In the Loop
Student Stories : Dec 10, 2014

Art Education student’s Capstone Project brings a small community together

By Jessie Ward

Iowa art teacher and School of Art + Art History (SA+AH) online art education graduate student Trent Benesh came up with a pretty fun idea for his final Capstone Project this fall. Benesh wanted to develop and implement a community-based art project in Walker, Iowa, where he once lived and now works as an art teacher. A local landmark in this rural eastern Iowa town known as “Creamery Hill,” nicknamed by the locals long ago because an old creamery sits at the top of the hill, seemed like the perfect place.

“Walker citizens, myself included, have raced down this hill on bikes, skateboards and sleds for generations,” explains Benesh. “Naturally, I thought using the hill would be a good way to bring community members together, which resulted in the idea of having local citizens build and then race soapbox cars down the hill.”

Benesh opened up the event held on Oct. 4, 2014 to the local 5th and 6th grade students. They were informed that they would have to build a soapbox car in three hours using only recycled materials, and they needed to bring an adult with them to collaboratively build their car.

To ensure that each car would roll down the hill and to allow the teams the ability to focus solely on the body and structure of their car, Benesh made all of the chassis beforehand. This also helped to keep the racing fair for all the cars. The chassis consisted of 18-inch by 30-inch wooden platforms, wooden axels and 12-inch wooden wheels. Benesh needed money for all of this lumber so he asked four businesses in town for donations and in return his high school art students built soapbox cars that were reflective of each business. The donor cars were then displayed in each business as a way to generate interest in the community event.

“On the Saturday morning of the event the kids were excited and completely engaged,” says Benesh. “The garage turned into a well-oiled machine consisting of imaginations and busy hands that were measuring, cutting, taping and gluing.

“The teams made cars that greatly exceeded my expectations, and used the materials in new and very inventive ways. It was truly amazing to watch their creations come to life, and by the end of the three hours they were eager to get to the hill to start racing.”

At the hill, people gathered along the sides of the road to watch the races. Benesh witnessed participants uniting with their friends and showing off their cars to those who were present for the build. During the racing, kids started to run alongside the cars and formed cheering groups at the finish line.

Now, more than two months later, people are still asking Benesh when they can race again.

“I am definitely going to try and turn this project into an annual event,” says Benesh. “On the day of the build that was the No. 1 questioned that people asked me.”

To learn more about the race and Creamery Hill Racers, click here.