Big Ideas


The John Michael Kohler Arts Center's art environment builder curricula is organized under big ideas—broad terms that can encompass many issues and entry points for students. By using these, we hope to encourage cross-curricular integration and stronger relevancy for today’s learners


Sharing stories is a means for people to gain a better understanding of themselves and the world around them. Oral and written histories are common ways of telling stories. We can look to the art environments as a visual means to create narrative as some of these artists have created folklore, mythology, and more. When students share their stories, they inform one another of their perspectives, experiences, and understandings.

Essential Questions:

  • What are ways to tell a story?
  • What makes a compelling story?
  • How can learning of a story inform perspective/understanding?
  • Why are stories important?

Story Lesson Plan >


Transformation is an important and inevitable part of life. It can also result from active engagement. Art-environment builders are compelled or even driven to transform themselves and or their environments. Art offers a medium for exploring transformation that allows for the reconstruction of the ordinary into the extraordinary.

Essential Questions:

  • What is transformation?
  • Why would someone transform themselves or their environment?
  • How does transforming something change its meaning?

Kinetic Sculpture Lesson Plan >


Most people connect or identify with a sense of place. For the art-environment builders, often an ordinary place is transformed through art into a place unlike any other, which reveals a narrative that goes beyond the surface. Through these ideas, learners can expand their understanding of the connection between the construction of place and identity.

Essential Questions:

  • What defines place?
  • How do people create place?
  • Why do people alter their places in meaningful ways?

Gateways to Inspiration Lesson Plan >


Devotion is a deep, multifaceted commitment. Art-environment builders are passionate, compelled, and dedicated to their process. Art-environment builders provide a window for the viewers to better understand their process and perhaps ignite a passion of their own.

Essential Questions:

  • What is devotion?
  • What inspires devotion?
  • How does devotion affect people’s actions?

Devotion Lesson Plan >


Identity is important in understanding and describing ourselves and others through various means. Art-environment builders use their art­-making techniques to explore and express their identity. Art can be an important vehicle for communicating personal identity and allows for a deeper understanding of cultural and individual differences and similarities.

Essential Questions:

  • What is identity?
  • In what ways do people express or show their identity?
  • Why do people feel compelled to express their identity?

Identity Lesson Plan >


Some art-environment builders have used their work as a process for healing themselves or those around them. Through these ideas, learners can explore how art can be a valid process for healing and well-being.

Essential Questions:

  • What is well-being?
  • Why is well-being important?
  • What are ways we can heal and promote well-being?

Healing and Well-Being Lesson Plan >


Nature is central to human existence. Humans rely on nature for survival and sustainability, recreation, well-being, exploration, and inspiration. The art environments are often deeply connected to their natural surroundings, utilize natural and local materials in their making, or draw upon nature for inspiration. Through these ideas, learners can explore important connections between humans and nature through art.

Essential Questions:

  • What defines nature?
  • Why is nature important?
  • How does nature influence human values, actions, and ways of life?

Nature Lesson Plan >


Objects can communicate information about an individual or a group of people’s values and interests. Artist environment builders often incorporate found objects into their work or create objects to tell their story. By considering objects, learners can develop their cultural and intellectual point of view.

Essential Questions:

  • What kinds of values can be attributed to objects?
  • How do you know an object has value?
  • How can a person use objects to communicate meanings or values?
  • What do we learn about ourselves and the world through objects?

Objects Lesson Plan >