James Jankowiak was born and raised in the Back of the Yards neighborhood on the south side of Chicago. Mostly self taught (he studied at Columbia and then SAIC for one year each), James took the knowledge and skills he honed from his years as a graffiti artist and applied them to a full time dedication to his present work as an artist, activist, and educator. Urban Gateways brought him aboard as a teaching artist in 2001, followed by the Museum of Contemporary Art and Gallery 37. His first long term residency was at Dugan Alternative High School, where he would return to his old neighborhood and spend five years (2002-07) teaching a group of boys who all happened to be members of a notorious street gang called the Saints. It was here that he recognized his effectiveness as a teacher couldn’t be measured by an academic track record, but only through an intimate familiarity with the culture of the neighborhood he was serving. In 2004, he helped organized the conference “Hip Hop and Social Change” at the Field Museum and he has been a regular guest teacher at SAIC and Columbia College on the same topic. He is currently in the third year of a three-year residency teaching at Kennedy High School through the MCA’s School Partnership Program, and he recently completed a four-year residency at Fairfield Elementary as part of Urban Gateways’ Community Schools program. Collaborations with students resulting in permanent public artworks can be seen in many Chicago area schools, including the Morton School of Excellence, Little Village Social Justice High School, and Gage Park High School. In 2011, James was chosen to design and fabricate a permanent entrance artwork for the Illinois Holocaust Museum’s Youth Museum. His work has been exhibited widely throughout Chicago in such venues as the MCA, Northwestern University, SAIC’s Roger Brown Gallery, and Johalla Projects, and in 2010 he had a solo exhibition at De Zwarte Ruyter gallery in Rotterdam, NL.
In the summer of 2013, James was a panelist for a critical discussion on the state of contemporary social practice at Monique Meloche Gallery, coinciding with Cheryl Pope’s solo exhibition, “Just Yell”. The artworks Cheryl presented were the result of a year-long collaboration with over 700 Chicago Public School youth. In October 2013, James was part of an expansive group exhibition at the Chicago Cultural Center surveying the Chicago street art scene.
Examples of James’ Urban Gateways programs: