UMass Lowell’s Cool Science Contest

Power of Public Art Drives Critical Thinking in Community Based Learning

Public art is designed to make us think. Whether it’s about local history, traffic safety, or our cultural heritage, public artwork sends a message. Children have the opportunity to create public artwork to send a message about climate change by participating in UMass Lowell’s Cool Science contest! Young artists can learn about climate science and art with a purpose by creating entries, and winners might get to see their art made public. Entries are due by Dec 1, 2014.

Public art plays an important role in communities throughout western Massachusetts. Murals, sculptures, chalk drawings, and installations in public spaces help to share history, culture, and new ideas with everyone who sees them. Public art is, perhaps, the most accessible of all art forms – viewing does not require intentionality, it simply requires eyes to be open to the world. One of the best parts of public art is the power that it has to spread meaningful messages – to remind us to love one another, to make us think about how we treat public spaces, and to even make us look twice before crossing the street.

Currently, students have the opportunity to submit artwork into a public art contest. UMass Lowell’s annual Cool Science artwork competition asks students in grades K-12 (or homeschool equivalent) to create works of art inspired by their learning about climate change. Winners of the contest will have their artwork displayed on clean fuel-burning city buses in Lowell, providing young artists with the opportunity to have their message-sending masterpieces turned into mobile public art. 

Participation in the contest is fairly simple, and is broken down into three steps. First and foremost, participants must choose a question to answer through their artwork. Young artists can choose to consider how climate change affects their local community, a question about climate change that they’d like to ask a scientist, or the historical trends, patterns, and evidence that help people to understand climate change. Of course, in order to create artwork that answers (or furthers the asking of) any of these questions, some learning must take place. Links to educational resources accompany each of the three possible questions (on the contest website), but young artists will likely need to expose themselves to more material in order to prepare a meaningful and thought-provoking piece.

In addition to learning about climate change, young artists may want to spend some time looking at public art or pieces designed by artists looking to promote change (public art or not). Young artists can consider the ways in which accomplished artists have gotten their message across – do they use words, bright colors, or surprising images in order to make viewers consider a controversial topic? How does the arrangement of the facets of an image affect the overall message? While considering the strategies used by artists to convey a message, young artists must also consider how the image they’ve imagined will look on a bus. Of course, some viewers will be able to see the artwork while the bus is stopped, but others will get only a quick glimpse as the bus drives by. Good bus-covering public art must be easily understood and eye-catching – bright, clear, and to-the-point!

Artwork can be submitted online or via mail, and entries are due by December 1st, 2014. For more information about the contest, contact Whether or not children win the contest and get to see their artwork made public, the experience of learning about climate change and activism through art is powerful and will help to reinforce children’s confidence in their own voice and role within their community.

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