Artwork created by UWATX Middle School Matters students depict powerful messages of community, empathy, and tolerance

Meet featured artists, UWATX‘s Middle School Matters Students!

Their artwork is on display now through January 4, 2016 at our Southwest location, 4301 W William Cannon Dr., Austin, TX 78749.

In support of and collaboration with United Way for Greater Austin’s Middle School Matters program, we came up with a way to use our walls as a platform to represent a youth perspective about community and what they think #MakesAustinGreater. UWATX’s Middle School Matters art project aimed to show how art can be used as a service and a message of social change. Through displaying their artwork, students were given an opportunity to use their voice to cultivate community with people they don’t know and will never meet. 45 students were involved in the project, along with a couple of Kerbey Lane Cafe volunteers. Typically, 2 to 5 students collaborated on each canvas.

Students were given the broad topic of “community” and encouraged to think about how they could send a positive message through their art: the benefits of where they live, the things that make them happy and imagery that cheers them up. Photos of 15 different murals from Austin and around the country were provided to the students as inspiration so that they could brainstorm ideas of what they would like to incorporate onto their canvas.

Description of the program provided by United Way for Greater Austin: “In October 2015 students from schools supported by United Way for Greater Austin’s Middle School Matters program put their imagination, creativity, and teamwork skills to work to create these depictions of community. No two groups had a similar approach or idea, but all reflect the spirited discussions and debates about the meaning of community. This art display gives students a rare platform to communicate as young leaders and critical observers of their communities. Caring for nature, fostering diversity, and celebrating the eclectic offerings of Austin are just a few of the key ideas that students want to highlight.

Middle School Matters funds a suite of critical wraparound services for students at three key campuses in the greater Austin area: Webb, Mendez, and Decker middle schools. By ensuring that student needs are appropriately addressed we’re improving individual student performance as well as contributing to an enhanced culture of learning that spans the entire school.”

Katy Aus, Program Coordinator at UWATX told us, “The advanced empathy and sensitivity displayed in the artwork of these middle school students is truly remarkable.”

Take for instance, “Diversity Pizza”. Artists Laila, Alyssa, and Erion of Decker Middle School had originally had included text around the crust naming different races, religions, and languages. When asked why that text did not make it to the finished version of the painting, their response was that by naming certain groups they couldn’t avoid leaving out others and they did not want to unintentionally exclude anyone.

A powerful message of tolerance came from Avion, Caleb, and Kevin of Decker Middle School with their painting titled “Cow and Chicken”. They recalled Chik-fil-A’s anti-gay messages in the media and their opposition of same sex marriage, inspiring them to depict a cow and chicken side by side with the text, “There’s nothing wrong with who you like. There’s nothing wrong with who you are.”

The students’ artwork on display is not for sale, but will be auctioned off at the Young Leaders Society Super Bowl party. To learn more or donate, please visit