Urban Intervention | Youth Art Team

Urban Intervention

“Be beautiful. Be powerful. Try to think of things that no one has created before.” A.J., age 8


Fifty-three butterfly sculptures appeared by surprise on the lawn of Lowell Elementary (Waterloo) in March of 2016. The artwork was created by six teams of young artists – about 100 total students of all ages from Waterloo and Cedar Falls – as a surprise for the community. Butterflies secretly migrated to the area surrounding the Little Red Schoolhouse (Cedar Falls) in April. They took flight again, temporarily settling along Logan Avenue near George Washington Carver Academy (Waterloo) in May. Go to the Youth Art Team Facebook project photo album to see how it unfolded in pictures.

The goal of the Youth Art Team Urban Intervention (aka “the butterfly project”) was to instill in the young artists who created this fluid work of art the knowledge that their actions have the power to alter the dynamics of the community. This project modeled the butterfly effect, a term describing the potential for one small change in a condition to affect a large and complex system. Participants learned that art has an immediate impact but can also spur people on to do something new themselves. We’re discovering that the true impact outlasts the art itself.

For the first time, the core team invited their peers to participate as partner teams in the Urban Intervention project and worked with 22 partners in order to pull it off successfully.

The Youth Art Team made preliminary project decisions and prepped materials in the fall and early winter. During the winter, the core team introduced themselves and the project to the partner teams by video (see below), and assisted in person at partner team meetings as much as possible. All participants – students, adults, and community partners – successfully kept the project a surprise.

Students worked hard over several weeks to create their butterflies. Since all teams met at different times in various locations throughout Waterloo and Cedar Falls, students connected by writing notes, drawing pictures, and looking at photographs of one another working during the process to inspire and encourage each other.

Butterflies then hid in church basements and school closets until the snow melted and the moment was just right to release them. When all 53 butterflies finally reached the third location near Carver Middle School, the Youth Art Team hosted an community party with the butterflies celebrating the accomplishment of these 100 young artists. The celebration drew an estimated 200 residents. They were surprised one last time to discover that some of the butterflies were placed in a heart shape after attendees participated in an aerial photograph that revealed the shape.

As a result of this project, the core Youth Art Team students had the opportunity to represent our community at the Iowa Arts Summit in Des Moines – along with all 53 butterflies. They presented to adult artists and leaders from around Iowa in the Flashes of Iowa Innovation session, a series of innovative and exciting ideas for the arts in the state from Iowa organizations and communities.

One person shared with us: “My 17-year-old son, upon seeing the butterflies said, ‘I LOVE these things. I want them to stay all summer. I love them so much I want them scattered all over town in all the parks forever.'” Each time students moved butterflies from one location to the next, they noticed the space felt a little empty and lonely without them. In Cedar Falls, tufts of grass where city lawn mowers cut around the butterflies were a visible reminder that something was missing. Now the locations themselves serve as reminders of what 100 young artists in our community accomplished together. The Youth Art Team expects the full “butterfly effect” will continue to play out over time.


Youth Art Team video introductions to partner teams:

In the core team’s own words (unscripted, unrehearsed)…



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The Youth Art Team Urban Intervention project was supported, in part, by the Iowa Arts Council, a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa – Wallace Family Fund, and the R.J. McElroy Trust.

The project also received financial contributions, supply donations, discounts, letters of support, space to create and display the student artwork, and other forms of support from our community. Thank you to fearless partner team leaders: Ashley Cardamone (volunteer, art teacher at Holmes Junior High), Endya Johnson (volunteer), Lynsie Maynard (volunteer, art teacher at Cedar Heights Elementary), Rachel Nosbisch (art teacher at Lowell Elementary), Natalie Patterson (volunteer, fifth grade teacher at Cedar Heights Elementary).