Investing in Discovery: Art Restart, A Story of Engagement and Empowerment

By Lindsey Feitz, Teaching Associate Professor, Gender and Women’s Studies

Armed with clipboards, product illustrations, and a bit of apprehension, undergraduate students in the Gender and Women’s Studies class, “Reframing Feminism, Social Entrepreneurship, and Poverty” took to the streets (and city parks) this past fall. Their mission was to conduct market research on behalf of Art Restart, a social enterprise program of The Gathering Place, Denver’s only day time resource center that helps women, children and transgender people who are experiencing poverty. As a social enterprise, Art Restart helps women generate income through their creative and artistic talents by giving members resources to create original and one of a kind art (e.g., cards, scarves, tote bags, etc.) that are then sold to businesses and community members. With every purchase, the artist receives a royalty check that helps her on her way to self-sufficiency.

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An Artists Works to Design their Card

The first part of the quarter students learned about the relationship between gender and poverty/homelessness in order to help prepare them for their next task: consulting with Art Restart and discovering its needs. After a tour of The Gathering Place and learning more about Art Restart and it’s artists, students were asked to put their feminist knowledge into action by designing market research tools that would provide insights about Art-Restart’s brand awareness, its products, and its messages of hope and empowerment.

To help with this endeavor, students developed a shared research question that they used to then create an online survey, an in-person survey, and in-depth interview questions. After receiving approval from Art Restart, students spent the next few weeks forwarding their survey online, canvassing public parks, and interviewing people about their willingness to purchase Art Restart’s various products. The questions ranged from asking participants what motivates them to buy products created by social enterprises like Art Restart, to how much they were willing to spend on products, and whether or not supporting and empowering women was a factor in their purchase.

After three weeks of scourging city parks and the internet, students collected data from over 205 individuals and discovered that most people were not only interested, but excited about purchasing high- quality, affordable art products that would help empower women and support their artistic talents. The problem was that under 10 percent of the respondents had heard of Art Restart, a result that indicated the program needed increased brand visibility and marketing. Students shared their findings, as well as some innovative marketing ideas with Art Restart and other members of the DU community at a research forum at the end of the quarter.

They discussed what they learned about gender and poverty in Denver, the importance of care and consent in community engaged research, and encouraged us all to support Art Restart by following it on Facebook, or Instagram, and remembering it the next time we wanted to purchase some one of kind art products!

 

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