Year of Creative Youth will empower artistic Chicago students
January 4, 2018

Photo courtesy City of Chicago/Phil Dembinski
Chicago youth will participate in photography and other visual arts.

By Peter Winslow

The City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have dubbed 2018 the Year of Creative Youth.

The City will invest more than $2 million to support artistic work of creative youth, provide performance stipends for City of Chicago festivals and partner events, and fund grants for youth arts organizations. Leaders expect this initiative to bolster Chicago’s existing cultural programming and aid educators who foster the development of Chicago’s future cultural and economic growth.

As a culminating event, the City will host a new Creative Youth Festival at Millennium Park on Sept. 22; the event will feature performances and displays by young artists in dance, music, theater, spoken word, visual arts, and other artistic endeavors.

DCASE commissioner Mark Kelly noted that, in Chicago, “there are so many great organizations involved with youth, but much of their work is not visible to the city. So now it is the creative art of the youth that needs to be shown in the public realm. We have a mayor who was instrumental in launching the Year of Public Art in 2017, and he has done a lot of great work in planning the Year of Creative Youth.”

Teresa Córdova, director of the Great Cities Institute at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a professor of Urban Planning and Policy at UIC’s College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, called the project “a marvelous idea,” adding that “When I think of building on young people’s creativity and their sense of innovation, all kinds of things will be possible, including developing economic opportunities.”

Local organizations participating

The National Museum of Mexican Art (NMMA), 1852 W. 19th St., is one of six IncentOvate grant recipients for 2018. IncentOvate is a DCASE grant program that invests in local nonprofit organizations with creative youth-focused projects that have an annual adjusted income of more than $2 million.

The NMMA’s Yollocalli Arts Reach initiative offers free arts and cultural programming to more than 300 youth and young adults annually. Programs include education in public performance, mural painting, radio production, quinceañera aesthetics, and more. Yollocalli also hosts satellite programs, workshops, teen exhibitions, and special events throughout the year.

Barbara Engelskirchen, chief development officer of NMMA, said this is the third grant the museum has received from the IncentOvate program since 2014. “The NMMA understands the value arts and culture can play in a young person’s life,” said Engelskirchen. “Evidence has shown that the arts can increase the quality of life for young people. Yollocalli Arts Reach provides opportunities for youth and teens to not only explore and make art but also define their culture and find a pathway to their future.”

Another local organization working to finalize the IncentOvate grant process is the Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan Ave. Amanda Hicks, executive director of communications, said, “A strengthened network can help open up multiple arteries or pathways between organizations and encourage teens to participate in activities across Chicago that interest them and empower them to ‘own’ their city.”

The Art Institute has doubled its teen attendance since 2016, thanks to a donation from Glenn Swogger and the Redbud Foundation. The donation allowed the museum to create a free admission program for Chicago teens younger than 18.

“The Year of Creative Youth offers a new focal point for the work at the Art Institute that we have always done, and will continue to do, to enthusiastically welcome young people through our doors and provide spaces to make art, build connections with other creative teens, hang out in the museum, work with artists and mentors, and discover new possibilities,” Hicks added.

Although not every local youth arts program will receive direct funding, organizations such as the Chicago Children’s Theater (CCT) at 100 S. Racine Ave. support DCASE’s implementation of the new initiative.

“Chicago Children’s Theatre is very excited to see the City recognizing and supporting creative outlets and events focused on the youth of Chicago,” said Patrick Pelz, CCT director of marketing and communications. “We look forward to supporting the Year of Creative Youth by remaining committed to our mission that enriches our community through diverse and significant theatrical and educational programming that engages and inspires the child in all of us.”

Since 2005, CCT has been the city’s largest professional theater company that devotes its services to children and young families. In partnership with Chicago Public Schools, CCT provides more than 5,000 free tickets to low-income students each season. 

CCT will host a Year of Creative Youth kickoff open to the public from 1 to 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 13.

Marwen, an arts teaching organization at 833 N. Orleans St., and After School Matters, 66 E. Randolph St., which develops cultural activities for teens, are two other local entities that will participate in the Year of Creative Youth.

Officials have not determined many details on the new Creative Youth Festival yet. DCASE commissioner Mark Kelly said, “Imagine thousands of youth on stages and thousands of youth works being showcased. We have a lot of great hard work in front of us, and we are going to make sure youth are involved in the production of the big event. We hope that it becomes an annual event for the city.”

For more about the Year of Creative Youth, call DCASE at (312) 744-3316.