Over the next couple of weeks, more than 80 UTM students will receive a thoughtful and unique creation in the mail, handmade and shipped right to their doorstep from their very own pen pal.

At a time when connections are made in the language of tweets and Facebook pokes, UTM’s Department of Visual Studies Student Society has found a way to allow UTM students to connect through art with the launch of this year’s Pen Pal Project.

The project involved multiple stages, the first of which was the pairing up of pen pals using a computer program that randomly matched students, faculty, and alumni to their pen pals. Participants were then invited to pick up a free blank canvas board and an addressed, stamped envelope to send to their pen pal. Finally, participants unleashed their creativity on their canvas boards however they wished. After their drawing, painting, or collage was a complete, participants needed only to drop their envelope in a mailbox and wait for their pen pal’s masterpiece to arrive.

Although the Pen Pal Project is not a new event for the university, it’s still fairly new at UTM. The launch of the U of T Pen Pal Project a few years ago actually included a tri-campus art exchange. However, coordination between the campuses was difficult, which has finally led to the creation of a UTM-specific initiative.

“The idea behind the Pen Pal Project was to create community between people in a way that’s kind of strange and kind of unique, and at the very least create a way to connect with [one another],” said Matthew Morales, fourth-year art and art history student and president of the DVSSS.

For UTM students who find the idea of a stranger having access to their address off-putting, DVSSS assures that they never had any issues involving safety in the past, and that if any should arise, they’re prepared to take action to ensure that all personal information is used appropriately. They added that after the Pen Pal Project is over, all the information gathered from students will be erased from their systems.

As a participant in the Pen Pal Project myself, it was the chance to relive my days of faithfully watching Art Attack that got me excited to fill my own canvas board. Taking inspiration from the outdoors, I picked up a leaf on my way home, glued it to my board, and painted a fall landscape around it filled with all the vibrant fall colours of our campus.

If the idea of a blank canvas is intimidating to you, Morales suggests finding inspiration from the outdoors, TV, books, or simply what’s on your mind. “DVSSS hopes to show that […] art is accessible and something that everyone can participate in,” he said.

Whether you’re an avid artist or a classroom doodler, it might be worth taking a small time-out from your day to get those creative juices flowing before your midterms.