Year Four Art21 Educators | Marni Kotak and Hugo Rojas

Last week we introduced Dillon Paul and Angela Larsen. In this week’s installment of Art21 Educators introductions, we’d like to introduce you to Marni Kotak and Hugo Rojas!

Marni and Hugo are both full-time Spanish teachers for the Urban Assembly High School of Media Studies here in New York City. They are also members of the Media Department, which includes all of the arts. In addition, Marni also teaches a literary course for English Language Learners and is a performance artist herself. Although Marni and Hugo have integrated art into their curricula in the past, they are both interested in helping their students to further develop their cross-cultural understandings and gain a stronger sense of self-awareness through the use of contemporary art in their classrooms.

Marni defines contemporary art as “work that is being created by artists now or in the recent past and responds to current social, political, economic, identity, sexual and other relevant issues.” She admits that up until recently, she was mostly working from a Regents-driven Spanish curriculum. Her goal now is to get to a point where contemporary art is a fluid part of her curriculum. This upcoming school year, Marni plans to expand upon a project originally inspired by the work of Frida Kahlo to develop a unit around the issue of identity. She wants to incorporate contemporary artists such as Bruce Nauman, William Wegman, Kerry James Marshall, Louis Bourgeois and Maya Lin—as well as other important Latin American artists who deal with identity, such as Coco Fusco, Pepón Osorio and the late Ana Mendieta.


Hugo’s curriculum is based on developing the four major language skills – listening, reading, writing and speaking. Students work on different projects through which they learn and develop these skills, while creating visual art to demonstrate evidence of that learning and to share the processes involved. Hugo has found this method of incorporating the visual arts into the curriculum to be particularly successful in engaging his students and enhancing their learning. In one such example, Hugo developed a project inspired by “Acentos Perdidos,” artist Pablo Zulaica’s campaign to fix the incorrect use of accent marks in public signs in Mexico City. Through this project his students learned the rules and proper uses of accent marks (Palabras Agudas, graves, esdrújulas y sobreesdrújulas). Then, they took what they had learned on a field trip to Spanish Harlem to fix the incorrect use of accent marks on the public signs in that area.  (View a video of this project here.) In another example, Hugo created a project for his class using the zoetrope, which was inspired by a visit to the Museum of the Moving Image, to teach about verb conjugations in Spanish. (View a video of this project here.)


We are looking forward to meeting Marni and Hugo and the rest of the Art21 Educators here in New York City in just a few short weeks!

*This post was written with Dana Helwick, Art21 Educators Intern.