6 (of many) moments of inspiration from my 2 months at Urban Gateways…

I joined Urban Gateways in early February as a Development Intern. As an individual making a career change, I saw the role as an opportunity to gain valuable skills and experiences in nonprofit fundraising while also providing value to an organization working to strengthen Chicago communities through the arts. A lot happens in any given month at Urban Gateways, and during my short tenure here (two months so far) I’ve had many moments of inspiration. Below are just a few:

1. The Art for All Gala. Last month’s Gala on March 10 provided inspiration in numerous ways: the generosity of dozens of people in attendance raising their auction-style bidding paddles for a worthy cause, the Urban Gateways artists and students who put on amazing performances and spoke from the heart about the impact of our programs, and the opportunity to hear from award recipients like former Executive Director Ronne Hartfield and former Art Options apprentice Justus White, who shared their perspectives on the value of arts education. The $270K+ raised at this event will help us empower thousands of young Chicagoans through creativity. Check out photos here. (Pictured below: African dance performance at the Gala by Urban Gateways touring group Ayodele.)


2. Responding to potential federal funding cuts. The National Endowment for the Arts provides substantial funding for our Arts Healing Trauma initiative as well as Urban Gateways artist residencies in Chicago Public Schools. Urban Gateways is supporting the #SaveTheNEA movement and we hope decision makers will reverse course for these needed resources. (We urge all supporters who want to protect the NEA to join the Arts Action Fund through Americans for the Arts right here.)

3. Progress toward the strategic plan. Last fall Urban Gateways rolled out a new 3-year strategic plan which aims to increase the organization’s impact on Chicago youth by innovating our school- and community-based programs. Then they set forth to conquer it.  By the time I arrived less than six months into the plan’s roll out, Urban Gateways had already reached milestones including an acquisition of Street-Level Youth Media and major progress on a new $5 teen ticket program. The lesson here? Create a plan and get after it!

4. The Associate Board. A perfect way for young adults to support the organization and have a great time. I had the opportunity to join an Associate Board event at the Museum of Contemporary Art in February (pictured below, their selfie with one of the artworks) and it was great to see this relatively new group creating connections with each other and the organization. Big things lie ahead for this talented group and Urban Gateways students will surely benefit from their involvement – in fact, students have already benefited; check out this program funded by the Associate Board.


5. Teachers love Urban Gateways. I traveled to Shields Middle School to take in an Urban Gateways performance of “The Evolution of African-American Music.” We spoke with teachers and administrators and they could not have been any more sincere in thanking the sponsor, Mesirow Financial, for the program and letting us know that Urban Gateways programs are always a huge hit with students.


6. Seeing our impact on youth. Arguably, I’ve been most inspired when seeing our programs in action. At the performance of “The Evolution of African-American Music”, dozens of children (and a few fun teachers) voluntarily shed their inhibitions and got creative with dance and percussion in front of their peers. Plus, many days working at Street-Level Youth Media I see youth on site expanding their minds in the act of creation – editing a music video, creating a video game, and generally moving outside their comfort zones to make something uniquely their own.

As all internships come to an end, I will one day soon walk away having gained a new appreciation for the value of experiencing and participating in the arts for young Chicagoans. Urban Gateways is absolutely making a positive impact. As far as professional development, I’ve learned best practices, systems, and fundraising processes from our talented staff. All practical for what comes next for me. It would be fortunate if I’m able to find an organization making as much of an impact as Urban Gateways.


Thanks to the funders who make our programs possible, including: