I’m interested in the big picture. How do arts organizations function and build support, survive and thrive? During a recent visit to Chicago I had the opportunity to sit down with four nonprofit leaders working at different levels of the city’s art scene. At a time of financial rollercoasters, shifting demographics, and a globalizing world, I was interested to see how these art organizations continued to reach out to changing communities and tap in to the creative energy they have to offer.
I started my Chicago arts tour by sitting down with Steven Evans, the program coordinator for Street Level Youth Media, a nonprofit that offers free workshops that expose disadvantaged youths to graphic design, audio, radio, digital photography, and video production.
Evans explains that Street Level is a place that “pulls back the curtain on the media youth consume everyday” and shows them how to criticize, explore, and create their own media. Many of the students come from low-income families, and Street Level represents a great way for them to have access to computers and learn professional skills that might not otherwise be available. In the world of YouTube, iTunes, and an abundance of user-created media, these skills empower students and keep them professionally and creatively competitive in the newest and fastest-growing arts-related fields.
Street Level is not only providing creative space for talented students to create high-quality media works, but also educating parents about possibilities for their children. When Street Level holds workshop showcases where students share their video, audio, and graphic design projects, Evans describes the parents’ reactions as “Wow! This is what Johnny has been doing!” Many parents, after the showcases, make sure their children attend the programming. And the program has seen lots of success stories: some students have started on a business path with music production, and others have returned to Street Level as instructors.
Evans and Street Level Youth Media are giving disadvantaged kids the early exposure that will instill in them an appreciation of the creative arts. As he says, “It’s really about giving an opportunity, and over time they forge a love or passion for their art and they stick with it.”
Now that we have an idea of how Chicago supports its young artists, lets go see what the adults are up to. A visit to Hyde Park Art Center is next…stay tuned!