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The University of Iowa welcomes We Are Lions

BY KAITLIN DEWULF | OCTOBER 24, 2014 5:00 AM

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Whether it be on a T-shirt or phone case, a new organization coming to the University of Iowa seeks to showcase the talent of individuals with special needs by displaying their artwork on various merchandise.

We Are Lions hopes to help these individuals express themselves through the limitless opportunities art offers. The group wants to highlight their creative minds while raising funds to provide financial support for special-needs programs.

David Schwartz, the founder of We Are Lions, started the organization as a student at the University of Illinois-Urbana because he found it unfair the way society views those afflicted with disabilities or mental illness as lesser members of the community.

“People often find it hard to interact with individuals with disabilities,” Schwartz said. “This could be because of lack of knowledge, understanding, or interaction.”

He said art is something that speaks to all languages without barriers, and that is why the organization chose it as the outlet to let these individuals’ talents shine.

“We are hoping to break down all the barriers that exist between people with and without disabilities by bridging the gaps,” Schwartz said.

The organization promotes inclusivity between communities by collaborating with artists with disabilities and putting their artwork onto affordable media. This artwork includes shirts, mugs, phone cases, and sweatshirts.

The group sells the artwork on its website, and the majority of the proceeds go to the artist and the nonprofit or organization they are partnered with.

UI junior Daniel Liberman is expanding We Are Lions by bringing the organization to the UI campus.

“It all boils down to each human having self-worth and dignity,” he said. “And people with disabilities have historically been marginalized and made to feel as if they are ‘less than.’”

Because We Are Lions is new to campus, Liberman said he has spent most of his time planning ways to make it a success.

He said he has coordinated with Schwartz to see what has worked for him and determine what he can personally contribute to the organization.

Liberman established a partnership with the Village Community — a group started by Iowa City parents who converted an old winery into a multipurpose building intended for people with disabilities to learn, work, and one day live together.

Village Community Advisory Board member Joe Taylor said Liberman came to him about partnering with the group during the Iowa City School District Special Olympics, which Taylor coordinates.

“Once per month, Dan will set up an art activity for the kids to do at the Village Community,” Taylor said. “This month, we will be making canvasses.”

He said he is excited to partner with We Are Lions and thinks the kids will benefit from experimenting with different types of art each month.

Taylor said expanding the program will benefit the Iowa City community and the Village Community kids, and he is thankful Liberman approached him about the idea.

“We Are Lions is changing the way people think about disabilities on a number of levels,” Schwartz said. “We’re all on this planet together, and we can achieve the most when we work together.”


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