Redecorating Frenzy

By Carol Spaulding Kruse

At the start of fall semester, I made a decision I only half understood. First I moved my large old wooden desk up against the wall instead of jutting into the middle of the room where it sat, a hulking barrier, between my students and me. Out went an old chair and file cabinet. In came a small sofa, a couple of brightly colored pillows, even a little coffee table.

“You moving in here?” asked my husband and furniture mover, his brow hiked.“The way I work has changed,” I told him, realizing when I said it that this was the impulse driving my sudden office redecorating frenzy. Mind you, following a creative urge without being able to articulate why I am following it is pretty much de rigeur for me. Too, I am well aware that plenty of professors have couches in their (much larger) offices. But for me, welcoming small groups of students and others in to collaborate on various projects is how I’m spending most of my working week nowadays. I feel like I’m getting away with something. Technically, I’m teaching class.

The Drake Community Press is a curriculum-based publishing laboratory that partners with non-profit community organizations that have a great story to tell. With !Al Exito!, we produced one of Iowa’s first publications devoted to the stories of Latinas in our state. With the Iowa International Center and CultureALL, we feature Iowa’s diverse cultures from the perspective of children hailing from around the globe. For our current project, Religion majors in Drake Comparative Religion Professor Tim Knepper’s class are embedded for 15 weekends in several of Des Moines’ faith communities to learn how their diverse forms of worship, sometimes in non-traditional spaces, help make Iowa home.

Meanwhile, nine Community Writing students are hard at work turning the research of their peers into engaging stories of our faith neighbors; a web designer has just created the beautiful site you are now enjoying; social media whizzes are working their magic to promote our first community events—the 2 nd annual Drake Community Press Story Slam slated for April Fool’s Day (no joke) and, a week later, our Interfaith Evening in Images, Words and Song which will feature student research on their respective faith communities and the mingling of Des Moines Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Hindus and Christians.

And that’s just the students. At the DCP, our motto is “writing with” because our platform is inclusive. We produce books (and e-books and podcasts and video) not about or for our community partners so much as in collaboration with them. At our board meetings, students and faculty from many disciplines and colleges, Drake support staff, community professionals and non-profit partners each contribute to our product.

There’s no teacher per se. Rather, on any given Wednesday afternoon, you’ll find students teaching us about social media or badgering their professors about project deadlines, who are in turn learning from local entrepreneurs about Kickstarter, who are in turn learning from faculty about the Buddhist goddess Kwan Ahm, who are in turn learning from staff about grant-writing, and so on. Weaving in out and of all of this commotion are our Des Moines-based freelance photographer, Bob Blanchard, whose pictures will grace our words in the final publication; and our videographer, freshman Journalism major, Anna Steenson, whose film will document our process. Always cheerfully at hand are our Des Moines Area Religious Council colleagues, Communications director, Luke Elzinga and Executive Director, Sarai Rice, whose organization will serve as beneficiary of project book sales. And gradually coming into focus are the members of the fifteen faith communities who have graciously agreed to be part of our project.

By the time this project comes to fruition, students we haven’t met yet will have come aboard, faculty from Marketing, Journalism, Art & Design, will have contributed courses, other consultants and professionals will have lent their expertise, and the perfect title for our project will have quietly emerged. Along the way there may be a few disagreements, some of then even heated. A few misunderstandings. Even a few tears. But come spring of 2017, a beautiful book about the religions of Des Moines in words and pictures will grace our community, made by all of us, for all of you.

For the record, I still live at home (‘tho I’ll admit the new office couch is good for a quick nap now and again.) Perhaps one day soon, I’ll be welcoming you in—a student, a colleague, a non-profit partner, a young creator or entrepreneur– to hear about your work or to listen to your story. Because it beats working. And because it’s too expensive to have every meeting at Mars Café.