Interactive art sheds light on homelessness

From left: Melissa Jones, Yin Yin, Nicole Lee, Leah Shin / Mark Studer photo

By Zachary Nelson
Homelessness is a growing problem in Washington state, especially in the Seattle metropolitan area. This crisis is also the motivation for four students at the University of Washington Bothell who decided to use their skills as Interactive Media Design (IMD) majors to raise awareness and concern.

“Homelessness is a problem that too often gets swept under the rug,” said Leah Shin, an IMD and business double major and a vice president with the Associated Students of the University of Washington Bothell. “If we become too uncomfortable to have these necessary conversations, then true change will never come. We have to open our minds and think ‘outside of the box’ when it comes to solving homelessness.”

Yin Yin with box
Yin Yin with box / Marc Studer photo

The student team created a cardboard box with an iPad that shows pictures of people who are living on the streets and displays quotes about homelessness. The box, part of a Studio Elements II project that focused on using art to illuminate social issues, was placed in the center of the campus promenade.

Nicole Lee, an IMD major, was surprised by how intrigued some people were by the box. “When we started this project, we had no idea how interested people would be in getting involved. Students who weren’t even a part of our project came up to us and asked us about the work we were doing and wanted to help. It was a real community moment that made me feel proud to be a UW Bothell student.”

Making the box was just the beginning. The creators also made a video so that others who couldn’t see the project in person could view it online. The video was shot from a camera angle that mimicked the view of someone sitting on a sidewalk. It also includes images of people holding cardboard signs but does not show their faces, to encourage viewers to see homelessness objectively — without stereotypes. The team used these techniques to convey the sense that the homeless person in the video could be anyone, even a fellow classmate.

“We aspired to capture homelessness in a way that people could relate to. We wanted people to understand what it’s like to endure the struggles of homelessness. That’s partly why we asked UW Bothell students to describe homelessness on a piece of cardboard. We then later attached these cardboard signs to the box for added effect,” said Melissa Jones, an IMD major.

Yin Yin, the fourth member of the team and another IMD major, said it was quite shocking for her as an international student to see how people treat the homeless in the Unites States.

box under construction
Inside the Box art project / Marc Studer photo

“In China, we also have homeless people, but the culture surrounding how we deal with the issue is very different. People see the homeless as having a rough time, where here in the United States, homelessness is often unfortunately looked at as a personal fault.”

The students hope that their art project creates a dialogue on the UW Bothell campus and encourages students to come together to confront homelessness.

“This is a big issue, but we have a lot of smart students on campus. If students put their heads together to try and make something happen, there is no limit to what we can achieve,” Shin said.

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