Michelle Angela Ortiz’s parents came to the United States from Colombia and Puerto Rico. Oritz was born and still lives in a neighborhood and open-air market built by immigrant families in South Philadelphia. Listening to her talk, you can hear that Ortiz feels that she benefited from her parent’s choice to leave their homes and settle in the United States. Their decisions gave her opportunities she might now have had otherwise. Now a world-renowned artist, she uses “her art as a vehicle to represent people and communities whose histories are often lost or co-opted.” Much of her work highlights the stories of immigrant’s courage, resilience, and the legal challenges they face.  

Unlike many artists who create work to be viewed inside a gallery, museum, home, or private institution, her work is meant to be public. You can find it in the streets, some times on the streets, projected on to buildings, and painted on walls. Key to her work is collaborating with the community, often, but not always, immigrants or immigrant rights organizations. She brings them into the process, amplifying their words in a collaborative process. Creating public work requires skills that go beyond creating art. It involves negotiation, often with government officials, to be granted permission to use public buildings and roads and issued permits to install the work. As you will see in her TedX talk below, Ortiz has won cooperation to display her work on places where migrants’ voices are rarely heard. We believe her work provides a powerful model for civic action.

To learn more about Michelle Angela Oritz’s work, visit her website and check out both the project and video pages. Throughout the site you will encounter pages the stories of many of the people whose stories are integrated into her work.

                                                                                 Reflection Questions and Teaching Ideas

Before introducing Michelle’s work:

Consider asking students to reflect on the relationship between art and social change. A lot of artists hope to inspire people to take action, but how does that work. What your students’ see as essential elements that would be necessary for art to inspire social change?

What are the ways that public art can inspire action? Compare public art to other efforts to raise awareness about a social issue. What is different about art than a film or a protest?

Empathy is defined as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” While empathy can motivate action, presenting stories of injustice can also overwhelm people and make them feel hopeless. What do you see as the role of empathy in building movement for social action? Is it necessary to inspire people to get involved? What other supports might be helpful to encourage people to do more than care?

During the Film:

Use the Re-imagining Migration/Project Zero Thinking Routine See-Feel-Think-Wonder. Encourage students to note what they are seeing, feeling, thinking, and wondering as they listen to Michelle Angela Ortiz’s Tedx talk.

Have students listen for the way she describes her goals, her values, her process, and the skills she uses to execute her projects.


Allow students an opportunity to reflect in their journal about what they saw.

In groups or a whole class discussion, take the opportunity to have students share what they were seeing, feeling, thinking, and wondering.

How would students evaluate the success of Michelle Angela Ortiz’s projects. What would they want to know?

Michelle Angela Ortiz works with and across many communities. Those communities often have their own way of doing things. Their own language. Their own cultures. What skills and assets are important for someone to be able to work effectively and communicate across different communities?

Effective civic action often is built upon an alignment between the issues, values, the strategies employed, and the skills of those participating. Consider Ortiz’s work. What are her goals? What values does she hold? What strategies does she use? And, what do you see as the skills she needs to be successful.

Consider your own passion. What issues do you care about? What are core values do you hold about the issue? What strategies might you employ to take action? And what skills might you need for success?

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