The University of Iowa

Bringing The Community Together: Project Stir-Fry

March 1st, 2012

By Anna DeWall | 3/1/2012

In today’s world of social media and text messaging, two University of Iowa students have found a way to bring the community together by combining storytelling and art.

The collaborative art project Stir Fry is a mix of people of various cultures and ages that are brought together in a series of structured workshops to tell and transform their stories into art.

UI senior Robin Armstrong is Stir Fry’s Project Coordinator. Robin is pursuing a B.A. in International Studies and she works as an intern at the UI Center for Human Rights in International Programs.

Ryan Rasmussen, Stir Fry’s Art Director, is a Master of Fine Arts candidate in Dimensional Practice. Robin and Ryan met in a grant writing class and the two decided to develop a service learning project, which became “Stir Fry.”

Robin and Ryan were inspired by “Voice to Vision,” Professor David Feinberg’s successful project at the University of Minnesota, which Ryan had contributed to as an artist. Voice to Vision told stories through collaborative art of those who had survived genocide.

In contrast, Stir Fry explores themes of displacement, resettlement, storytelling, community, and art. Stir Fry tells the stories of individuals’ resettlement to Iowa through various visual art forms.

Current participants include the Sudanese Community Center, the Senior Center of Iowa City, and students from Liberia who live in Muscatine, Iowa.

Stir Fry will hold six workshops this spring featuring mixed media, print making, or stop motion animation. Mixed media includes painting, collage, drawing, or sculpture. Stop motion animation is the process of manipulating an inanimate object to make it look animated; examples of this are available at Grinell, Iowa’s Tiny Circus.

stir-fry workshopThese workshops will feature a community artist and community members. Each workshop will start off with a guided warm-up activity and transition into group storytelling that will be translated into art. Upon completion of all of the workshops, the art will be displayed in an exhibition that will open April 27 at the Iowa City Senior Center and feature the first performance by Iowa City’s Sudanese Community Choir.

Students, professors, and community members are encouraged to attend and participate in the workshops. Children are especially encouraged to participate in the stop-motion animation workshops. Participants need not have art skills but be open to participating with the group.

If you would like to attend or have any questions please contact Robin Armstrong at Registration is required but the workshop and all materials are free.

The first workshop was held Feb. 24 and featured mixed media. Participants gathered to describe the landscapes they grew up in. First, participants sketched symbols and images. Then, participants transitioned on to a canvas and shared stories while simultaneously creating a portrait inspired by their memories.

Upcoming Stir Fry Events:

Mixed Media Workshop II
March 4, 1-4 p.m., Iowa City Senior Center

Stop Motion Animation Workshops I & II
March 30, 2:00 to 4:30 p.m. in the Assembly Room
April 1, 1-4 p.m. in Room 208

The stop-motion animation workshops will merge stories together to produce a video that expresses the creativity and diversity of our community. Participants will collaborate on a story and participate in creating the figures for the production.

Printmaking Workshop I & II
April 6, 2:00 to 4:30 p.m. in Room G07
April 15, 1-4 p.m. in Room 208

The final workshops will include a basic introduction to various forms of printmaking and participants will explore different imaging that collectively expresses the individuals and the community at-large.

Stir Fry is sponsored by the UI Center for Human Rights, the University of Iowa School of Art and Art History, and the Iowa City Senior Center. Also, Iowa City’s Dick Blick has made generous donations of art supplies.


Anna DeWall is a student in the University of Iowa College of Law.