Learning to Learn: A Logo for America

Social Studies - Any Grade

This unit of inquiry is not a recipe book but rather a launchpad to inspire new BIG IDEAS. We encourage you to use and/or modify one, or several of the BIG IDEAS below. Adapt it to the grade/ ability level of your students.


Learning to Learn: Curriculum No. 2 for 2018-2020 Vancouver Biennale Exhibition
Title: A Logo for America: Robson Street and Granville, Vancouver
Alfredo Jaar (b. 1965, Chile)
Medium: Electronic Billboard

Art Inquiry

Build a simple four-sided foam core model at the scale of 1:30 after examining a projection of A Logo for America online. The actual building is 5.5 stories high, approximately 12.5 metres. Use parchment paper, each cut in a rectangle, as the two screens on two corners of the top portion of the tower exists, adhered by toothpicks in each corner.

Encourage students to explore the idea of the billboard and the ways in which they are encountered while they are in their parents’ cars, on their bike, or walking along the street. Introduce the idea of the “flâneur”. The flâneur is someone who practices observing, describing, and interpreting visual material when urban environments are in flux. Visual literacy often happens when people are re-IMAGE-n-ing their city—the 1980’s demanded that of many in the United States, by which the artist Alfredo Jaar was inspired.  This consideration will help students consider what diagrammatic messages, commerce, and “national identity” mean. Use the Art Inquiry Worksheet (PDF) to guide and capture their ideas and impressions. Customize or create your own Art Inquiry Worksheet as appropriate for your project and class needs.


Shared Insights

  • Share the Art Enquiry ExperienceAsk students how they respond to the bright lights of the billboard and if they are aware of what having an identity defined by nationality means. What does AMERICA mean given that we live among three divided Americas, arguably. South America is from where the artist comes. The United States is the first place the installation was shown. Canada, a part of North America proper, is where A Logo for America not resides.


What does the main commercial area of Robson and Granville mean for those who are acquainted with it? Does A Logo for America encourage the concepts that make societies liveable and strong? Free speech, icons, empathy, and personal politics all come into play.

Grades 5-12: Electric billboards can be implemented in Applied Design, Skills, and Technologies classes. What new materials can be made into 3D objects, building confidence in proportional reasoning, multiplicative relationships, and light structures.

For those K-4, give anyone who feels comfortable to share what they wrote on the Art Inquiry Worksheet a chance to read it aloud as a part of circle sharing. This is also an opportunity to assign students an exercise in making—drawing maps and using parchment or trace paper to make different versions of the maps they have drawn will improve the children’s dexterity.




Here are exercises: In both digital and physical format, introduce your students to 1 or more of these mini graphic design exercises (Visual Arts and Science Lab, 5-12 targeted). For students K-4, online mapping tools can be paired with making sign-like posters with powerful phrases on them. In combination, these exercises will complete the learning objectives for your students. Please use these in coordination with your artist collaborator.



Research: Artist Theme

In small groups students rotate between information stations detailing the artist’s life and work. Start with priming the students with an interactive activity such as Vancouver Biennale Billboard Design Work Sheet Station topics can include: (1) the shapes, forms, and motifs worked into the structure; (2) the artist’s history of making artwork and why multiculture is important to him; (3) materials and the processes the artist went to build the structure; (4) beliefs and values, both cultural and/or religious. At each station, students should answer 1-2 questions and complete a tangible task. For example, at the station “the shapes, forms, and motifs worked into the structure”, students might attempt to draught a small architectural version of a space that unites us all using their mini graphic design exercises. Further, older students could create out of cardstock a 1:30 scale model or an exploded axonometric draught of the build. This can be paired with reading material like Chris Ware’s graphic novel, ”Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth”, which has rich architectural and conceptual content in it. Robert Venturi’s Learning from Las Vegas is also supremely relevant.

  • Artist Themes – Nationality, Cultural Alienation, Prejudice, and Identity:Observe images of A Logo for Americaonline and ask students to identify the ways in which each of the themes may have affected them or someone they know.


Inquiry Challenges

  • Debate Investigation:Create a “Be it resolved” scenario by dividing the class in half and creating a position and counterposition based on the artist’s themes.
  • What does visual signage mean to different cultures—South America, America, North America and all of the nations who have immigrated here? Is this reflected or connected with the installation the artist has made?
  • What is the taxonomy of signs, symbols, and the spaces, urban or digital, through which we traverse?


Student Creation and Taking Action

Create a space (e.g. school assembly in the gymnasium) for the students to build a structure that is inclusive and penetrative of all cultures out of unusual material. Foam is easily cut and lightweight. Extruded Polystyrene is also a good material and is paintable. Create a small lit billboard using fairylights to spell a word or a phrase.


  • Teacher and students can reflect on their entire learning process by revisiting theEnduring Understandingand relevant Guiding Questions.
  • How did the unit of study open inquiry, create cross–curricular learning opportunities and/or apply learning to real life situations? Has this unit of inquiry changed your opinions, values and world view? In what ways, if any, has it helped you grow as a learner?


Ideas for Cross-Curricular Access

  • Sciences – Use this opportunity to discuss scale of art installations, circuitry for sign boards, and the means to complete a project that is attached to a piece of architecture.
    Social Studies – Human and Physical Environment:Ask students to review the different races and migrations to BC over the past 50 years and present the trend through mapping (this can be a drawing or even a peg board with nails and thread). Discuss the importance of homeland and belongingness. Can we heal the divide? First Nations and Canadians should be included in this conversation.


Written by: Rachel Anne Farquharson, 2018, Director of BIG IDEAS 2017/2018

©2018 Vancouver Biennale