River Wall Mural | Artists Celebration

People gathering at the "Our Freedom Story" mural near the RiverLoop Amphitheatre at the Waterloo Center for the Arts

Four hundred people made their way to Waterloo’s RiverLoop Amphitheatre to celebrate the 150 young artists who created the new 3,000+ square foot mural along the Cedar River at the Waterloo Center for the Arts. We appreciate everyone who took the time to come out and experience the “Our Freedom Story” mural! It was beautiful.

“Your community supports you, believes in you, and believes that you are brilliant.”

– Heidi Fuchtman, Youth Art Team Director

People at the celebration asked us to share a few things. We’ll compile them for you here!

Before you read on, will you help us? One of our favorite things about Youth Art Team is getting to share community feedback with the artists. This project took thousands of hours from start to finish. Will you take a few minutes to answer a couple of questions for us?

And now…

What is this project?
This slideshow takes you through the research, learning, and brainstorming process to the moment before mural painting began…

The mural is so cool. Can you help me understand it?
Get a glimpse into the creative minds of the 150 collaborating young artists to understand the ideas behind the art…

Is Youth Art Team a part of the city? The schools? The art centers?

Youth Art Team is an organization that must raise its own funding in order to work with our cities, schools, and art centers to make community-based, public art projects like this possible. And we LOVE to work with them. They are amazing partners who believe in young artists and open doors for them to share their creative voices with our communities.

The “Our Freedom Story” mural project did not receive full funding! But we knew it was too important and had to finish. Now that you’ve seen its impact, we hope that you will help Youth Art Team reach its funding needs to continue this momentum into the next project. Our website makes it easy to make a one-time donation or set up monthly contributions. Your entire donation is tax-deductible. Help us make sure that the Youth Art Team moves into its next project with courage and strength!

The River Wall Mural is one of three Mural Year projects that the Youth Art Team has accomplished in 2018-2019. The Youth Art Team Mural Year project is supported, in part, by the Iowa Arts Council, a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural A airs, the National Endowment for the Arts. A Teen Trust grant, awarded to Friends of the Art Center, provided funds that assisted with River Wall Mural paint costs.

The Guernsey Charitable Foundation and R. J. McElroy Trust provided operating support that helped make this project and other Youth Art Team initiatives possible in 2019.

Will you help me keep up with “Our Freedom Story” media coverage?
Yes! We posted links below and we’ll post new links as additional pieces are published.

Ahmad Madlock (grade 9), Imagination Coalition and Youth Art Team youth board member being interviewed by KCRG before the celebration. (The “Our Town” series airs in mid-June! We’ll post a link here when it does.)

Can you share more about the song?
Yes! We posted a link to the lyrics and the song itself below.

Lowell artists (grade 3) recording in The Studio!
Listen! Recorded at The Studio with Lyrikal TMG.

Read the lyrics written by Lowell & Kingsley third graders during music class with Dr. Meacham (Hip Hop Literacy) and music teachers Ms. Mennenga (Lowell) and Mr. Babneau (Kingsley).

The live performance recorded by Youth Art Team Lead Team artist! Isaac and Oliver Yoder joined us from the Northern Iowa Youth Orchestra under the direction of John Chiles. Choreography learned in gym class with Mandy Masmar (University of Northern Iowa, Physical Education dance program) and gym teachers Mr. Guetzlaff (Lowell) and Ms. Velthoff (Kingsley).

This project was huge! Impossible to capture it all here. If there’s something else you’d like to know or see, let us know.

Meet the Imagination Coalition

It developed through an initiative called PROJECT 8,  a yearlong strategy for increasing youth voice and leadership through the arts in 2018 that called upon eight, eighth-grade artists to envision the Youth Art Team’s next phase and become equipped to lead it.

After eighth grade, PROJECT 8 artists renamed themselves the Imagination Coalition The group is now comprised of the Youth Art Team’s six oldest artists, all freshman in high school. Their leadership is already adding depth to the learning experiences that the Youth Art Team is providing for 150 young artists through the River Wall Mural project.

Artists interviewing Dr. Gwendolyn Simpson Johnson

The Imagination Coalition conducted preliminary interviews with people who grew up or lived in Waterloo during the 50s, 60s, and 70s to provide a basis for understanding the community in the time surrounding the civil rights movement. Then they helped summarize the stories they heard in order to successfully introduce each interviewee to younger artists on the Youth Art Team and collaborating third-grade artists at Lowell and Kingsley Elementary Schools. These preliminary interviews by the Imagination Coalition made it possible for the young artists to read about each person ahead of time and to brainstorm questions to ask when each individual came to meet them in person.

Artists interviewing Alice Dutton Shirey

Some members of the Imagination Coalition visited third graders at Lowell and Kingsley while they worked on the mural project in their art classrooms. They also inspired Kingsley students to create promotional videos for the project during media class.

While Imagination Coalition artists make their voices heard by speaking at Waterloo City Council meetings and giving interviews to local and state media, their ideas are also being heard by the Youth Art Team board of directors. A new youth board member position was added in January 2019, and the Imagination Coalition will spend time developing this position and a structure for adding new artists to the coalition as younger artists continue to develop in experience and leadership with the Youth Art Team.

St. Louis Trip

The Youth Art Team St. Louis Trip kicked off a brand new collaborative mural project. We can’t wait to share it with you! The team has big dreams and is looking for supporters. To become one: youthartteam.com/donate.

The Youth Art Team's lead team at the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.

The Youth Art Team got up *early* in the morning on Friday. We met at Headquarters and hit the road for St. Louis, Missouri! We arrived safely at Urban Mission Inn and checked out our digs for the next two nights. After a quick team meeting, we headed out to see the Gateway Arch before heading back for bed.

Two artist checking out their bunkbeds.

The Youth Art Team headed to the Saint Louis Art Museum first thing on Saturday morning to view an exhibition of Kehinde Wiley portraits. Wiley chose historical works of art from the museum’s collection, and he visited north St. Louis and Ferguson, Missouri to find people who would pose for him in those classical positions.

Six Youth Art Team artists viewing large Kehinde Wiley portraits in a gallery.

These everyday people became the stunning subjects in 11 oversized paintings by Wiley, who is also the first African-American artist to paint an official presidential portrait.

One Youth Art Team artist standing with her hands on her hips while viewing a large Kehinde Wiley portrait of woman standing with her hand on her hip.
One Youth Art Team artist standing in front of a large Kehinde Wiley portrait of man.

The team explored the rest of the museum as well, discovering paintings by Pablo Picasso, sculpture by George Segal, ancient sculptures from the Middle East, Greek and Roman coins, Egyptian mummies, and more.

Five Youth Art Team artists standing together while looking at the heads from two ancient Middle Eastern sculptures.
One Youth Art Team artists looking at ancient Greek and Roman coins under a magnifying glass.

Some of the best memories in St. Louis were made when sharing meals or just hanging out together.

Three Youth Art Team artists playing pool.

Everyone loved Fitz’s where we could see them bottling their own sodas while indulging in enormous root beer floats. The Mexican food at Mi Ranchito was among the most delicious. And the breakfast-all-day with “romantic” music at Rooster was a treat.

Two Youth Art Team artists enjoying large root beer floats.

Back at Urban Mission Inn we played games, told each other about our days, noodled around on the piano, tried to catch a nap, and did a little drawing and thank you writing.

One Youth Art Team artists noodling around on the piano.

City Museum was a trip highlight – a place to explore and play, created with a wide range of repurposed architectural and industrial objects. The group made many trips down the 2-story, 5-story, and 10-story slides.

Seven Youth Art Team artists sitting on a bench at City Museum.

While some were at City Museum, others were checking out the city. They saw the St. Louis Wall of Fame mural on Manchester Ave. and portraits painted of St. Louis residents that were installed on housing along Page Blvd. (blurry pics taken from the vehicle as we drove by!). They also saw the Old Courthouse where the Dred Scott v. Sanford case was tried. Slave auctions were once held on these steps.

Six Youth Art Team artists posing in front of the St. Louis Wall of Fame mural that depicts 18 prominent African American people from St. Louis.
Vacant apartment building with painted portraits of community leaders attached to the windows.
The Old Courthouse at night with two Youth Art Team members in front by a sculpture of Dred and Harriet Scott.

Our trip ended with a surprise addition to our itinerary: a night with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. All 27 of us listened to Beethoven and Schumann, conducted by Karina Canellakis, at Powell Symphony Hall in Grand Center. The St. Louis Symphony is the second-oldest professional symphony orchestra in the United States.

Large group of Youth Art Team artists walking into Powell Symphony Hall, home to the Saint Louis Symphony.

Musicians on our team saw and heard their instruments masterfully played. (Artists on the team play bass, bass clarinet, cello, clarinet, oboe, trombone, tuba, and violin.) Season ticket holders – whose own grandchildren struggle to sit through a performance – were nervous at first to see *19 kids* sit down next to them. By the end the Youth Art Team made an impression on them by their appreciation of the music throughout performance.

Youth Art Team artists and chaperones seated and ready to take in the performance.

Youth Art Team, your hometowns would be proud of how you represented Waterloo, Cedar Falls, and Reinbeck to the people of St. Louis. We’re so excited to see the new ideas you bring back home after this trip!