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Release: March 8, 2000

Tandem Stories Quest will bring adventure, art to disabled

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- University of Iowa art education Associate Professor Steve Thunder-McGuire has had his share of adventures in the thousands of miles he's biked across the United States. This summer, he wants to give disabled people a chance to experience their own bicycling adventures through a new program called Tandem Stories Quest.

Thunder-McGuire will spend several weeks this spring assembling four specially designed tandem, recumbent tricycles that will allow one disabled person to ride with an able-bodied partner. Equipped with digital video cameras, participants will take trips lasting from one to two days along the Cedar Valley Trail, Kewash Trail and Heritage Trail systems in Eastern Iowa. Upon their return, they will edit their video into mini-documentaries chronicling their adventures.

"When people make art, they make it because they have a reason for making something," said Thunder-McGuire. "Any solid art-making experience involves active participation and interpretation of what it means."

Tandem Stories Quest is part of a larger effort under way in the UI College of Education's art education department to better coordinate and expand on its myriad community outreach programs. Among the art education department's more popular offerings is its Saturday Art Workshops, during which children in the Iowa City area create arts and crafts with UI art education students. This spring, workshop participants will make masks, cartoon paper characters, TV commercials and a "mad scientist creature laboratory," among other projects.

The outreach efforts aren't limited to weekends and summers. Art in the Community, a graduate-level course introduced this semester by Assistant Professor Rachel Williams-Northway, requires students to develop art curricula for populations in the community who are typically overlooked, including prisoners, hospital patients, domestic abuse victims and low-income families.

"This project is significant because art educators, during their coursework, normally are not exposed to teaching alternatives beyond the public school system," Williams-Northway said. "Students will produce scholarly research but also perform service for populations in need of interaction and expression through the arts."

Williams-Northway's students seem to be enthusiastic about the class. Jill Barnes said the art lessons she's been developing for inmates in the Iowa Medical & Classification Center at Oakdale are a bright spot in their days.

"It's really an exciting aspect of art education," said Barnes, who is studying art and art history. "It was a little intimidating going into the prison at first. But the prisoners' enthusiasm reminded me of a grade-school class."

Tandem Stories Quest, the art education department's latest project, grew out of Thunder-McGuire's twin passions for art and bicycling.

In addition to being a sculptor and professional storyteller, Thunder-McGuire is an avid cyclist who has toured more than 30,000 miles. In 1995 he completed what is billed as the "World's Toughest Human Powered Ultra-Marathon," the Iditasport -- a start-to-finish bicycle race on the Iditarod Trail in Alaska in the dead of winter. And in 1997, he led a bike tour from Fairbanks, Alaska, to Iowa City to raise money for the Close Encounters Art Workshop, a two-week summer residency program for high school students with physical disabilities.

Thunder-McGuire plans to embark on yet another grueling tour June 18-28 to raise money for Tandem Stories Quest. He and a local junior high school teacher are entering Race Across America Marathon (RAMM) 2000 and plan to ride in one of the very same trikes Thunder-McGuire is building for the program.

Called "adaptive tandems," the tricycles feature one wheel in back and two in front, as well as foot and hand cranks that allow disabled people to power them even if they cannot use certain limbs. Each trike costs about $6,100.

Thunder-McGuire said Tandem Stories Quest will offer disabled participants their first-ever bike-riding experience, an experience that most able-bodied people take for granted.

"Many of these kids don't have an opportunity to go on an adventure," he said. "Hopefully this will change that."