Artist Q&A: Oli Rodriguez, Media Arts

Summer is in the air, and one of Urban Gateways’ staple summer activities is an arts apprenticeship program for high school students – Art Options – in partnership with SAIC. (Learn more about Art Options and its impact.) So we’ll mark the start of 70-degree+ weather with a quick Q&A from teaching artist Oli Rodriguez, who teaches the Art Options program with Angela Kim each summer. Meet Oli, connoisseur of media arts and photography!

UG: When was the very first time you can remember feeling inspired by the arts?

Oli: I was inspired by the arts in my 5th grade history class by Mr. Weismeyer. He had built a darkroom in the basement, without the support of the school and used it as his own studio space. I recall taking my first black and white photograph with one of his old beat up cameras and then developing it in the darkroom. I was hooked. I built my own darkroom 8 years later, scavanging materials from the alley and ebay.

What is the most innovative project you’ve undertaken in a teaching artist residency, and how do you think the project impacted your students?

Currently, I teach an Art Options class every summer as a collaborative effort between Urban Gateways and The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. This teaching artist residency is phenomenal because it builds student’s portfolios in video, while reading theoretical texts, building critical thinking skills and writing, while offering them a small stipend. It is co-taught between Angela Kim and myself in the Film, Video, New Media & Animation department at SAIC.

If you could offer one piece of advice to a young art student, what would it be?

Keep making, showing, doing and then more making. Repeat and repeat.

What’s your favorite place in Chicago?

Riding the curve of Lower Wacker just west of Michigan Avenue.

Two truths and a lie?

I was a bike messenger for 4 years. I grew up in Humboldt park in Chicago. I went to the same high school as Michelle Obama.


Check out this Flickr from Oli’s residency with middle schoolers at Hernandez School in Albany Park; he helped them to define and express “community” through photography.