College of HUMANITIES, ARTS & SCIENCES

Photo of Great Clay Challenge clay sculptures

By Wendy Miller, UNI Department of Art​

As an artist, a parent, and an educator, I’m always creating and making art with different community groups.

Now that we’re social distancing, I wanted to come up with ways to stay creative and stay connected to the people and the community I care about. You may be feeling the same way.

Coming up with simple challenges, like writing new lyrics to a familiar tune, is a great way to flex your creative muscles. My neighbor, a Spanish professor, has been doing this all week and sharing it on social media, and it’s something everyone looks forward to viewing! The Cedar Falls elementary music teachers in town all created parodies to pop hits such as "Old Town Road" to encourage good hand-washing practices. You can check out their videos here - they are worth the watch!

Another source of inspiration is Traci Molloy - an artist, collaborator, and social activist from Brooklyn, New York, who came to work with my students this fall at UNI. Traci shared a project with me that she’s working on called "Art Knows No Boundaries."

I was inspired by her challenge of connectivity through art. In her video, she says to take some time to make a piece of art with the supplies you have and hang it on your window to show the people who go by, so they can feel your expressions of love, hope, strength, and resiliency. 

Inspired by this, I decided to start my own art challenge to connect people. I created a Facebook page called "The Great Clay Challenge." I divided and bagged 50 lbs of clay that was meant for my art students,  but can no longer be used, and I shared it with 18 families in my area.

My son and I created a short video about how to use clay tools, and then we drove to the houses on a rainy morning last week and delivered the bags of clay and tools. After dropping the clay at each doorstep, he rang the bell and ran! This was my chance to introduce my son to the old game of "Ding-Dong Ditching."

Everyone had two days to create their own clay masterpiece, and then drop them off at my doorstep. Everyone used the Facebook page to post images of their families making art together at home, which was a joy to see. Next, I’ll fire the sculptures and allow folks to come pick them up and paint them with watercolor paints. 

Some people might ask “why go to all of this work during this time of uncertainty and confusion?” It’s a way to stay creative, and connected, and it’s a great activity for families to do together! We need to keep creating and keep connecting. We can get through this together!