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:

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!


The eight artists of PROJECT 8 in a group photo.

The eight oldest artists were all in eighth grade. They spent 2018, the eighth year of Youth Art Team, envisioning the team’s next phase together.

The artists discussed the Youth Art Team’s accomplishments, their dreams for the group, and what they would do differently. They also helped lead several projects this year.

“We go from pencil and paper to painting on a wall – that’s so cool. I can do things that are bigger without limitations.”

– Project 8 artist

PROJECT 8 artists sent the lead team out to five locations and asked them to brainstorm ideas for new public art projects. Younger students were challenged by PROJECT 8 to design new team shirts. Two elementary-age artists transferred the design to computer using Adobe Illustrator. Three PROJECT 8 artists became Summer Camp Student Assistants, guiding younger artists who painted murals for the Fourth Street Bridge. PROJECT 8 called upon young artists to help create and sell buttons!

What is PROJECT 8 saying?

One young artist expressed a key Youth Art Team principle: “It’s important to include all of the team – especially the younger kids so they don’t feel left out.”

“Youth Art Team sees through race and ethnicity,” another PROJECT 8 artist said. “It recognizes that we’re all different, but that doesn’t matter because we’re all one team. People come together to make one amazing art work and that’s universal for all of us.

Some of the PROJECT 8 students joined Youth Art Team’s core team when they were in kindergarten. “We’ve gotten to know each other so well over eight years,” noted Youth Art Team director and artist Heidi Fuchtman. “We know that relationships and quality matter.”

This is awesome. What can I do?!

PROJECT 8 expressed a desire for the Youth Art Team to become a community where young people with creative dreams can come and learn how to translate their ideas into action.

We need your help to build this kind of opportunity for more young people in our area!

Support developing leaders!

PROJECT 8 was funded in part by the Waterloo Community Foundation.