UAY Youth, led by Professional Artist, Work on Downtown
Iowa City Mural Project
– Large-Scale Collaborative Mural being installed in Downtown

For the past two weeks, young artists have been reporting for duty in the community room of United Action for Youth at Eastdale Plaza. The walls of the room are covered with drop cloths, sketches, to-do lists and colorful paint swatches. One youth artist is in charge of paintbrushes, another is in charge of water cans and another is in charge of the music selection. A total of twelve local youth are working as assistants to professional artist, Sayuri Sasaki Hemann, in order to complete a mural project that will be featured on a wall in downtown Iowa City. The young artists affectionately call their work space, “Mural HQ,” or mural headquarters. And in this space, everyone has a job.

Sayuri began laying the groundwork for this project back in April when she met with groups of young people at UAY to collect input and inspiration about the visual content of the mural. Youth were given the opportunity to answer questions such as “How do we learn to live together in harmony? How do we relate to each other? How can we keep our vibrant, individual colors, patterns and textures, and still thrive, flourish and compliment each other?” Following a series of writing, drawing, and interactive exercises with the young artists, Sayuri arrived at an overarching theme for the mural: co-existence.

“Through numerous prompts and activities, we decided that a community consists of many ecosystems working together as a whole on many different levels,” said Sayuri. The mural’s design will reflect the way that different parts of the community can live in harmony with one another.

Maya Richards, a 15 year old youth artist who attends City High, has enjoyed the supportive environment of the project. “Everyone brought their sketchbooks on the first day and I looked around and saw so many different art styles and I thought that was so cool. Everyone was complimenting each other on their style and it was so amazing.”

The Iowa City Downtown District (ICDD) has been looking for ways to use art to create a vibrant and inclusive downtown area. Several months ago, the ICDD reached out to UAY in an effort to engage new community partners in this endeavor. “We feel it is powerful and important to give youth a real voice in their downtown’s urban fabric,” said Thomas Agran, ICDD’s Public Art Director. The UAY Swaim Youth Center, located in downtown Iowa City, is a free drop-in space for teenagers that provides both an art studio and a music recording studio so the collaboration between UAY and the ICDD made perfect sense. “Public art is an expression of the vibrancy and vitality of our downtown and our community as a whole. Art makes this place a desirable place to live. We are thrilled to have Sayuri and UAY youth be part of this project,” said Agran.

Jaiden Spencer, age 14, has attended every day of the project and says she has always loved art. “It really overwhelms me that you can put all of these creative people’s ideas into one 40 foot mural. It’s been awesome working with these people and especially Sayuri – she has such a positive attitude about everything.”

By participating in this mural project, young artists have had the opportunity to be mentored by Sayuri as well as other local artists who have been helping with the project. Sayuri describes the learning environment in this way, “I see the UAY work space as a vibrant ecosystem with many different personalities. Learning to work with each other in this ecosystem will translate to the young people learning to work well with each other in the many different communities they will encounter throughout their lives.”

The UAY mural project is currently being painted in smaller, individual pieces at UAY’s Eastdale Plaza location. The individual components of the project will be adhered to the mural wall in the next week. “I’m so proud of all the youth who are participating. It’s such a large project and it’s amazing to see everyone coming together, collaborate and support each other,” says Lauren Linahon, UAY’s Art Program Manager.

“We have put so much thought into each little piece of the mural. We have been here in this space painting line by line, stroke by stroke, so I am excited to see it all come together on the gigantic wall,” says Spencer. A reception to celebrate the completion of the mural project will be open to the public later this summer. Details will be posted on the UAY facebook page @United Action for Youth and the ICDD facebook page @Iowa City Downtown District.

The UAY Mural Project is made possible by support from the Iowa City Downtown Association, a Johnson County Decategorization Grant, the City of Iowa City Public Art Advisory Committee, and Diamond Vogel.


For more information or interviews:

Mickey Hampton
UAY Development Director
(319) 338-7518

Thomas Agran
ICCD Public Art Director
Director of Public Art
319-354-0863 extension 504