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Lesson Plans


Available for download, these lesson plans provide information about activities inspired by artists and objects from the Museum's permanent collection.



Fashioning Self

Artist Eric N. Mack (b. 1987) expands the boundaries of painting, sculpture, and fashion. Mack uses fabric, paint, and found materials to create sculptural paintings that transform the three- dimensional spaces they occupy. Through abstract compositions, he unpacks how we assign value to material objects and explores the ways human bodies move through space.

Light Brings Us Together

Artist Glenn Ligon (b. 1960) is known for work that explores race, language, history, and identity. He often unpacks these themes by using text, such as incorporating excerpts from the writings of Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, and other African-American literary figures.

Black on Black

Artist Glenn Ligon (born 1960) is known for work that explores race, language, history, and identity. He often uses text to unpack these themes by incorporating excerpts from the writing of African-American literary figures such as Zora Neale Hurston and James Baldwin.

Art and Activism

Benny Andrews (1930–2006) was a self-declared “people’s painter.” He saw art as a way to tell stories of human suffering, injustice, and resilience. This lesson offers students the chance to learn about the role of art in social activism.


Music & Mark Making

Sam Gilliam’s (b. 1933) paintings experiment with color and improvisation. Gilliam is known for his cut and layered canvases that draw from the long tradition of Black quilt making. Inspired by hanging laundry on clotheslines, Gilliam broke his canvases free from their rigid rectangular shape, often draping and suspending them from walls and ceilings.

Wearable Identities

Derrick Adams (born 1970) is a multidisciplinary artist. His work focuses on the connections between the symbols, colors, and textures of African-American daily life and popular culture. Through fragmentation of structure and surface he explores how people project their image into the world.

Printmaking & Geometry

Robert Blackburn (1920–2003) was an influential artist and educator. Blackburn studied printmaking as a teenager, later acquiring a lithographic press and opening his own communityfocused print shop. Three Ovals/Blue/ Green is one of the many woodcut prints he created starting in the 1960s.

Expanding Stories Expanding Universes

Abigail DeVille (born 1981) is an artist who creates large sculptures and installations, often incorporating found materials from the streets in urban centers like New York City. She uses layered materials and oral and written histories to explore the interwoven story of the past, present, and future. Her artwork connects the texture on the sidewalk outside your window to the wide expanse of the city, the world, and the universe.

Rhythm & Pattern

Rico Gatson (born 1966) is an artist whose work lives at the intersection of abstraction and political commentary. By utilizing visual rhythm, abstract motifs, and bold design choices he blends together powerful racial and social justice issues with formal geometric painting techniques. 

On My Street

Jordan Casteel paints intimate portraits of people she meets walking around Harlem, where she lives. This lesson provides students and educators with an opportunity to discuss the themes of home, community, and identity. Students will experiment with collage techniques and explore how an activation of their five senses can inform the art-making process.

Legible and Illegible

Glenn Ligon’s compositions explore race, sexual identity, language, and history, often through the incorporation of text and the writings of twentieth-century African-American literary figures such as Zora Neale Hurston and James Baldwin. This lesson plan gives students the opportunity to explore their own identities and create an artwork using text.

Fences, Walls, and Bridges

Elizabeth Catlett (1915–2012) was a painter, sculptor, and printmaker who combined Mexican art traditions with her own vocabulary for representing African-American history and culture. In this lesson plan students will draw connections between Catlett’s work about segregation and contemporary debates about immigration in America.

Paint Over, Paint Under

Firelei Báez creates work that focuses on the experiences of Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Latina women. This lesson provides an opportunity for middle school students to create evocative watercolor self-portraits using both figuration and abstraction. Using wet-on-wet and dry brush applications, students will explore questions of identity through a layered painting technique.

Turning Heads

Derrick Adams is a multidisciplinary artist whose work explores self-image and various ways of projecting that image outward. In this lesson, students will learn about the work of Derrick Adams, explore their own identities, and use collage to project an image of themselves into the world.

Moments in Movement

This lesson, inspired by artist Senga Nengudi's 1978 Performance Piece, provides educators the opportunity to incorporate performance art into their classrooms, and explore how incorporating the body can affect the story of an artwork. Performance Piece (1978) is a photographic series that documents artist Maren Hassinger activating one of Nengudi’s nylon mesh sculptures with her body. Nengudi’s work often incorporates black and brown nylon pantyhose that are stretched, filled with sand, and manipulated to mimic the flexibility of the human body in motion. This artwork provides a basis for a discussion about improvisation, motion, and mass.

United Power

Artist Barbara Chase-Riboud is known for work that explores topics such as identity, historical narratives, and notions of power. Chase-Riboud’s 1973 sculpture Le Manteau (The Cape) provides educators with an opportunity to explore contemporary art and its relationship to history and culture.

Mix Mix Mix

Abstract expressionist painter Stanley Whitney creates works of art by organizing blocks of colors into grids that fill the canvas. Viewing the paintings of Stanley Whitney provides a platform for understanding color and light, and how they can inform creating a composition. The art-making process engages students with an experience in color mixing, exploring lightness and darkness.

I'm Still Working

Jennifer Packer paints portraits that explore the subject of emotional vulnerability, and the relationship of the artist to the person in the painting. Packer’s artistic process allows time for reflection and revision of works in progress, and flexibility in deciding when a painting is finished. Students will use a monochromatic palette to create a figure painting, and reflect on the relationship between work in progress and finished work.

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