An opera singer, a band member and a surrealist walked into a classroom at Grand Center Arts Academy this fall – and Matthew Washausen and a bunch of St. Louis high school students got straight to work.
As several local artists each performed original songs, Washausen, a senior graphic design major at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, asked the teens to begin expressing their response to the music in words and images.
“They could create whatever they feel when they listen to the music – and the imagery that they project within their head as they’re listening to it,” said Washausen.
Those initial performances and presentations marked the start of a unique senior capstone project toward his UMSL degree. Over the several weeks that followed, Washausen continued to visit GCAA as the high school students brought their individual design projects to fruition under his guidance.
“I really enjoyed the interaction of presenting something I’m incredibly passionate about – both design and music – to students that are in that process now where they’re about to approach college and what they’re going to do with their life,” said Washausen, a St. Louis native who transferred to UMSL from St. Louis Community College–Meramec two years ago.
The idea for the project came to him this summer as he mulled over various capstone possibilities to pitch to his UMSL graphic design classmates and professors.
“To me, music has always been really important,” said Washausen, whose doom metal band KODIAC just released a new album in November. “Growing up, I played in a bunch of different bands and played live music around here, and it’s kind of how I got my start designing as well.”
Looking back on that personal development, he recalled how he began creating album cover art and other visual representations of his music at an early age.
“I thought, ‘I need a way to create my own artwork and be able to represent my band and get that identity out there,’” Washausen said.
That led him to inquire about the feasibility of a capstone project that would share that passion for the intersection of music and graphic design with local young people – and UMSL’s Jennifer McKnight soon connected him with a teacher she knows at GCAA. Seeing the project as an excellent opportunity for GCAA students, the teacher, Caitlyn Mungia, and principal Matt Frederickson embraced the idea.
In addition to the interaction with local musicians, Washausen provided ongoing instruction as the students moved from rough sketches for their design ideas, to mid-process critiques, to the written responses that will accompany their unique posters, which will all be on display at a public event in UMSL’s Gallery FAB the evening of Dec. 16.
The teaching role was a new one for Washausen – and one he really enjoyed.
“When I was teaching, it was all me who had to deal with it and run the situation,” he said. “There were times at first that were more nerve-wracking and stressful, but I would just try to get to a personal level with everyone and talk to them one-on-one and help them get excited about the project.”
And excited they are, he says, now that their work is complete and soon to be showcased among friends, family and community members. The Dec. 16 event is titled “Audio Chroma: The Power of Music and Design.”
One of the students will play a live acoustic set as visitors walk through the gallery in UMSL’s Fine Arts Building (see campus map for location), and there will also be food prior to the official 6 p.m. start.
“The students are really encouraged to also explore UMSL, being high school students with the opportunity to go to college soon,” Washausen added. “They’ll be able to talk with UMSL graphic design students as well.”
He noted that some focused their designs on a single song by a local musician, and others created pieces that respond to an entire album. The pieces also express deep and personal emotions.
“As part of the process, I got to see a lot from the students’ perspective,” Washausen said. “In one case, the image the student projected included a lot of violence, and his written response really reflected him as a young youth within St. Louis County and the violence he sees around him. It’s stuff that’s in his community and how it’s affecting him as a person.”
Since the class sessions at GCAA concluded, and along with creating 30 sets of large posters in preparation for the “Audio Chroma” show and typesetting the teens’ written work, Washausen’s been busy cutting out cardboard stencils, spray-painting them and making pieces of his own that represent movement and audio – and help promote the upcoming event.
“I’m using a lot of visual metaphors and color range and a lot of energy to really project the idea of music within posters,” Washausen said. “I really hope that it brings people in the community and on campus who maybe aren’t even aware of or interested in design.
“And I hope that really this project is successful so that other campuses and schools could maybe try to utilize it. I know for UMSL it’s helped to establish a really nice relationship with Grand Center, which has been good, because we’re beginning to work with students there and work with classes. And it’s promotion in that sense for UMSL as well – the great things we’re doing here and what we can do for them.”