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The Art of Economics

Innovation High Project Combines Diverse Disciplines

Erin Quick has heard policy debates for as long as she can remember, but a challenging assignment that combines economics with art left her with a new take on both fields of study.

A junior at Kent Innovation High School, Erin said she’s listened to her grandfather, uncle and father discuss economics and politics for years. “They were deep into that,” said Erin, from Comstock Park Public Schools, who admits she picked up enough from the discussions to develop a passing interest in the subjects.

Grand Rapids artist Jacqueline Gilmore as well as four members of the Grand Rapids Art Museum offered critique of the “Economics Art Story” project

So when she and study partner Alexis Higley, an Innovation High junior from Lowell Area Schools, were tasked with the rest of their classmates to undertake a unique Economic Art project at the school, Erin’s experience came in handy.

“I went in knowing some stuff,” she said. “A lot of politics and supply and demand and how businesses get money from import and export.”

The goal of the six-week project earlier this semester was for students to learn some of the basic concepts about economics, and then communicate a “story” about the health and wealth of our national market. Students used concepts that include the business cycle, economic indicators, money supply, and inflation and deflation.

In addition to researching economic history, students read and discussed short stories that personalized the effect of national markets on people, class and gender. In one, the main character compares upper and lower classes; another showed a smallpox outbreak devastating a country; and another depicted a country where wealth is mandated to be equal among the population.

Form Follows Function

Alexis said it took some time to create a painting based on economics, but once the theme was selected the work flowed.

“It made sense to us,” said Alexis of using art as an economics metaphor. “It took us a couple days to figure out what worked. But we had in mind what we wanted.”

Ariana Price’s work is called “Season of Coin,” a look at how inflation affects the economy

Working in pairs, the students, using acrylic paint among other materials, created paintings tied to an economic theme. Members from the Grand Rapids Art Museum as well as local artist Jacqueline Gilmore offered critiques of the finished projects.

The pair’s work is called “The Pull of Home,” and took two weeks to complete. The students chose the economic indicator known as “leading and lagging,” which compared stock market statistics to economic indicators. Alexis and Erin sketched a circle that included random colors, etched it in black and then painted hills inside the circle to indicate the country’s economic history. The two also used the concept of “circular flow” representing the connection between producing goods and services in rural areas and cities.

Teacher Jeff Bush said the students did an excellent job of tying painting to the economy. About 80 students wound up producing 30 paintings.

“They took a concept and represented it with their artwork,” Bush said. “They applied an economic term in new ways and a deeper level.”

“We all have skill sets,” Alexis said. “We knew that putting our skills together would help each other. We went back and forth between the teacher and learning and other students.”

Christopher Bruce, the director of learning and creativity at the Grand Rapids Art Museum, said his colleagues were extremely impressed with the work they saw. “There is a lot of talent here,” he said.

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