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.


  1. Mbx says:

    I really appreciate the inclusion of contemporary art in classes but it really seems a futile thing for me because kids dont really like it. I teach art at community college and whenever I mention anything remotely conceptual eyes roll, I have to stick to what they want or my enrollment numbers plummet and I lose my job. So its anime and comic books and graffiti. I wish I could get away from that more but its really impossible. Maybe if more high school kids get exposed to it it wont be such a drag to them later?

  2. Eso es todo, primo. A poner en alto a los Rojas. Un abrazo.

  3. Joe Fusaro says:

    Re: the comment by Mbx… I can’t say that I agree when you state “kids don’t really like it” when you incorporate contemporary art. You teach at a community college?? It sounds like you yourself have to get a little more excited about what you’re introducing to your students. Passion for what we’re teaching is infectious and I think that there are countless teachers out there (not to mention a few dozen in the Art21 Educators program) that would certainly say teaching with contemporary art opens up the definition of what art can be in many ways that are exciting and engaging for kids. Conceptual art isn’t the only form of contemporary art and I would definitely spend some time with other artists that can enhance your curriculum. It’s a lot better than simply settling for “anime and comic books and graffiti”. Kids can be introduced to contemporary art at all levels, not just high school, and I think that one way to start might be to build off of the approaches to art that you’re already teaching about. Check out works by Margaret Kilgallen, Lari Pittman and Layla Ali to start, then maybe move to artists like Jenny Holzer, Mark Bradford and Michael Ray Charles.

  4. Pingback: Year Four Art21 Educators | Dennis Greenwell and Salem Robert Limpert | Art21 Blog

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