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UI Ph.D. student encourages storytelling through art

BY BRIAN ALBERT | JUNE 22, 2011 7:20 AM

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Powerful winds blew across Wetherby Park on Tuesday as children from the Broadway Neighborhood Center in Iowa City fought the breeze as they played basketball, jumped through misting water sprinklers, and navigated a crowded playground.

But a few kids, including 8-year-old Juan Neutzy Jr., were content to sit in the shade and draw. As instructed, he used paper and markers to visually reproduce something that represented one of his most defining, cherished moments.

He drew a Pikachu.

“I have my best friend because we both like Pokémon,” Juan said. “I went to recess, and Erika was outside after recess. I asked her, ‘Do you want to be my friend?’ and she said, ‘Yes.’ She really likes Pokémon cards a lot — about as much as I do.”

Daniel Kinney, a teacher at Tate Alternative High, 1528 Mall Drive, and a doctoral student at the University of Iowa, oversaw the kids as they played. He, along with two other students, founded the CrossingBorders project, which aims to break down misconceptions about southeastern Iowa City and “reflect the changing community.”

And though the project has many goals, one is to let the kids tell their own stories through art.

“They’re sharing stories about their experiences as part of this community,” Kinney said. “We ask them to draw something that is special — something that defines who they are. Then we’ll take their images and incorporate them into a big, colorful mural.”

Kinney said he thought up the idea while speaking to Sue Freeman, the program director for Neighborhood Centers of Johnson County. Because he has visited Ugandan kids during the past two summers to teach and paint murals with them, Kinney said, he thought it would be a great idea to implement a similar program here.

“I thought it would be great to contribute something to the neighborhood center,” he said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for increased artistic dialogue in our community.”

One mural has been started in the stairwell of the Broadway Neighborhood Center, 2015 Broadway. Another mural, funded by the Iowa City police, will be painted on the backside of a strip mall, also along Broadway.

“It should be quite a bit bigger,” Kinney said. “I can’t wait to see what these kids plan to do with the extra space.”

For those unable to see the murals themselves, Austin Chadderdon, a journalism student at the UI, will document the kids’ progress and upload it to the official CrossingBorders website.

“Our website is a civic storytelling process,” Chadderdon said. “Iowa City has a lot of new people from a lot of different places, and there are a lot of wild misconceptions. We’re trying to overcome those.”

He said the mural idea was a great form of dialogue, and it will cement the idea that the kids are part of their community.

“It’s a really great form of storytelling,” Chadderdon said. “These kids can come up with a great image, and we can put that onto the walls and lock it in time. They can always look at it and say, ‘That’s me. That’s my story.’ ”


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