Iowa State Memorial Union

Workspace Takes Art To Go

Letitia Kenemer copes with the COVID-19 crisis by providing art kits to Ames residents

If you love art and you live in Ames, you probably know Letitia Kenemer. She’s been the Workspace and Fine Arts Coordinator in the Memorial Union for the last 18 years, and before that she worked at the Octagon Center for the Arts. She’s active in the community – if there’s an event around town with “Art” in the title, she’s either participating, or she’s running it. She can’t really help it; Letitia is happiest when she’s busy connecting people to art. So when COVID-19 hit the Iowa State campus, she wasn’t about to let a worldwide pandemic get in the way of that.

Within a few weeks of the campus going virtual, Letitia began offering Art-2-Go kits from the Workspace. Using supplies and materials already she had on-hand, she put together packages filled with basic supplies, such as wood or a blank canvas, paint, glue and brushes, along with instructions on how to make the craft at home. 

“At the time, many businesses were starting curbside or delivery services, so I started thinking about what I could do,” Letitia explains. “I had purchased lots of supplies for the planned events through the end of the semester, so I knew I could offer the kits without spending any money, which was is short supply for everyone at the time. I also knew the incredible amount of stress that having kids home from school had on parents, and I thought that this could help with another activity that was set up and ready to go.”

“Doing this was my way of coping with the crisis,” she continues, “and it was a life saver for me. I was able to think creatively and be hands-on in organizing supplies and putting kits together. We are all missing family and friends, but this helped fill up that part of my soul that needs art, creativity and connection.”

Letitia doesn’t do anything halfway. When she decided to offer the Art-2-Go kits, she gave several options for customers to choose from, and she also delivered them to their door (as long as they lived in Ames). This meant a lot of planning. “At first, we were doing everything by hand – mixing paint, pouring paint and glue into little cups, assembling packs of papers, everything,” Letitia says. “Once we started getting multiple orders a day, we made a system for tallying supplies and making kits in batches, and I created some cheat sheets for myself so I wouldn’t forget anything. Brigitte Milhous, my colleague here in the MU, helped me with assembling, and she was instrumental in logistics. She would map out delivery routes, contact customers about drop offs, and if we had a lot of orders, she’d recruit other staff members (and our husbands) to help. I also had a student worker, Allison Hellman, who was here all summer and worked three days a week. She handled all the curbside pickups, which really helped lessen the load.”

Letitia’s days in the spring and summer of 2020 looked a lot different than in years past. “I was working from home in the morning, then going in around 1pm and making kits. Late in the afternoon we’d start delivery, and many nights I worked on creating new kits and figuring how to promote them. It was, though, a really great way for me to get through part of the pandemic. I was able to think creatively, offer something that could help people, and keep busy. I was often multi-tasking during meetings – assembling kits, painting a sample birdhouse, driving around town. Zoom was my friend.”

Another key to the success of the Art-2-Go kits was Letitia’s dedication to repurposing and recycling. Letitia explains. “I barely ordered anything except for paint, brushes and glue. I’m a recycler/upcycler/saver, and I was able to use so many things I already had. Before I had to purchase paint, I combined all the leftovers of paint (including interior house paint) I had, and we squeezed as much out of each tube as possible. I used all kinds of paper scraps to make decoupage kits and packaged them in plastic sleeves we got from a donation of comic books. Matboard scraps were cut down to make a base in the paper bags we used for delivery so the bags would stay upright. My friend Kristin gave me all the bubble wrap and packing material from her new couch, which we cut up and used for packaging kits. I had a donation of surgical sponge brushes and plastic trays from a veterinarian that we sent along for gluing and paint mixing. I really try every day not to let things go to waste (often to the consternation of my family and co-workers), but during the pandemic it has been almost like a challenge – to see how much I can make out of what I have on hand.”

If you’re starting to feel like you’ve missed out, don’t worry. The Workspace has re-opened for the spring, and you can still order an Art-2-Go kit delivered right to your door – but after several months of delivering kits and commiserating with delivery drivers everywhere, she asks that you make your house numbers visible and turn your porch light on at night. It’s worth the extra steps though, when you get to do a little crafting as a result. Letitia’s been using this quote to explain how important creating is for you during the pandemic:

 “Art is a way for people to process information in a very therapeutic way. Art can be that beacon of light that allows people to manage through very complex and challenging things. There’s a level of beauty connected with it that allows us to find balance and truth through the turmoil.” Eric Nord 

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