Finally on a warm spring day in Chicago, we get to enjoy the great outdoors at Anthony Overton Elementary School. Our site visit was more than average with surprising visits and a spontaneous interview with Lefty.
We began the day by introducing our work to a visiting class “Just Practice Justice” lead by Juan Angel Chavez and Amanda Williams in the Sculpture Department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. They received a tour of Overton, lead by Valerie, Lianne, Pu, and I, and got a sneak peak on our the semesters worth of work. Some of the questions of the group included community outreach and access to the closed schools once they are private. The specific case at Overton has been a very unique opportunity where the developer and building owner, Ghian Foreman, from the Washington Park Development Group, has generously offered access to multiple groups to keep the building active, including ourselves. It was not only refreshing to recap our semester from a different perspective but also to take class outside as we drew our frameworks diagram.
Essential to our next assignment, we were tasked with creating a diagram that would explain the multi-layered elements of significant organizations and/or projects. Valerie researched the complex stakeholders network in 96 Acres, a project led by artist Maria Gaspar, series of community engaged, site-responsive art installations involved in ideas about social and restorative justice issues at the Cook County Jail on Chicago’s West Side. Pu’s sophisticated diagram showed the immense programming events the LA Mas does in terms of the Frogtown Artwalk, organized by the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, a design intervention focused not only on placemaking strategies but looking to propose changes in current policies impacting the public realm through architecture and design prototyping. Lastly, I took the task of visualizing Colloqate Design's Paper Monuments various projects orchestrated by volunteer work and public art submissions all aimed in giving voice to memories of New Orleans that are not yet heard or overseen. This exercise helped us to imagine inventive, multi-dimensional, and inclusive strategies to create our own engagement framework.
Scott Sikkema and Joseph Spilberg from Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education joined us in the afternoon to explain their extensive framework with various partners, artists, and teachers. They were generous in sharing their own experiences, difficulties, and strategies for maintaining their framework as a non-profit organization focused on arts centered community building practice. We learned about their commitment to an experimental approach, inquiry based curriculum, collective art making process, and the intense research that goes into every decision. Their partnerships are organized by in-school and after-school programs led by teams of two, a teaching artist and an arts teacher. Their strategies for community engagement seek for multiple points of access from working closely with staff members, identifying parent leaders, and enthusiastic teachers instead of focusing only on the relationship with principals.
As we began to imagine our next assignment, we had the privilege to end the day by interviewing Aaron Lefty Boyd, who shared insights about his experience creating a youth basketball and mentorship program that he started since 1995, and currently hosted at Overton. It was inspiring to learn about his resilience, self-motivation, and commitment to uplifting youth in the Southside of Chicago. His future plans include opening his own facility from the ground up and have operations going 7 days a week. Since then we couldn’t wait to start on our next assignment.
JULIA LOPES is a senior student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the Department of Architecture, Interior Architecture, and Designed Objects.