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University of Dayton graphic design students collaborate with Dayton poet Sierra Leone on interactive poster exhibit at The Hub Powered by PNC

By Kassidy Lammers ’24

For Dayton poet Sierra Leone, collaborating with University of Dayton graphic design students to turn her compositions into artwork was a dream come true.

Leone, an Ohio Governor’s Award winner and 2020 Kennedy Center artist fellowship finalist nominee, partnered with Misty Thomas-Trout, assistant professor of graphic design, for an experiential learning project in which Typography II students created posters visualizing Leone’s poetry. The final projects are part of an interactive exhibit, Walking With Words, on display through January 2022 at The Hub, powered by PNC within the Dayton Arcade.

Leone and Thomas-Trout met by chance earlier this year on a tour of The Hub and quickly bonded over their shared appreciation for the arts.

Thomas-Trout read Leone’s poems and quickly envisioned their collaboration. “I’m always looking for good content for my students to work with and to engage them deeper in the discipline,” Thomas-Trout said.

Students selected nearly 20 poems from Leone’s body of work and created posters using a variety of materials and techniques learned in the classroom. Their artwork ranged from 24- by 36-inch digital prints to 17- by 34-foot posters printed on cotton twill fabric, with imagery each student created by hand.

“Many students used watercolors or ink to create meaning directly linked to their poems,” Thomas-Trout said. “One student sewed words and lines to create the feelings of connection.”

Walk with Words Work

Leone’s work creates a conversation about the human experience and the complexities of life across the differences that exist between individuals.

Students had to consider the experiences that inspired Leone’s poetry, as well as their own circumstances that shaped their interpretations.

The selected poems dealt with what Leone described as “things that were beyond, in some instances, the tangible that we all deal with: culture, creed, race, human experience; things that can’t be touched, and must be lived.”

At times, exploring these topics came with feelings of discomfort and vulnerability.

“Reading through Sierra’s poetry opened my eyes to how different some people live their lives,” said Reilly Waldoch, a junior graphic design major from Geneva, Illinois. He also said this project helped him “become comfortable with being uncomfortable,” by pushing him to think differently about his designs.

Seeing her work help students to forge connections across lines of difference was an impactful experience for Leone.

“That’s a poet’s dream, for you to read the work, experience the work, and see yourself or someone you know and have a better understanding of someone else’s experience, if not your own,” Leone said.

Walking with Words provides its audience with an opportunity to engage with written language and visual communication design simultaneously. Leone and Thomas-Trout hope that viewers will leave with a lasting impression of the value of art to help understand the human experience.

The project has also encouraged the students to engage with the local community and learn the ways they can influence it as young designers.

“This project has opened my eyes to the way that an artist can cause positive change to the local community,” said Yamilet Perez Aragon, a junior graphic design major from Austin, Texas. “As someone living here, who is not from here and doesn’t have any ties to the city, I think the project has given me a really great opportunity to connect with the city.”

Building a connection between students and the broader Dayton community was one of Thomas-Trout's primary goals for this project.

Leone is grateful for the opportunity to share her work with students and see the impact it has made on their perspectives and design processes.

"As a practitioner of creative arts, the most exciting part of education is when students have an opportunity to expand their skill-set and create projects that will have real-world implications,” Leone said. “The lasting impact of those experiences is what prepares students for life after college. One thing is for sure: we are all more connected when our work includes service, purpose and community."

Walking With Words is on display at The Hub, 31 S. Main St. in downtown Dayton, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday through January 2022. 

For more information, visit the Department of Art and Design website or call The Hub at (937) 739-6800. 

Design piece above titled "Mental Health Reflection" by Cara Simmons.

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