Guest post by Rahul Bhargava: data murals at MIT!

Hello, I’m Rahul Bhargava. I run a project on creative data literacy as a Research Scientist at the MIT Center for Civic Media. This semester I’m teaching a Data Storytelling Studio Class for undergraduates and graduate students. To start off our semester, we had the pleasure of working with Food for Free to develop a “data mural” that tells a visual story about Food for Free based on data and information about who is served and how much food is rescued!

After Sasha introduced us to Food for Free and their programs, we looked a bunch of data and started to brainstorm interesting stories we could tell to try and re-inforce Food for Free’s mission. Students narrowed in on the story about the amazing growth in Food for Free’s programs:

The data show that Food for Free is growing our work with local partners to have an even greater impact on the issue of food security in Cambridge. We want to tell this story because there is still food waste in the area and we want to bring on more partners to help us fulfill our mission.

With a story to tell in hand, students worked together to create a visual design that would tell that story. The central visual metaphor of the tree was the symbol they choose to show the idea of “growth”. Many of their sketches had iconic the Food for Free truck connecting the donors to the recipients of the rescued food, so it felt natural in this tree-metaphor to have the donors be roots and the trucks be driving up and down the tree to connect “waste and want”.

The people are receiving the benefits of the food, symbolized by the fresh produce Food for Free is known for. In addition, they captured some of the secondary benefits of the food security provided by Food for Free with flowers in the tree. Once my collaborator Emily put the design together, we all painted it! We hope this mural helps Food for Free tell a story about their growth and impact.

The students enjoyed the chance to work on real data about a local problem. Sasha’s passion for the mission inspired them to try and create a story that would reflect Food for Free’s goals well. In addition, this activity expanded their thoughts about what “data visualization” can be!

If you are interested, you can read a bunch of the students’ reflections about the process of creating this mural for Food for Free. You can also learn more about Data Murals if you are interested in creating your own!

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