Their art covered a wonderful range of topics including fathers serving in the military that need their families, very large extended families and how these relationships are important in different ways, friends that play different roles, each filling a different need, and, of course, connections with nature.” 
The fiber art produced by her class was a collage of all of assigned 3-D techniques which offers the link to the “Yarn Bomb Greensburg Exhibition,” involving INTERDEPENDENCE on multiple levels that will be showing at the same time as the Hexagon Project Exhibit in October. 
Cindy Henry, past NYSATA president, at Union Endicott, and one of the longest, participants, assigns her Advanced Placement students every year - to powerful and moving results.
For 2017, we invite animation and video by collaborating with the Netherlands at Bakabaka Design. Thanks to Vincent van der Vliet, Photoshop instructions for creating animated hexagons that carry messages and themes are now downloadable from our website.
We are continually excited to see teachers who understand the need to give students voice about real-world issues and incorporate the Hexagon Project into their curriculum. It naturally embraces 21st Century Skills of Empathy and Collaboration and encompasses all Next Generation Visual Art Standards, especially Connecting. We invite you to become an “interdependent” and join us for our second decade.
Beth Burkhauser is adjunct instructor in art education at Keystone College, LaPlume, PA and 2016 NAEA Educator Emeritus.
Editor's Note: The Hexagon Project has been featured in SchoolArts Magazine a number of times and the articles have been included in the Hexagon Project exhibitions.