How 20 IKEA dressers are helping arts in Lakota

Posted at 2:59 PM, Mar 03, 2016

LIBERTY TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- Lakota students are “dressing up” furniture to benefit the district’s art department through a partnership with IKEA.

Dress Me Up began four years ago as a way to help the art department in the midst of service reductions.

“Given that Lakota is our local school district that we’re in, we wanted to find a way to support all the students as well as the community, and do it in a big way,” said Kitalena Mason, director of local marketing and communication for IKEA West Chester.

As a furnishing and design company, representatives for the Scandinavian chain’s West Chester Township location “wanted to place the importance back on arts,” she explained.

To do so, the store gives dressers to art teachers, who guide students through the process of painting them, drawing inspiration from specific artists or movements.

Students drew on inspiration from illustrator Winsor McCay for one of this year's Dress Me Up dressers. Photo provided

Students in Stephanie Gauer’s Advanced Placement drawing class at Lakota West High School have decorated dressers in the vein of pop artists Romero Britto, Roy Lichtenstein and Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are.” This year, her students are painting two dressers: one inspired by illustrator Winsor McCay and the other by Greg Hildebrandt’s “Alice in Wonderland” illustrations.

“They really enjoy working together on the project, and they’ve taken a lot of ownership on it,” Gauer said.

Once the dressers are painted, teachers return them to the store to be auctioned off during a special event. Some dressers will be on display inside the store’s main entrance in the weeks leading up to the event.

IKEA matches the funds raised through the auction up to $2,500 and donates the money to Lakota’s art department.

Greg Hildebrandt's "Alice in Wonderland" illustrations inspired one of two dressers painted by a group of Advanced Placement drawing students. (Photo provided)

Over the past three years, the Dress Me Up program has raised almost $11,500. The money has helped cover costs for everything from art supplies to competition entry fees and even recognition banners for students who win national medals.

The program, which is modeled after a partnership between an IKEA and a school district in Portland, Oregon, was introduced in the Lakota Local School District in 2013.

“It’s pretty natural for us to partner with our local school district because they definitely support us, and we’re grateful for that, but we want to make sure we give back,” Mason said.

Although “stores do their own things in their own markets,” Portland and West Chester are the only IKEA locations she’s aware of that offer versions of the Dress Me Up program. Lakota is the only district in Greater Cincinnati to partner with the store on the program.

When the program first came to Lakota, it was offered only in the district’s high schools.

“We’ve gradually grown it year after year to involve more students,” said Lauren Boettcher, executive director of media and community relations for the district.

Junior high students got involved in 2014 and in 2015 elementary students joined in. This year, nearly every school in the district is involved, with students painting about 20 dressers total.

Like IKEA’s different stores, each teacher involved has his or her own approach to the project. Some teachers make an after-school activity out of it, while others incorporate it into their classes. Some teachers — especially those at lower grade levels — may be more involved in painting the dressers, while others, like Gauer, merely offer guidance and suggestions.

Regardless of how involved the teacher is, the project requires a great deal of time and effort from educators and pupils.

Stephanie Gauer's students have participated in IKEA's Dress Me Up program every year since it was introduced in the Lakota Local School District. Photo provided

“Something that I think a lot of people don’t realize is how much time goes into each and every single one of those dressers,” Gauer said. “The amount of work that they’re doing is extraordinary.”

Her students, who split into groups to take on two dressers this year, have worked on the project every school day since January. Last year, she even had seniors come in during spring break to work on a dresser.

“The only thing they’re getting out of it is the satisfaction of creating something beautiful together as a class,” Gauer said.

This year’s auction is scheduled for April 26 and will take place at IKEA. Six of the dressers will be on display in the store during the month of April.