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Arts Program Has Lasting Impact on Communities

A couple years after its primary funding from The Joyce Foundation ran out, the Building Community Through the Arts program (BCA) continues to help sculpt community development efforts in all three communities — Humboldt Park, South Chicago, and Albany Park — according to a summary report from LISC Chicago.

Coordinated through the North River Commission (NRC), Albany Park’s programming has taken root and blossomed in part thanks to the community’s subsequent involvement in two other LISC Chicago programs: LISC MetroEdge and the Great Neighborhoods Program.

The North River Commission has received permission from owners of vacant storefronts to display artwork, enlivening the streetscape of Albany Park.

The North River Commission has received permission from owners of vacant storefronts to display artwork, enlivening the streetscape of Albany Park.

NRC began to focus intentionally on the arts as a community development strategy in 2005, after hearing from residents that the arts were not well supported, through its two-year planning process called the Futures Forum. This dovetailed nicely with the concept of BCA, and NRC and its partners finished their Arts in Action Plan in 2006.The plan contained four strategies: celebrating history and multicultural identity, expanding arts and cultural opportunities for youth, establishing Albany Park as a prime business and cultural center, and buttressing local artists and arts groups.Among the most significant projects to emerge from the plan have been the After-School Collaborative, 11 arts programs in nine schools thanks to a $150,000 grant from the Illinois State Board of Education; the still-in-progress multicultural sculpture garden in Ronan Park, along the north branch of the Chicago River; and light-pole banners hung along Lawrence and Kedzie avenues, designed by a student from nearby Northeastern Illinois University.

A summer concert series has brought crowds to Ronan Park for a multicultural stew of music near the site for the still-in-progress sculpture garden.

A summer concert series has brought crowds to Ronan Park for a multicultural stew of music near the site for the still-in-progress sculpture garden.

BCA also forged new or expanded relationships with area residents and businesses, particularly artists and arts incubators, as well as cultural and educational organizations like the Cambodian Association of Illinois, Lawrence Hall Youth Services and Northeastern Illinois University, which served as co-lead partners along with NRC.Challenges the effort have ranged from the general process-related issue of finding ways to work together, to a specific snag in finding the right spot for the sculpture garden, initially expected to be sited on Metropolitan Water Reclamation District land that the MWRD reclaimed for its own use before the Ronan Park opportunity opened up.

MetroEdge and Great Neighborhoods

Released in April 2009, the report from LISC/MetroEdge lifted up a variety of retail opportunities based on the community’s buying power, some of them related to arts, culture and entertainment.This led to a marketing campaign that touted both ethnic restaurants and cultural attractions, online audio slideshows and “Burnham Tours” of the community done in conjunction with the city Department of Tourism that highlighted cultural diversity, and a heightened awareness of the potential for the arts to be incorporated into everything from restaurant interiors, to transit-oriented development at the Lawrence and Kimball “El” stop.

When the Great Neighborhoods Program launched in Albany Park in 2008, NRC and its partners focused on three strategies: neighborhood revitalization, communication, and arts and culture.The arts and culture piece has built on BCA efforts like the After-School Collaborative and storefront-window displays, and it’s added a summer “Concerts in the Parks” series in Ronan Park that began in 2009 and continues this year, with a final concert scheduled for Aug. 5. 

Another upcoming event will the Art Walk — consisting of storefront galleries during the day along Bryn Mawr and Kedzie, and performances at Northeastern Illinois University, North Side College Prep High School and elsewhere in the evenings — co-sponsored by the NRC and the Hollywood-North Park Civic Association from Oct. 8-10.

The smaller funding pool available through Great Neighborhoods, compared with BCA, has meant that NRC and its partners have needed to become more creative in finding money, and they’ve had success in several directions with foundation funding and public dollars thanks to U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley and state Rep. Deborah Mell.

Humboldt Park and South Chicago

Arts and cultural activities have flourished in the two other communities where BCA took root, as well. In Humboldt Park, the Puerto Rican Cultural Center led an effort that focused mainly on a school engagement initiative and a mural arts program.The school engagement initiative, on which the Institute of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture partnered with the PRCC, established solid partnerships between two high schools and a local museum. The mural arts project, led by archi-treasures, continues to engage local youth in cataloguing existing murals, restoring some that were severely deteriorated, and providing mural tours along the Paseo Boricua.

In South Chicago, the Southeast Chicago Development Commission led the planning process and then Claretian Associates took over for the implementation phase. LISC pumped an additional $19,000 into the effort to re-engage artists and others who had lost interest during the lull that occurred as that transition took place.The South Chicago Arts Center and its Artist Garden has been perhaps the central project arising from the effort, while other recent arts-related activities have included the founding of the Harlem Theater Company, the anti-gang “beating down” of the 63rd Street Congo Drummers, and the pilot art classes for disabled adults in partnership with South Chicago Parents and Friends.

To see the full report from LISC Chicago on the activities of BCA and its aftermath, please click here.

Posted in Placemaking, Albany Park, Humboldt Park, South Chicago


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