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Freedom to Worship | Freedom from Oppression | Freedom from Want | Freedom from Fear| Freedom to Create

Freedom to Create


In this lesson, students research foreign-born artists who came to America and the impact they and their artistic ability had on American society and culture. Using their research, students develop multimedia presentations highlighting these artists, focusing primarily on how their immigrating to the United States impacted their art, and how the artist impacted American society and culture.

Grade Level: 7-12

Subject Area(s): United States History; World History; Performing Arts; Fine Arts; Technology (Computers)

Time Needed for Lesson: Approximately one week


As a result of completing this lesson, students will be able to:

  1. Identify foreign-born artists and their contributions to their area of artistic talent.
  2. Recognize conditions which may have caused those artists to leave their homeland to come to the United States.
  3. Make conclusions as to how the contribution of these artists impacted American culture, history, and artistic life.

Materials needed: Computer(s) with Internet access, multimedia software (such as Microsoft Power Point), possibly a scanner to scan related images from books or magazines, and a copy of Destination America (Visit PBS Shop for ordering information.)


This lesson meets the following national content standards established by Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL)

United States History:

  • Understands patterns of immigrant life after 1870 (e.g., where people came from and where they settled; how immigrants formed a new American culture; the challenges, opportunities, and contributions of different immigrant groups; ways in which immigrants learned to live and work in a new country)
  • Understands massive immigration after 1870 and how new social patterns, conflicts, and ideas of national unity developed amid growing cultural diversity
  • Understands changes in American life in the late 19th century (e.g., how regional artists and writers portrayed American life, attitudes, and values; reasons for the appeal of new sports, entertainment, and recreational activities; changes in lifestyles)
  • Understands the impact of new cultural movements on American society in the 1920s (e.g., the extension of secondary education to new segments of American society, the emergence of artists in the postwar period, the origins and development of jazz, how the creation of national parks affected Native American culture)
  • Understands social, religious, cultural, and economic changes at the onset of the Cold War era (e.g., the causes and results of new governmental spending on educational programs, the expansion of suburbanization and the impact of the "crabgrass frontier," the role of religion, the impact of the GI Bill on higher education, how the Cold War influenced the lives and roles of women, how artists and writers portrayed the effects of alienation on the individual and society after 1945)

World History:

  • Understands trends in immigration within and out of Europe in the 19th century
  • Understands influences on European migration, immigration, and emigration patterns throughout the world between 1846 and 1932 (e.g., the geographical, political, economic, and epidemiological factors that contributed to the success of European colonial settlements in various regions; possible connections of the rise of the Zulu Empire in South Africa to European settlements in the Cape Region; relations between migrating European and African peoples that laid the foundation for the apartheid system in the 20th century; how technology such as the steamship and the railroad facilitated emigration)


  • Understands characteristics of works in various art forms that share similar subject matter, historical periods, or cultural context
  • Knows how characteristics of the arts vary within a particular historical period or style and how these characteristics relate to ideas, issues, or themes in other disciplines


  • Knows how to import, export, and merge data stored in different formats (e.g., text, graphics)
  • Knows that group collaboration is useful as the combination of multiple creative minds can yield more possible design solutions

Teaching Strategy:

The teacher can begin the lesson with an overview of how cultural exchange has taken place over the course of American and world history, for example, how American musicians of the 1950s "rock era" such as Elvis Presley, influenced singers and songwriters in other countries, such as John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and how in turn, Lennon, McCartney, and the Beatles influenced American performers of the 1960s and 1970s.

Allow time for students to view "The Art of Departure" focusing specifically on the segment on composer Arturo Toscanini. (The segment can be seen at (

The teacher may also wish to have students investigate the various areas of the world where "creative immigrants" have left to come to the United States. The Destination America "Where Did They Come From" web page includes an interactive map that will demonstrate various patterns of immigration that students can view. (

(The teacher may also elect to have students view the entire episode to get a flavor of how present-day immigrants also interact with American culture.) While the episode is playing, ask students to take notes on points made in the film, including Toscanini's relationship with Italian Dictator Benito Mussolini and Germany's Adolf Hitler. (Note: A sample information collection form is included in the lesson.)

Specific time cues for the segment on Toscanini 9:00-21:00 in the film.

At the conclusion of the film, tell students that they will be researching creating multimedia presentations highlighting the career of at least one of the artists listed in the Online Resources section of the lesson, and focusing on how they impacted American culture or life.

The teacher may wish to divide the class into groups in order to conduct the research and create the multimedia presentation, with the number of groups dependent on the size of the class. It's also recommended that the teacher distribute some sort of form with criteria for the presentation. Sample criteria and information collection sheets forms and rubric are provided, however, the teacher may wish to adapt the samples to fit their personal criteria for the lesson.

Extension Activities:

As a converse of this assignment, the teacher may wish to have students research instances where American culture and artistic talent affected artists and creators in other countries. Students could report this in another multimedia project, web page, or written report.

Have students write critical reviews on the work of the subject of their presentation, similar to what they might see in the "Arts" section of their local newspaper.

Online Resources:

While the episode "The Art of Departure" focuses primarily on Arturo Toscanini as a historical example, and mentions John James Audubon, Anton Dvorak, and John Roebling as examples of foreign-born artists, many other examples are mentioned on the Destination America website as well as the companion book for the series. Representative examples of other artists and creators are included below, along with some web resources. Teachers may wish to have students do research on other persons that fit the assignment either by using a textbook or the companion book for Destination America as a guide.

Destination America "When Did They Come?" webpage

Arturo Toscanini

Toscanini Online

"Classical Notes" web page on Toscanini

Anton Dvorak

Composer page for Dvorak

Classical Music page on Dvorak

John James Audubon

Audubon Society webpage biography of Audubon

Audubon's "Birds of America"

Other artists that may be considered for the lesson:

Frank Capra

Internet Movie Database page on Capra

Biography page on Capra

Ingrid Bergman

The Official Ingrid Bergman website

Marlene Dietrich (Actress)

Official Marlene Dietrich site

Charlie Chaplin (Actor and Director) webpage

American Masters page on Chaplin

Freedom to Worship | Freedom from Oppression | Freedom from Want | Freedom from Fear| Freedom to Create

Sources: Destination America

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