Art as Activism by childgrower A. Woz.

November 14, 2009 Madison, WI– ProjectGirl kicked off a curriculum training class at Edgewood Campus, on Saturday November 14 by sharing the startling statistic that marketers are targeting children from as young as six months old – and at the cost of 15 billion dollars-to inundate children with more than one thousand media images per day.

In the audience today is Jaedyn Wozniak, 11, from rural Verona and her friend Christina Wright, from Oregon. As art loving girls, they are looking forward to creating some art and working with some of the older high school girls serving as project mentors.  Also in the room are a team of high schoolers from Waunakee who want to start their own chapter.

Several of the girls who designed the original curriculum four years ago are featured in the opening video and are attending today to answer questions and encourage new leaders to start program in their communities.

The goal today is to orient young women to the ProjectArt curriculum and “bring together independent thinkers across the country to un-do the negative effects of commercial media manipulation and liberate girls from the oppressive grip of harmful media messages.”

Established in four states and rapidly progressing around the country, the workshops mobilize a movement of young women to form peer groups, to bust negative media advertising messages. Schools are purchasing the curriculum and running the workshops through school art classes and offering ProjectGirl in after school programs.

Instructors Jane Bartell and Kelly Snider warned all the participants that they would leave the four hour training, “changed in some way, and hopefully a little bit angry.” Her hope is that girls use art to support each other and widen their definition of themselves and what they really care about- and she believes they care about more than shopping.

Snider, who is the artist behind ProjectGirl encourages the audience of about 50 young girls, ages middle school to high school, to deconstruct the hidden messages in advertising and become media literate so they cannot be manipulated.

ProjectGirl’s goal is to create awareness so girls can recognize the media influences in their lives and reject those that are damaging to their self-image and their self-esteem.

Jane Bartell, a journalist and media expert for the ProjectGirl team, tells the parents, “If we don’t educate our kids to media, our media will educate our kids.” Bartell shares how much has changed in the last twenty years. Media advertising is so prevalent that it has redefined cultural norms of what girls (and boys) should look like, act like, aspire to be and how much they need to consumer to achieve their goals.

Bartell shares how the deregulation of advertising allowed marketing to be aimed at children. This blast of influence to harness the the increasingly large amount of children’s available spending dollars has led marketers to target and exploit the most vulnerable members of society. And they don’t even know that it is happening.

Bartell reports brand strengthening images are so effective that babies as young as six months old can recognize the McDonald’s arches.

Next Bartell asks the girls to seek out the rat, to find what stinks about the false message in advertising. Is it the exploitation of certain body parts? Is it the unrealistic promises? Is it the way girls are portrayed as vulnerable, weak and in need of rescue?

ProjectGirl asks girls to wake up and reject the pressure to consumers and find new ways to have fun. ProjectGirl believes art is that place; art is a wonderful place for girls to define their own image of themselves.

As the group is lead through another teaching moment, middle school students Wozniak and Wright are tearing images out of magazines and identifying those false promises and creating a collage. Then they present their piece to an audience of peers and reject the stereotypes of the media that surrounds them every second of every day.

In the few minutes it takes the girls to create the collage they are transformed.

Applying their new education to the magazine medium, they quickly see the perfect airbrushed bodies, violent imagery, and demeaning poses that models assume for magazine layouts. They repeatedly ask, “Would this scene ever happen in real life?”

ProjectGirl wakes up young girls by giving them the tools to identify the marketing strategies behind the ads and asks them to think critically as consumers of internet, radio, television.

Demonstrating this point, Bartell and Snider show a video they made from combining the slogans of old ad campaigns to expose the ridiculous claims that marketers have used to sell products to teen buyers.

In the final stage of a ProjectGirl curriculum, the art projects created in ProjectGirl workshops become a gallery exhibit that is used to reach out to the community by creating an opportunity for the girls to share their work and share their strengths and show they don’t need to buy things, but can love themselves just the way they are.  Girls pass along the message through art by featuring self-portraits showcasing each girl’s interests and celebrating each young persons unique hobbies and talents.

ProjectGirl is going nationwide. The curriculum is inexpensive, the rewards priceless. Visit ProjectGirl.org and let the art of the next generation of media consumers tell the story. Better yet, register a daughter or a granddaughter for a ProjectGirl workshop in your area.

### Annita Woz for ChildGrower Blog November 23, 2009.

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