Growing Creatively: Meet Olivia

Olivia, now 18, has been a part of the Street Level community since her sophomore year of high school – participating in after school media arts programming, interviewing Chicagoans about their neighborhoods for a Street Level and Free Spirit Media video collaboration, and more. She’s also in her second year as part of the Teen Arts Pass (TAP) Teen Council, a group of young leaders that serves as the teen voice of the program.

We love that Olivia chose to take advantage of our programs and develop her creativity through more than one avenue; we wanted to learn more about why she got involved and how her participation has affected her, so we sat down for a conversation. Read on for her take on Street Level, TAP, and beyond. ?

Anna (Urban Gateways staff): You’ve been a part of the Street Level community for years now….how’d you first get involved?

Olivia: My mom is a nurse at Rowe Elementary School nearby. I would meet her after school and we would go right past Street Level. At first I didn’t know what it was, but one day I was like, we should visit! The first person I saw was James [Duke, Media Instructor] at the front desk. He explained and took me on a little tour. After that I just started coming after school. That was my sophomore year of high school. I was 15, now I’m 18.

What sorts of projects have you done at Street Level over the years?

I’ve done After School Matters programs at Street Level. Over the summer [2018] I did a Free Spirit Media program. And recently I’ve helped out with [Urban Gateways] Galas, interviewing people and taking pictures.

I wasn’t usually the techie person, I was the talker. I did the interviews, made up the questions, sometimes took photos too. For Free Spirit Media we were talking about neighborhoods, so I interviewed people in Chinatown and Wicker Park, and at the Art Institute. We made a final video project about Chicago neighborhoods.


Olivia (right) working on a Street Level podcast

Why do you think Street Level is a valuable community to have available for young people?

I feel that it’s valuable because it’s like a family, like a second family. They make you feel at home. Once you’re involved, if you’re not around, they’ll be on you, checking in on you.

Not everyone has that kind of support at home, and even if you do – it’s somewhere else you can go. They’re always there to listen. A lot of kids need that.

If you have classes you need help on, especially audio or music, you can always go there. They helped me get through my audio engineering class. I’ve also made new friends, and I consider them family now. They helped me become who I am for the past three years.

So how about the Teen Arts Pass (TAP) Teen Council? How did you join that group?

I wanna say it was Lisa [Davidson, Street Level Instructor], or maybe Matt [Woods, Street Level Program Manager] – someone was telling me about this program that Urban Gateways was doing and that I should sign up. At first I was like, eh, but it had a stipend so I figured I’d try. I signed up, did it the first year, and then signed up the second year because I really enjoyed it.

What sorts of things have you done on the Council? Have you seen shows through TAP?

We do recruitment events, and [when the program was launching] we helped choose colors and wording…that kind of thing. And shows, I’ve seen lots of shows. I saw “Plantation” at Lookingglass Theatre. Writers Theatre, I’ve been there twice. I’ve been to Victory Gardens, Goodman. I always liked theater; it’s like you’re right there in a movie. I don’t think I had been to any of those theaters before TAP.

Why do you think Chicago needs TAP?

TAP gives teens a way to use their time, something new to try away from things they shouldn’t be doing. And they have a lot of options. It’s not just theater – there’s dance, music. And it’s cheap, $5 for a ticket, so they don’t have to worry about the price!


Olivia (top left) with other members of the 2017-18 TAP Teen Council. Photo by Sehar Sufi.

So how has it impacted you, being involved with both programs? What’s the connection there?

[These programs have] opened up a good amount of opportunities for me. With Street Level, it got me connected with new people and other programs like Free Spirit Media… Doing things like interviewing, they taught me to interact, they showed me how to approach and talk to new people. And with TAP, it gave me even more of a creative side. It’s an eye-opener, I get to explore.

Both programs are helping kids get out of the box and explore different options, different situations. And you find other people who have creative mentalities.

What have you learned about yourself from these programs?

Be yourself. Don’t try to act like anyone else; you’ll be accepted for who you are. The thoughts and ideas you have are good ones, so just say them, just do them. Explore your options and be who you are.

-Olivia, 18, Street Level participant & Teen Arts Pass Teen Council member

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