Student art takes root

Living on the streets, constantly exposed to the elements, canbe tough life, and that’s exactly what the students who created anew kiosk for vendors of the Street Roots newspaper hoped to drawattention to.

“We wanted to call attention to issues of homelessness and theissues surrounding the working homeless,” Laurel Kurtz, a studentinvolved with the project. “Also, we wanted to legitimize StreetRoots as a valid news source.”

The six students, randomly assigned to the same group inPortland State Art Professor Michi Kosuge’s Creative Sculptureclass, found that the issue of recognizing and including thehomeless and poor resonated enough to spend four weeks in and outof class to construct a visual and physical welcome to Street Rootsvendors.

Their finished project, the eight-foot paper mache tree shelterbetween Neuberger Hall and Smith Center, fosters just that sense ofcommunity.

Although the structure itself is temporary-the group is lookinginto getting an extension of display time, possibly keeping thekiosk on campus for another two weeks, the group hopes the messageto Street Roots vendors is long-lasting.

“We always see them out here,” said Maurisa Breton, who spentfour years on the streets herself.

By providing a place out of the weather for vendors to stand,the structure emphasizes the importance of shelter. By sellingStreet Roots, a five-year old non-profit publication that focuseson issues facing the homeless, vendors have an opportunity to earnmoney. Echoing the security this provides, the walls of the kioskare constructed of partially legible old issues, providing a secondkind of protection.

The group is discussing turning over the structure to StreetRoots when display time is up, for possible use at promotionalevents.

“We would be glad to give it to them,” said Shelly Laiche,another art student, who added that this was her first groupproject as an art student.

The largest expense of the project was the copies of StreetRoots, which group members bought from vendors. Some back issueswere donated by Street Roots headquarters. Breton notes that Kosugegenerously donated $50 to the group, even though he is retiring atthe end of the term. The group is still adding up receipts, butmembers estimate they spent $70 to $100 dollars out of pocket forthe newpapers and other materials.

The team constructed the tree of vertical 2x2s, rebar andchicken wire, adding the extending roots later. Forming the wetpaper mache over the chicken wire presented what Kurtz terms”gravity issues.” Before the roots were attatched, the studentsrolled the cylinder, letting the paper dry horizontally beforeturning and adding more paper.

And since the tree was scaled for use outdoors, and materialsrequired that it be built indoors, bringing the tree out of theclassroom was challenging.

“It had to be built some place dry,” said Marc Leuschner, whowas also involved with the sculpture poject. “We had to basicallyram it through the doors.”

“All the doors (from the classroom on the second floor ofNeuberger Hall to outside) were double doors,” Kurtz said. “But ourroots were wider.”

After bringing the sculpture outside, the group coated it withpolyurethane “and prayed for good weather, ” Leuschner said, so thefinish could dry.

Working as a group was a new experience for the students, butcontributed to the sense of community and inclusion.

“It takes more time,” commented Breton, “because you have tohear what everybody thinks and come to an agreement.”

“But we lucked out,” added Leuschner. “I think we workedtogether really well.”

The students are pleased at how the community has responded tothe piece.

“People have been really positive about it,” Leuschner said. “Wehad tons of people coming up to us when we were working on it.”

Breton said having a class cancelled one afternoon gave her andKurtz the chance to watch passersby react to the sculpture.

“All kinds of people were coming up to it,” she said, laughing.”Even jocks.”