FY16 Urban Gateways Staff Retreat: Mosaics, Poetry, and the First Annual Bowling Tournament

Here’s what the Urban Gateways staff knows for sure: we are all learners, our city is a classroom, and we are always up for a lesson.

We like to take our organizational staff retreats into the wild, find a new adventure, learn something about art and about ourselves, see what Chicago has to offer us, and generally find ourselves in terrific company.

For this year’s staff retreat on September 9, we began by gathering at the Chicago Mosaic School for a quick cup of coffee, a pastry, and a tour of the facility. The school is one of the only mosaic fine arts schools outside of Europe, with classrooms, a gallery, artists’ studios, and even a shop. The faculty is made up of a permanent teaching staff, as well as a visiting collection of international contemporary mosaic artists. After our tour and a little coaching, we were each given a tile of our own, a box of tools, a baggie of thinset, and free rein to choose our embellishments, which included ceramic tile, stained glass, smalti (smaller tiles), lots of little bits and bobs like shells, charms and buttons, and even a box of glass from a broken windshield.

Once informed and armed with supplies, we went to town and produced several lovely examples of amateur mosaics….and, some of them are beautiful, as if we knew what we were doing. While we worked a peace settled over us. We admired one another’s art, we shared our little piles of glass and metal, we felt the sort of centering that only art can make.

Thus full of artistic confidence, we walked over to the dance studio of one of our teaching artists, not to dance, but to have some tasty pizza and a poetry session with J.W. Basilo, another of our artists. J.W., poet, writer, and stand-up comic, guided us through some exercises to loosen up our poetic minds, to engage one another in trust and in laughter, and then set us loose to write our own poems, beginning with “I am….” Again, some of the poems were beautiful and full of lyrical images, and the trust in the room that enabled us to be so open and vulnerable to one another was magical.

En masse, we piled into cars and headed over to the Southport Lanes for the First Annual Urban Gateways Bowling Tournament. We divided into three teams by pulling colored tabs out of a bag, and settled down for some good and some bad bowling, delicious hors d’ouevres and tasty beverages. This writer is happy to note that not only did her team win, but she shared the honors of highest score with one other staffer. (Karl, you know who you are.)

Things are never dull at Urban Gateways, whether we are setting up a program, hosting an event, filling an auditorium with dancing, or gathering the staff for another grand adventure of Art and Learning in our Chicago.


Staffers (from left) Claire, Albert, Eric, and Sarah – deep in concentration over their mosaics.

The proud results of our mosaicing….see a close-up of the finished tiles HERE.

Loosening up our poetic minds with J.W. Basilo.

The First Annual Urban Gateways Bowling Tournament.