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Art Providing Creativity and Connection for Youth

August 12, 2021

The inspiration behind Youth Art Team was a grassroots effort driven by creativity and connection. It all started with a group of kids interested in art who enjoyed hanging out together. Others noticed their interest and abilities and, shortly thereafter, local artists were getting looped into the fold. The buzz generated the idea to work on a one-time project together that became an annual volunteer-driven collaboration and evolved into the Youth Art Team as it exists today.

“Youth Art Team is an actual team of artists,” said Heidi Fuchtman, executive and creative director for Youth Art Team. “They are artists that work together over a long period of time who grow really deeply in their relationships and leadership skills. Each team is made up of artists from all different parts of the community, coming together to do something incredible with art.”

Youth Arts Team’s mission is to encourage youth to develop their creative potential, empowering both personal and social change through long-term, intentional relationships and art. The “lead team” includes 25 artists who have worked together the longest, some since kindergarten who are now entering their senior year in high school. Another 25 artists are part of other teams, and approximately 100 collaborating artists participate through local schools.

As a volunteer-established group, Youth Art Team initially began meeting in borrowed space at a local church more than ten years ago. Over time, the organization moved into a place of its own on 4th Street in Waterloo which they quickly outgrew. Thanks to the generosity of a donor, the Youth Art Team was able to move to their current location, the historic Masonic Temple building in downtown Waterloo, in the spring of 2021.

“It’s really exciting to us because all of the projects that we do are focused on learning about our space and our place and our community, listening to stories, so being a part of the history of this building is really fitting for Youth Art Team,” said Heidi.

The growth of Youth Art Team and its new location have allowed for additional programming for the artists through the High Stakes project, funded in part by a $10,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa. The project’s focus is on developing tools and curriculum for the “Our Freedom Story” mural, artist training camps, and the youth employment program.

“I think it means everything,” Heidi said of funding support. “Youth Art Team started totally volunteer-led with no budget, just taking one project at a time … and over time it has grown so much that funding like this makes it possible to pay staff, to keep this going, to find ways to keep building the opportunities for the artists and helping them really play a role in transforming the community.”

Many have become aware of the Youth Art Team through their large-scale community projects like the “Our Freedom Story” mural located along the outdoor river trail at the Waterloo Center for the Arts.

“The ‘Our Freedom Story’ mural that we completed in 2019 is something that people have wanted more interpretive materials. We want to be able to tell the stories that the artists heard and are trying to represent through that artwork, so we’re also working on a website where we can share some of the video interviews that they conducted, share some of the stories, and the thinking behind their artwork.”

The High Stakes project also emphasizes building life-long skills through the business side of being an artist. Artists will receive financial literacy certification and experience estimating materials costs, setting prices and deadlines, sharpening time management skills, and presenting the art. Young artists will learn the value of their own work, which will be sold through the Youth Art Team’s online shop.

“I’ve been working on some new ones [projects] where we’re trying to think about how we should sell them and how to make profit off of them,” said Cederick, a member of the Youth Art Team. “I made one like ‘Friends,’ the show, and it was on a canvas board actually, which was my first time painting on a canvas board, so it was really a fun experience for me.”

Some of the artists have also taken on commission artwork, like Za’Marion, whose canvas art is hung in the main hallway of the Masonic Temple’s co-working space.

“One of my pieces, it was all crazy because I want people to look at it and feel energized and get excited and be happy and enjoy the art.”

Learn more about the Youth Art Team at