Engage! Picturing America through Civic Engagement

Engage! Teens, Art & Civic Participation

Engage! Picturing America through Civic Engagement was a pilot program targeting young adult audiences through dynamic discussions that utilize the visual arts as springboards to civic engagement.

The objective is to deepen participants' knowledge and appreciation of American art and its relation to American history and civic life, and to contribute to the development of informed and discerning voters. Through the thematic selection of visual arts resources as points of engagement, participants are led in facilitated discussions on and interactions with the depth and history of American civic life. Resources have been specifically designed for opt-in youth audiences in public library settings.

This pilot project built on the National Endowment for the Humanities Picturing America art initiative.

Engage! was piloted in summer 2010 in eight Chicago Public Library branches and the YOUmedia center at Harold Washington Public Library; in fall 2010 by Arlington Heights (Ill.) Memorial Library; and in fall 2010 and spring 2011 at Evanston (Ill.) Public Library.

Engage! Themes

The images and related resources for Engage! have been organized into five thematic groupings:

Using these themes, Engage! takes participants through a five-part program series — starting with an examination of universal experiences of growing up and community; moving outward into aspirations and interpretation of imagry and symbols in art and everyday life; and ending by looing at various ways teens can impact their communities through participation.

For discussion tools and activities for all five Engage! themes, download the Engage! Picturing America through Civic Engagement Guide.

Program Format

In the pilot phase, project directors constructed their own discussion sessions based on the following program format template.

Total program time: 90 minutes to 2 hours

Introduction: Elements you may want to include: welcome, purpose of the project, goals, role as pilot library, presentation of project ideas or brainstorming of project ideas

Program: Build your discussion theme by selecting an image or images, working with project resources.

  • Opener/icebreaker
  • Image background information
  • Looking questions
  • Additional questions and activity ideas
  • Poems, quotations or other media (from planning session pre-work, project website, your own research and/or the research of teen participants)
  • Plan for project activities

Wrap-up: Close with book talks, evaluation forms, plans for the next session, and any between-session work information. Use this format consistently so participants will know what to expect at the conclusion of every session

Image Display: PowerPoint, web-based, color copies displayed gallery-style, handouts.

Related Materials: Use book displays, book talks, recommended sites, reading, viewing and listening.

Online Learning

View three free learning sessions related to Engage! Picturing America through Civic Engagement. To view more free online learning sessions, visit ALA's Programming Librarian Learning library.

Webinar #1: "Engage! Teens, Art & Civic Participation: An Introduction" (Recorded March 21, 2013) 


Webinar #2: "Engage! Teens, Art & Civic Participation: Creating Compelling Discussion through Art" (Recorded April 17, 2013)


Webinar #3: "Engage! Teens, Art & Civic Participation: Creating Local, Issues-Based Programming" (Recorded May 15, 2013) 


ALA thanks project consultants Sarah Alvarez, Associate Director of Teacher Programs, Department of Museum Education, The Art Institute of Chicago; Adam Davis, Senior Research and Teaching Associate, Project on Civic Reflection; and independent art historians Wendy Greenhouse and Lisa Meyerowitz for their work in shaping the project. These pilot programs were implemented in cooperation with the Chicago Public Library, the North Suburban Library System, the Arlington Heights Public Library, and the Evanston Public Library. Project funding was provided by the Searle Funds at the Chicago Community Trust and from the Terra Foundation for American Art.