Transformational action through Art Build

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Organizers in Milwaukee wanted to prepare a strong campaign to show the grassroots support for public education as the budget cycle approached. Joe Brusky, an educator on release to help the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association organize, decided to incorporate an Art Build into the efforts.

Drawing on his experience documenting the Art Build for the Climate March in New York and from previous efforts in Milwaukee, Joe organized with art educators, artists and community members with amazing results.

“Engaging in this positive, communal and beautiful work was definitely transformative.”

– Michelle Wiese, President
Minneapolis Federation of Teachers 59

“In Milwaukee the people who took part in the Art Build were activists who I often saw in our advocacy work, but also a lot of new people that I hadn’t seen before who were just looking for an entry point into the union, something comfortable to get involved in,” said Joe. “Leaving, people were energized.”

The success of the Art Build in Wisconsin inspired the Minneapolis and St. Paul Federations of Teachers to add this to their organizing efforts.  The organizers worked with the Wisconsin team to implement their successful model.

“In Milwaukee we saw an incredible coming together of teachers, students and community members to produce something positive.  Educators are under attack and have been for decades and to have the opportunity to come together and build something and see it in use and do it in a communal and positive manner was amazing,” said Nate Gunderson, NEA organizer.


Both the Art Build in Milwaukee and in Minneapolis and St. Paul have seen their art put to use in the advocacy efforts.  These events have also resulted in higher levels of participation and new faces in the movement.

“We had over 200 people at our Art Build and three quarters of them were new people who had never walked through the door of the union hall before.  Our community got to express what was going on and the networking, collaboration, communication and friendship forged that weekend were really powerful. We have seen those same people coming back and taking action,” said Joe.

“I believe there was a clear before and after about how we think of ourselves and how other people think of us after hosting our Art Build. This event helped us redefine our union away from service based unionism and towards organizing-based unionism. Engaging in this positive, communal and beautiful work was definitely transformative. I highly encourage other unions to hold a similar event,” said Michelle Wiese, President, Minneapolis Federation of Teachers 59.

How to Organize an Art Build

Check off completed tasks below
The Art
Create a committee of artists, local artists and community leaders who will help drive the Art Build. Make sure your committee is reflective of your community and able to commit to the 8-10 weeks it takes to pull off a successful Art Build.
Brainstorm slogans reflective of what is going on now, but also broad enough for things to come. Workshop them with our committee to make sure they are inclusive.
Put out a call letter to art teachers and artists to submit images that incorporate the slogans. Give specific deadlines and reach out to make sure all communities are included.
Create an on-line space for the images so that committee members can come prepared to the art review meeting with feedback on images. You can consider sharing in a closed group on Facebook or on a google drive.
Curate the images after submissions and do a peer review of the art work as it comes in and offer constructive criticism.
Ask artists to tweak images and take feedback from their peers on the committee. Wrangle artists to stay on a deadline.
The Event
Find a space big enough to host an art build. If you are doing banners or the parachute consider the square footage and height you will need.
Order supplies and materials well in advance of the event.
Organize turnout! Do the leg work on the front end. Schedule shifts to keep people flowing in and out during the day. As buildings, community allies and staff teams to take shifts. Email art collectives and artists in the community. Involve everyone!
Build the buzz for the event! Release drafts of images to get people excited. Do Facebook ads to target folks who have been active in the fight against privatization or other hot button issues to build turnout.
Staff your event for success. Engage artists who understand how to burn the screens and make sure you have the images and accessories you need. Have knowledgeable people who know how to screen print and also to keep traffic flowing. Use the art collective who has experience coordinating previous art builds. Consider setting up a kids art station and make sure you can accommodate participants who have different abilities.
Have fun! Take lots of pictures and video and consider soliciting the help of a professional photographer!


For more details or answers to questions please contact Nate Gunderson at 651-324-6945 or via email at


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