Healing Trauma through the Arts in Chicago and Beyond
With the summer in the rearview mirror, I find myself reflecting on the amazing arts experiences our city puts on display for its residents and visitors. As an international hub for arts and culture, Chicago offers just about everything for everybody: world-class artists at major venues, local productions and exhibitions, street and neighborhood festivals, music and movie nights in the parks—the list goes on. As an artist and arts appreciator, this is a major reason why I call Chicago my home.
But this year our Sweet Home Chicago also recorded its most violent and deadliest summer on record—with no end in sight. For too many of Chicago’s children, the wealth of opportunities this city provides is seemingly too distant to access due to the many barriers that remain in place.
While Chicago’s tale of two cities threatens our future as a thriving, vibrant, and inclusive community, arts organizations here are working to address this disparity by connecting youth to new paths for success through the arts. At Urban Gateways, we are investing in professional development and other resources to become a more trauma-informed organization to support vulnerable youth exposed to traumatic experiences; this summer our staff and artists completed a four-day trauma training with social service organization UCAN. Artists who participated in this training led a two-day “ArtsCAN” workshop for youth in UCAN’s violence prevention and intervention program in August, which included percussion, visual arts, poetry, and storytelling experiences (see more photos here)—and plans are currently underway to implement further programs with UCAN through our new Arts Healing Trauma initiative. We hope to offer youth in UCAN’s North Lawndale community, and ultimately youth all over Chicago, the opportunity to access a new and hopeful mindset through creative empowerment. We are beginning to grasp the fact that, as arts educators, doing so is our responsibility. It is our way to strengthen our city.
We all need to speak deeply and sincerely with our staff members, artists, partners, and community stakeholders to address this question: How can we leverage the arts to stem the tide of inequity and despair? We believe one answer is that we can do this by helping youth creatively express their hopes and dreams, showing them what is possible for their lives and communities.
This November Chicago will play host to the Conference for Community Arts Education, where arts educators from around the country will come together to address topics including Radical Healing, Creating Change Agents, Art & Resistance, and much, much more. Our long-term hope is that Chicago will see its name in the news, not for the number of murders it witnesses each year or for its rate of gun violence, but for the many ways in which our diverse and vibrant communities harness their creative prowess to make beauty and inspire hope. Indeed, if you look, it’s already happening.