Art Collab

March 05, 2019

Town-Gown Relations Get a Boost with Downtown Art Studio

Sometimes to both students and professors, Grinnell College can feel a little bit like living on an island. 

Jeremy Chen, a senior lecturer in Grinnell College’s Art Department, set out to change that with the creation of Stew Art Studios, commonly called “The Stew,” an art studio at 927 Broad St. in downtown Grinnell, where students can share their work and collaborate on art projects with town residents. 

“Some of my students were interested in using art to engage with different communities,” Chen says. “The art department felt that would be incredibly valuable, so we began looking for ways to create projects that were more interactive.” 

Chen’s idea to open a multipurpose and communal creative space downtown was the perfect way to push students’ boundaries beyond the classroom and get them interacting with residents of the larger Grinnell community.

Celebrating Diverse Perspectives

“We wanted to reach out to the community a little bit more,” Chen says. “We also felt it would be a good experience for students to not just show their work to each other and to their peers at school but also to put it out in the world. So even just changing that venue and getting them off-campus makes them think about their work differently, and we’re excited about that.”

Students holding a shadow puppet

Chen first began his project with pop-up shows for his sculpture class, but it soon grew into a collaboration with the Grinnell Area Arts Council. Since partnering with the council, The Stew has held animation seminars, thrown CD release parties, and even conducted a Japanese printing workshop for grade-school kids. One of Chen’s favorites was a series of shadow puppet shows held in fall 2018.

“We've got this great storefront window. The space is fairly long and narrow, so we just put a big piece of fabric and used very simple lighting,” he says. “Students made puppets and performed these little shadow puppet vignettes. They were very popular, and we had lots of people from all over town coming to see them.”

However, despite these planned activities, Chen wants people to think of The Stew as a more informal gathering spot to chill and make art with whatever materials are available.

Embracing Differences

Students checking out Maker Lab equipment and materials

“I love this open space, not just for the making, but also for the interaction and the conversations,” he says. “We have people in their 50s, 60s, and 70s interacting and talking to our students and it's great to see. We’ve had people from all ages come from both the College and the community. It has been a very rewarding experience for everyone involved.”

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