By Professor Emily Newman
Assistant Professor of Art and Design

During the Fall semester of 2016, beginning drawing students traveled outside their campus studio to collaborate on a large scale drawing with youth from Iowa Homeless Youth Centers (IHYC) in downtown Des Moines. Eight students and I gathered with participants at the IHYC ready to embark on the creation of a large 60 inch drawing.

Prior to our first visit, students were assigned the same drawing project in class. The large scale, collaborative drawings utilized techniques of gridding to scale up, shifts in value to create representational images, and an introduction of abstraction through the drawing process and materials used- skills covered in beginning drawing curriculum. After starting our project in class, students were now prepared to repeat the techniques and help instruct youth participants.

The collaboration between art students and IHYC is in its infancy and with any first time partnership there were expected and unexpected bumps in the road. After each drawing session, the students and I would meet to reflect upon our experience. We discussed the experience of service learning, including dispelling myths about the perceived needs of those without permanent shelter. Student Christian Verdin reflects,

“At first, I was somewhat opposed of the idea of teaching art to young adults in need, just because I believed they needed other information and tips on how to escape poverty, but my mind was changed as I thought further about it. Art was a way of escaping reality for some of these individuals.”

We also reflected upon the challenges of creating a partnership from the ground up. Our student participants far outnumbered the youth from IHYC. We discussed possible changes to the structure of the project to increase participation and enable a more empowered experience. Students identified this learning experience as a valuable lesson in project organizing and management.

“The IHYC service learning experiment was a good lesson for everyone, including myself. It taught me to never assume that something will turn out the way you want it to, at least on the first try. Things take time and effort, and they will not always run smoothly at the snap of your finger.”-Jordin Wilson

The overall service learning experience of a collaborative drawing was not what any of us had perceived. As a project that incorporates teaching a new skill set by interacting with youth of the same age, yet different backgrounds, the comparisons and contrasts of participants to one another were visible. By the end of the experience, students reflected upon the larger goal of the project; creating art together provides a pathway to empathy.

“I was able to have good conversation and to teach simple drawing techniques to the few individuals who did participate. But regardless of the numbers, I think that it was an important project…I am thankful for the opportunity to get out of my comfort zone, and to just be youth drawing together and disregarding the circumstances were (sic) placed in for just a couple of hours.” -Courtney McCuddin

The partnership between the Department of Art and Design and IHYC is continuing in thanks to the support of the Office of Community Engaged Learning and Taylor McKee, Volunteer Coordinator at Iowa Homeless Youth Centers.