Arts Explosion! The Harlem Renaissance

Last weekend, the Florida Alliance for Arts Education began its annual series of Arts Integration Symposia.  Susan and Mary had a great time sharing arts integration materials and  strategies for  integrating the arts with each other and with the general curriculum through the theme of the Harlem Renaissance.  Keynote speaker Trent Tomengo, Seminole State College Humanities Professor, said that he wished all students could experience the Harlem Renaissance in the manner that we were teaching.  We know that they can!  Our teacher participants were enthusiastic and ready to jump in!

Using strategies from our latest book Teaching through the ARTS: WRITING, Midsummer Night by Hayden Palmer, 1939, came to life.  After exploring the artwork using the Read the Picture strategy, participants “stepped into” the painting to create the sounds conjured up by the image.  Babies crying, mamas calling, birds singing and scolding, multiple conversations, children playing, and more brought the image to life while causing participants to think about the lives of people during the Harlem Renaissance period.  This simple Soundscape, using only vocal sounds, deepened the experience of this image while actively engaging viewers with the artistic content.

Visual art works help students to, well… visualize content.  The Savoy was one of the important night clubs and a really popular place to go during the Harlem Renaissance.  Reginald Marsh captures the excitement and engagement of dancers in his 1932 painting entitled Tuesday Night at the Savoy.

Jazz great Duke Ellington and his band were regular performers at the Savoy.  People are still dancing to his hit tune:  It Don’t Mean a Thing if It Ain’t Got that Swing.  Find a version that you like to bring the painting and Duke and his band alive for your young learner.

Share some books about the people of the Harlem Renaissance  to further extend students learning.  Some books that we like:   Duke Ellington by Andrea Davis Pinkney with illustrations by Brian Pinkney;  Ellington was not a street by Ntozake Shange; Charlie Parker Played be-bop by Chris Raschka (very easy reading).  Heighten the experience of reading the books by playing your own “sound track” of that music (jazz, be-bop…) as you read to your child.  Ntozake Shange’s  i live in music is written as poetry.  She combines 21 diverse artworks by Romare Bearden with her lyrical tribute to the rhythms that connect us as people.

Bringing the arts into history is a natural… and definitely grabs students’ interest and attention.  The Harlem Renaissance wasn’t an isolated time in our history.  The music of Africa, of Slave Songs, Gospel and more all formed the foundation from which new sounds emerged.  The many styles of music from the era of the Harlem Renaissance celebrate man’s creativity and need for expression through the arts.

Although the experiences that we shared at the Harlem Renaissance Symposium aren’t in Teaching through the ARTS: WRITING, all of the strategies are found there. The strategies can be plugged in to just about any content. We’d love to hear about the many uses that you’ll find for these materials! Please email us at

Teach on!   

Mary and Susan

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