Bereal discusses his painting with students

In Squalicum High School’s Protest Art and Literature class, students have a chance to explore how artists, musicians, poets and writers, through different historical periods, have paved the way for change in our country. After researching movements of the past that have used visuals, songs, poetry and speeches, (the Vietnam War era, for example), the students in this English class design their own protest project about something they care passionately about in today’s world. Through historical research, then analysis and emulation, students explore their own passions.

“It’s really a genre study class,” teacher Michelle Campbell says. “We start with visuals, then we look at songs, and move on to poetry and speeches from different eras.”

As part of the class this fall, the students from Campbell’s and Erika Thorsen’s three classes visited both the Whatcom Museum and the Lummi Nation where they saw current examples of art and words being used effectively to make a statement. They also were able to interact with the artists themselves.

At the museum, the students had a direct conversation with the artist Ed Bereal who was on hand to discuss his work currently on display in Wanted: Ed Bereal for Disturbing the Peace. As part of the museum’ s Drawing Connections program, the students also spent time in a workshop lab creating some of their own art by personifying a social problem.

At the Lummi Nation, students visited several story poles and spoke with Lummi hosts. One of the story poles they visited was about Lolita the orca, captured in the Puget Sound 50 years ago and who is currently in captivity in a Miami, Florida marine park ever since. The purpose of this pole was to try to return this orca to her native waters before she dies. Click here for a news story and a video about the pole.

The final project in the protest class gives students a chance to take what they have seen and learned all semester and create a multimedia project that will inspire change on a topic of their choice.

On the classroom wall mid-semester, these Squalicum students have already chosen topics that include climate change, environmental rights, reproductive rights and gun control, to name only a few. Inspired by the work of Bereal and Lummi story pole artists, their final projects will be able to make deeper connections and resonate with the real world having seen firsthand masters at work.

Words and images have power. That is the main message that Campbell wants her students to take away from her class.

“Ultimately, what I hope to teach is that our country is really in the peoples’ hands,” Campbell says, “and that we have a lot of power to affect change.”

“It’s about art and words being used to tell a story, connect with people and inspire change.”

The following notes were written to artist Ed Bereal and to the Lummi Nation hosts after their fall field trip.

Student notes to Ed Bereal:

Thank you for taking time out of your day to talk about your art with me. It was really eye opening and such an amazing experience. You really inspired me to take a step back and think about my life and how I can do better for myself and my community.

One thing I noticed was there were a lot of gas pumps associated with your art. Is it because we are only fighting for gas/oil? I thought it was super interesting.

Dear Ed Bereal, Your art is amazing. Social justice is something I’ve been very passionate about since I was about 13 and getting to meet a local who was around during the civil rights movement was super. Love your message and your attitude! Keep doing you!

Ed Bereal, From this exhibit I took away many things. I think the most important was stressing the idea of thinking for yourself. I might not have agreed with many of the messages in the art, but a stand I will take is to always question everything and stand for my beliefs.   

I appreciate your concern for our generation. I’ll be aware and keep my head on right.

Dear Ed Bereal,  Thank you so much for joining our class at the Whatcom Museum. It was fascinating to be able to first interpret the art for ourselves and then learn more about what you were thinking about and trying to say through your work. I really appreciate your willingness to take a stand for what you believe in and to teach us the importance of that. Thanks, again.


Student notes to Lummi hosts:

Thank you for taking time out of your day to teach me about your culture and sharing your land with me. I really appreciate it and I’m thankful you guys inspired me to make a difference in my community.

Thank you for sharing your stories and history with us. I sincerely hope you get the orca back.

You brought attention to my eyes and inspiration to implore my peers and myself to help and be aware of my gifts.

Thank you all so much for taking the time to share with us about the wonderful arts in your culture and how they are influenced. It was very powerful to see how much thought is put into each piece of art and how important it is. The stories behind each pole are very influential, moving and powerful. Thank you for making me understand more about all these wonderful pieces of art that never cease to amaze.

I really appreciated hearing all about your culture today. The cultures of different tribes is not a topic that is spoken about enough outside of a political setting and I really liked hearing about how you experience life. Thank you.


Note: The Ed Bereal exhibit at the Whatcom Museum is open through Jan. 5, 2020.

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