The Curious City Challenge
Remaining engaged, curious, and active are all essential in the arts field. These traits help us stay connected to the root of the work, learn best practices, and spark innovation. The arts are all about participating and exploring, and in arts education we ask our students to participate and explore every day—and yet as individuals, it is often hard to make time for ourselves to get creative and inspired.
At Urban Gateways, we are lucky enough to have the PROPS Award, which is an annual stipend that is given to a staff member for a project that promotes personal growth and exploration. I was fortunate enough to be awarded the 2017 PROPS for my proposal “Claire’s Curious City Challenge.” Influenced by a phrase our organization often uses, “The City as a Classroom,” I am using the funds to embark on a yearlong mission to explore the exciting and diverse programming that makes Chicago a vibrant city. I see this challenge as an opportunity to learn more about the interesting work happening in the city, for both my own interest as an active member of the Chicago arts community and for the potential it has to inform future programming and partnerships at Urban Gateways.
If the first eight weeks are any indication, I think my yearlong challenge is going to be highly rewarding, engaging, and inspiring. Below are a few highlights of activities from my first two months:
Bike Making Class at Heritage Bicycles: With my first PROPS activity, I put my student cap on right away and I learned how to make a bike starting with just the frame at Heritage Bicycles, including everything from cutting chains to installing handlebars. While one might not see the initial connection between bicycles and art, much like any arts-based project, building a bike required having a vision and using patience, collaboration, and creativity to put it all together. It was really rewarding to get my hands dirty (literally, there was so much oil and grease), learn the intricacies of my favorite mode of transportation, and build a fully functioning bicycle.
Tomorrow Never Knows Festival: When most people hear “music festival,” they think of warm summer weather, big name artists, and flower crowns, but for Tomorrow Never Knows I bundled up and braved the sleet and snow to see lesser-known acts perform in intimate venues across Chicago. TNK offers a really unique model of experiencing performance, focusing on giving younger voices in the music and comedy scene a platform to be heard and share their work with a larger audience. Two bands that I highly recommend checking out are In Tall Buildings (who are local to Chicago!) and Foxtrott!
“Gloria” by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins at Goodman Theatre: There is something so magical about sitting in a theatre with hundreds of people and having a collective reaction in response to a shocking moment in a play. “Gloria,” a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, is a prime example of how theater (and art in general) can provide a lens through which we view the world, and can force us to face realities we may not wish to address.
Letterpress Your Own Coasters at Spudnik Press: As someone from a theatre background working mostly in the performance realm, I do not often venture into the visual and print-based art forms…but the whole goal of my “City as a Classroom” challenge is to try new things and step outside of my comfort zone. Once again I rolled up my sleeves and got my hands dirty, only this time the culprit was red and blue ink. Letterpress dates back hundreds of years, and despite major advances in technology, the process is still very much the same now as it was back then. It was really interesting to see how artists infuse innovation into a very traditional practice. Plus now I have a cool set of handmade coasters!
In the coming months, I will be attending a live taping of NPR’s “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!”, soaring to new heights in a trapeze class at Trapeze School of New York, attending events as part of Chicago Ideas Week’s Curiosity Series, seeing the iconic Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and more!
Already I have tried my hand at different art forms, been inspired by some truly impactful live performances, learned about up-and-coming artists, and most importantly, been reminded of the inherent joy and excitement that comes with participating in new experiences. Working in the arts field, it is essential to foster creativity and find new ways to get inspired, because that’s how we gain the fuel to be innovative, thoughtful, and dedicated to our work.
How does your organization help staff grow creatively? Comment with any favorite art activities or experiences you think I should add to my list!