NEUMANN MONSON ARCHITECTS

Revolution Starts in the Streets: Mentoring, Connecting, and Educating Students

By: Nathan Griffith

When the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library (NCSML) director Sarah Henderson asked us if we’d like to help high school students replicate of a portion of the Berlin Wall for an exhibit they were calling, Revolution Starts in the Streets, we jumped at the opportunity.

The interactive public art display is a collaboration between NCSML, Cedar Rapids Metro High School’s STEAM Academy, Iowa BIG, Neumann Monson Architects, and other community partners.  

On November 9, 1989, thousands of jubilant Germans brought down the most visible symbol of division at the heart of Europe—the Berlin Wall. For two generations, the Wall was the physical representation of the Iron Curtain, and East German border guards had standing shoot-to-kill orders against those who tried to escape. 

Revolution Starts in the Streets commemorates the 30th anniversary of the fall of the wall and the power of art and protest to make peaceful change in society. The project not only provides a history lesson for the public and the students who worked on it, but also seeks to promote community conversation around injustice.

For the past seven months, fellow architect Jesse Bulman and I have guided Metro High School STEAM Academy students through the design and construction of their own section of wall. We’ve visited the class almost every week since November of last year, bonding with the students while teaching them about the practice of architecture. With our guidance, they designed the wall, produced technical drawings for city approval, tested building materials, managed the project schedule, and built the wall. Local tradesmen and Metro STEAM students erected the 60-foot long, 7-foot tall wall on the NCSML campus in April in one intense—and intensely satisfying—day.

Relationships and interactions between professionals and students are critical to strengthening our community. It was a pleasure to nurture students’ unique learning styles and equip them with workforce-ready skills. In addition to volunteering with Metro, the project gave us the opportunity to support high school students at Iowa BIG. Students developed advertising skills and formulated a guerrilla marketing campaign for the exhibit.

We invited them to Neumann Monson’s Iowa City studio to pitch Revolution Starts in the Streets to clients and contacts that could help them grow the campaign. After attending the students’ presentation, almost all attendees signed on to participate by posting window graphics and collecting origami elephants – the project’s mascot.

In mid-April, Iowa BIG students painted the first mural with Eastern Iowa artist Paco Rosic to kick-off the exhibit. Their mural depicts an elephant breaking through a brick wall, representing the people’s will to address the “elephant in the room”….whatever that may be at any given time in society. Additional street artists have been invited to participate in hosting public street art workshops on the wall throughout the year.  In the meantime, we will continue to connect these students with folks we know who can help them grow their vision and accomplish their goals.

The replica wall will stand until November 9th, the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

If you go:
Revolution Starts in the Streets
Exhibit open through Nov. 9, 2019
National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, 1400 Inspiration Place SW, Cedar Rapids
Cost: FREE!

Don’t forget to venture inside the NCSML to view the companion exhibit “Revolution 1989” through Sept. 8, 2019.