In the final run up to the Nov. 3 election, University Honors students had a one-on-one opportunity to learn about the role art can play in promoting civic engagement.
Participating in “Graffiti Revolution, a seminar led by Sandra Williams, the students worked directly with Shawn Dunwoody, a community artist based in Rochester, New York.
Dunwoody works with communities around the world on large-scale murals and community-building projects. He was set to visit the University of Nebraska–Lincoln as a Hixson-Lied Visiting Artist and Scholar before COVID-19 shifted those plans.
Williams, an associate professor in the School of Art, Art History and Design, originally planned to collaborate with Dunwoody to have students in the seminar assist with a community-based mural in Lincoln. As it became clear that this would not be a possibility, though, Williams and Dunwoody brainstormed alternatives. Ultimately, Dunwoody tasked the students with creating their own stickers centered around the election.
The only stipulation for the election-themed stickers was that they be about concepts, not candidates.
Cordell Vrbka, a first-year pre-veterinary medicine major, said Dunwoody challenged the class to find ways to honor sacrifices made to ensure the right to vote.
“Shawn challenged us to make stickers that would encourage people to vote in this critical election,” said Maggie Scott, a first-year mathematics major. “Some designs brought attention to low voter turnout, while others celebrated the 100-year anniversary of women’s suffrage.”
Dunwoody met with the class via Zoom twice, and gave suggestions on ways to improve their designs.
“They could walk right up to the camera with their drawing and ask him for feedback on their designs,” Williams said. “He was drawing and workshopping on the white board in his studio in New York, and a couple students were working out designs on the whiteboard in our classroom, so everything was still safe and socially distanced.”
Patrice Roubidoux, a first-year art history and criticism major, said the project was challenging as students had to pack a lot of information into a tiny space.
“Shawn’s input was extremely beneficial on understanding the composition of an effective design,” Roubidoux said. “I think actively discussing our designs with him really took it to the next level and ultimately made our final product more impactful.”
Once the students’ designs were finalized, Williams sent them off to be printed. With expedited shipping, students had them in-hand in time for the election.
Williams said the sticker design challenge was a perfect fit to the seminar theme and she has started plans to use the idea again in the future.
“Sticker art comprises a large part of street art… it’s a low cost way of spreading one’s art globally to places one has never even been,” William said. “Making the stickers was Shawn’s concept, but it is one I am stealing and keeping; it will continue to be a part of the class.”