Unleash Your Inner Monster: An Interview With Katie Johnson, Founder of the Monster Project
Vol. 13 No. 3
Source readers, we’d like to introduce you to Katie Johnson. By day, she’s an art director from Austin, Texas. By night, she’s the founder and CEO of the Monster Project. Her organization fosters imaginative play by sending student-created drawings of monsters to professional designers all over the world. These designers then create their own versions of the students’ prototypes and return them to the schools, so students can see how their monsters—and their own creativity—can “grow up.”
The Monster Project currently has its home at two schools where Katie has contacts. But, it is raising funds via Kickstarter (an online crowdfunding platform) to reach more students with its message of creative hope and artistic promise. ISM had a chance to sit down with Katie and talk about her project and the importance of creativity.
ISM: What inspired you to found the Monster Project?
Katie: I started the Monster Project five years ago. It came out of looking for a reason to draw more monsters at first. I saw this series of photographs by Yeondoo Jung (a collection called "Wonderland"), where he recreated kids’ drawings using photography. They were whimsical and hilarious—a charming collaboration of imaginations. I was very inspired by that.
My mom is a music teacher at an elementary school. She got 20 drawings for me from a second grade class and I redrew all of them myself. At that point, I decided to open it up to my peers in the graphic design program at the University of North Texas. By having other artists draw their monsters, the kids could see how many different ways there are of thinking and seeing the world around us—and that all of those are valid and awesome. The Monster Project grew from there!
ISM: How does the Monster Project choose the students and artists? Do schools have to pay for the supplies?
I have a firm policy that no money will ever be involved in the transaction of recreating a kid’s monster. This is something that I always want to be a gift–it means so much more that way, to both the artist and the child. Also, I don't ever want any children to be excluded because some parents can pay for the experience, and some can't.Katie: So far, we've picked schools based on where we have contacts or volunteers. Now that we have requests coming in from all over the world, we'll be reevaluating our system of choosing schools. We invite artists that we admire, and we also choose some from the many applicants that send in their portfolios.
ISM: How do you give students their “new” monsters? Does the experience end there?
Katie: When I go to present to the classes participating in the project, I give each student his or her original monster, the new monster, and a letter from the artist. We've had a couple instances of artists who reached out to start more of a relationship with the kids, which is always cool to see!
Every time I present the monsters to the kids, they get so excited and immediately start drawing more monsters. I always get handed about 10 drawings by the time I leave!
ISM: Creativity and inspiration are core parts of the Monster Project. Why do you think it’s so important to foster creativity in students and adults?
Katie: Creativity moves us forward as a society and as individuals. It is at the root of every new advancement, invention, and idea that improves the world we live in. When we nurture the creativity of children, we invest in our future–we're teaching kids to think big and to value their own unique views of the world we share.
If we support original thought from a young age and teach them that thinking differently is a good and important thing, they will only continue to grow and become more valuable members of society in adulthood.
ISM: Currently, you’re raising money on Kickstarter to be able to reach more schools with your current monster drawing program. What do you hope the Monster Project can tackle next?
Katie: Ultimately, we hope to orchestrate workshops and after school programs that teach kids about art and connect them with artists of different styles and fields. We'd also like to start an artist-student mentorship program–each mentorship would focus on a collaborative project between student and teacher.
I've also been getting a crazy number of requests from people about sending in their kids’ drawings. We would love to create an app or some sort of platform that would help pair more artists and kids than we currently have the resources to reach!
ISM: Besides contributing financially, how else can people help the Monster Project grow?
Katie: A huge part of the project is sharing the importance of art education. Schools are continuing to undervalue art ed and are increasingly cutting art out of their budgets. It's happening in the school districts we work with–it's happening everywhere. I get emails from New Zealand, Canada, Germany–all saying they see it in their schools, too. The more people who hear our message, the more support art education has.
If you’d like to support more children unleashing their creative monsters in the classroom, head over to Monster Project’s Kickstarter page and pledge your support. (We’re looking forward to getting our activity books!)
Additional ISM resources:
The Source for Division Heads Vol. 11 No. 10 Stories to Inspire: Three Creative Teacher Induction Strategies
The Source for Division Heads Vol. 12 No. 3 Paying for Recess: Families Transfer to Private Schools for Recess
Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 39 No. 14 The Cost of a Faculty Culture That Is Not Growth-Focused