Projects: The Dinner Party Curriculum Project

The rich content of The Dinner Party—women’s achievements throughout history and curricular applications for K-12 art education settings is examined by The Dinner Party Curriculum Project. While the Curriculum was developed by and for art educators, its teachings about the relevance of women’s achievements apply to many other fields as well.

The Dinner Party Curriculum Project

The Dinner Party Curriculum Project

Launched by Through the Flower in 2009, The Dinner Party Curriculum was created by a team of writers spearheaded by Dr. Marilyn Stewart (with Dr. Constance Bumgarner Gee, Dr. Peg Spiers and Dr. Carrie Nordlund) in collaboration with Judy Chicago. Through a series of free, downloadable pdf files, teachers can learn how to integrate The Dinner Party into their classrooms so as to teach a wide audience about women’s rich and empowering history through art. The official launch of The Dinner Party Curriculum Project took place on May 1, 2009 at the New Mexico State Capitol in Santa Fe and was attended by state officials, museum professionals, curators, art teachers from around the state and the entire board of Through the Flower.

Michale Sanchez introduces Judy_Chicago

NM State Senator Michael Sanchez introduces Judy Chicago to the assembled crowd

Judy Chiago and Diane Dennish

Judy Chicago presenting The Dinner Party Book to NM Lt. Governor Diane Denish

Judy Chicago addresses gathering

Judy Chicago addresses the gathering at the formal launch of the Curriculum

Penn State logo

In 2011, Through the Flower gifted and endowed the Curriculum to Penn State where it continues to be integrated into their art education and other programs and maintained online in perpetuity. This Curriculum is now an in-perpetuity “living curriculum” and can be found on the website of Penn State University, one of the leading art education institutions in the country. Penn State also houses the Judy Chicago Art Education Collection, gifted by Judy Chicago; regarded as one of the most important private collections of archival materials on feminist art education, it encompasses videos, photographs, and notes on Chicago’s teaching projects. Through the Flower’s endowments to Penn State will ensure the continued development, support and promotion of the Collection, and of the Curriculum for future generations.

Michale Sanchez introduces Judy_Chicago

Teaching Conversations, a project of feminist professors at Penn State, involves discussions about the Judy Chicago Art Education Collection and ways to use it in the curriculum

Judy Chicago addresses gathering

Professor Karen Keifer-Boyd, Penn State; Judy Chicago and Dean Barbara Dewey, Penn State

Introduction to The Dinner Party Curriculum Project by Judy Chicago (Excerpts)

Welcome to The Dinner Party K-12 Curriculum website. I thought it might be important to discuss why I have devoted so much time in the last few years to working on this project. In 2005, my husband, photographer Donald Woodman, and I were invited to be the first Chancellor's Artists in Residence at Vanderbilt University. By this time, plans were already underway for the permanent housing of The Dinner Party. I set this goal for myself even before the piece was finished in 1979 and began its worldwide journey that eventually brought it to an audience of more than one million viewers. Over the course of the years, Through the Flower received many testaments by K-12 teachers all over the world who had used The Dinner Party in their classrooms. Although I found these tributes charming, I must admit that I did not pay a lot of attention to them.

While we were at Vanderbilt, my attitude abruptly changed. I received a copy of an upcoming article in a popular K-12 art education magazine describing a class project that was supposedly based on The Dinner Party. Students had made autobiographical plates. Although I knew the teacher had not intended to offend, this interpretation of The Dinner Party deeply disturbed me.

While there is nothing wrong with doing autobiographies on plates, it is a mistake to claim that such a project has anything to do with The Dinner Party, which is about women’s achievements in history.

Moreover, another of The Dinner Party's intentions is to help viewers think beyond the personal, especially girls and women who often drown in the many personal demands that are still placed on females in societies around the globe. Thus, a project involving autobiographies on plates defeats the very purpose of The Dinner Party. In addition to teaching a broad and diverse audience about the achievements of women in Western civilization, The Dinner Party aims to help both women and men better understand women's experiences through the lens of history, something that is unavailable to most of us because women’s history is still taught in such a spotty and incoherent manner...

Although there are many ways of approaching The Dinner Party, it is important to note that The Dinner Party is built on a solid foundation of research into history, art history, feminism, and the obstacles women faced (and continue to face) as they struggled to participate fully in the societies in which they lived. The Curriculum is structured in a sequence that is intended to help students gradually develop a consciousness about gender along with a deep understanding of women's history, women's art, and women's achievements. The Curriculum consists of a series of downloadable pdf files; teachers may pick and choose among the fourteen Encounters, selecting those that seem most appropriate to their classrooms, grade level, and goals...

I often describe my hopes for this Curriculum by stating that I see a classroom engaged in, for example, a study of the artists represented in The Dinner Party. A young student discovers Elizabeth Vigee-Lebrun, the 18th-century French court painter who produced more art than any woman artist prior to her time. The student learns that Vigee-Lebrun’s achievements cannot be evaluated by art historians even now, over two centuries later, because her work has never even been catalogued. This young pupil decides that she will dedicate her life to the task, thus ensuring a role for herself in the arts, a career, and a contribution to history. Although this is only an example, it is one that would demonstrate a successful application of the enormous potential of The Dinner Party Curriculum.