The Story Behind the NEW Teen Arts Pass App

As of October 2019, Urban Gateways has launched its first ever mobile app project – the Teen Arts Pass (TAP) App! This exciting new addition to the TAP program will make Chicago performances even more accessible to teens, allowing them to sign up for TAP, browse shows, save faves, and check in at venues right from their phones. Even if you’re not a teen, we hope you’ll download the app, take a look around, and share in our excitement. Download for iPhone or Android:

Interested in digging into the story behind the TAP App? Read on!
And right off the bat, we’d like to say how grateful we are to Thierer Family Foundation, TangoCode, Gimbal, and the Zell Family Foundation. This project would not have been possible without them.

The Teen Arts Pass

The Teen Arts Pass (TAP) program was launched in April 2018 as the first major Chicago-based initiative facilitating teen access to the rich arts and culture landscape of the city. TAP invites young people ages 13-19 to access day-of-show tickets to performance venues, theaters, and other cultural institutions across the city for just $5. By creating a program that invites all teens to enjoy the arts, Urban Gateways is working to dismantle the assumption that these spaces belong to the elite.

Every day, hundreds of seats go unfilled at arts venues while thousands of teens across Chicago have never been to a live performance because the cost of a ticket is beyond their reach. Through FREE program registration and $5 performance tickets, TAP strives to close the opportunity gap by significantly expanding ticket affordability for over 7,500 TAP members to date.

The program allows Urban Gateways to invest in long-term, systemic youth arts access and equity by leveraging our city’s existing artistic and culture resources, all while building future audiences.

A major component of the TAP program is its Teen Council, which was established to honor youth voice and create a pathway for teens to influence the direction of the program. Our Teen Council was quick to identify the necessity of a TAP mobile app as a means of increasing the visibility and accessibility of the program.


Pictured: TAP Teen Council members & friends at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Why a TAP App?

TAP expands arts access and equity for all teens to foster the next generation of Chicago’s diverse artists, audiences, arts administrators, and advocates. Prior to developing an app, the main source of information about TAP was the website, On the website, teens are able to sign up for the program for free, as well as view a calendar of events highlighting TAP-eligible shows with our 27 partners all over the city. The website also includes detailed show information, maps, box office contact information, directions including CTA and Metra, FAQs for teens, helpful tips, and more to help teens navigate their own arts experiences. What we knew, however, was that teens are looking for other ways to absorb information beyond a website. Urban Gateways needed to be more nimble and meet teens where they’re at – on their phones.

A recent Pew Research study found that over 95% of all US teens regularly use mobile phones regardless of income, while only 88% have access to a computer or laptop.

The same report also claims that 9 out of 10 teens interact online several times a day with 45% reporting that they are constantly connected [via their phones]. This research compelled Urban Gateways to make TAP available in a medium where teens spend significant time in order to maximize our impact.

The idea of a TAP App was meant to help bridge Urban Gateways’ current systems for providing information to teen users with more effective, more current ways to get in front of teens directly. The goal of the app was, and is, to remove barriers and provide affordable access for teens to directly engage with the arts.

Urban Gateways continues to find new and innovative ways for Chicago youth to participate in the wealth of arts and culture that our city has to offer. TAP and its new mobile app now enable unparalleled access to new arts opportunities through the power of technology and the collective efforts of our broad network of partners.”
>> Eric Delli Bovi, President & CEO, Urban Gateways

Technology Partnerships

Urban Gateways took the plunge to develop this brand-new technology nearly a year ago today by kicking off our partnership with the Thierer Family Foundation, whose mission is to help Chicago nonprofits increase their impact through technology. We were invited by the Thierer Family Foundation to submit a proposal for their Impact Project Grant, which focuses on funding innovative technology projects that have the potential to make a significant, long-term impact. The TAP App was just such a project.

We are always looking for ways to ensure that youth have access to educational opportunities beyond what they may get within the classroom. That is why we were so excited to work with Urban Gateways on the companion app for their Teen Arts Pass program.
The vibrant arts and culture scene of Chicago, and the educational opportunities that come with it, are often intimidating and out of reach for young people. We immediately fell in love with the Teen Arts Pass program because it made these important cultural and learning experiences affordable and accessible to youth. With the development of the TAP mobile app, Urban Gateways is scaling the level of access and agency for young people throughout Chicago.”
>> Meghan Zimmerman, Director of Strategy & Business Development, Thierer Family Foundation

We (Urban Gateways) knew we needed help. While we were experts in providing arts experiences to young people in Chicago, we were definitely NOT experts in developing new technologies, specifically a mobile app. Thankfully, Thierer Family Foundation recommended a Chicago-based app development firm, TangoCode, to help us along the way.

Urban Gateways, TangoCode, and Thierer Family Foundation began the app development process in November 2018 with an Inception Meeting (TangoCode’s discovery phase), a 2-day client consultation that TangoCode used to determine our software needs and develop a complete understanding of our organization, our programs, and our overall goals.

In January 2019, we began a full scope of work with TangoCode following a sprint model (quick, fully-built deliverables every two weeks). Every two weeks, Urban Gateways staff met with the development team at TangoCode to discuss upcoming priorities, expectations, and timelines. During those two-week increments, staff responded to screen designs, systems questions and upgrades, brand and identity issues, and expert user experience recommendations, all the while noting areas where we would seek feedback and input from our Teen Council.

The Teen Council was instrumental in the development of the TAP App at nearly every juncture. The overall program, Teen Arts Pass, was developed with substantial teen feedback and involvement, and developing a mobile app was no exception. From button colors to avatar designs, screen flows to specific word choices, the Teen Council gave us their thoughts and recommendations every step of the way.

Being a member of the TAP Teen Council offers me practical experience; one of our main focuses is to spread the word, which helps me think about the best way to reach an audience and the most effective way to communicate my ideas. No matter what field you go into, that’s a really important skill.
[We also contributed] ideas to the TAP App, which is coming out soon. It’s exciting, designing an app that makes the program even more accessible and captures the energy and enthusiasm of the Chicago arts scene.”

The Technology

The beautifully-designed TAP App was developed for both iOS and Android platforms and seamlessly connects with as well as Urban Gateways data systems. The app boasts a comprehensive events listing for TAP-eligible shows throughout Chicago, in-app program registration/sign-up, an option for users to “favorite” events to save them for later, as well as a robust check-in feature which allows teen users to check-in to a show when they purchase a ticket in order to capture usage data for individual teens. The TAP App follows current trends to create simple and intuitive user experiences, employing cutting-edge interaction design as well as research and usability practices. The app design features custom avatars, emojis and animations, and a teen-designed workflow.

We wanted to build a future proof solution that scales as it grows while keeping the costs down. Our backend and architecture choices and the right technology for the mobile app allowed us to build a very fast application with great animations and a user experience tailored to the teen demographic. Being able to have feedback on the design directly from the teens during each Sprint was a major plus for the success of this project.
I have never seen so many people in my company requesting to work on a project once they knew about the social impact behind this app. TangoCode is proud to have developed this solution for Teen Arts Pass.”
>> Jean Pierre Valencia, VP of Engineering, TangoCode Inc.

Additionally, Urban Gateways has undergone several software infrastructure upgrades to be sure the organization has the capacity to fully capitalize on the app. One of these improvements included an upgrade to our Salesforce licensing, enabling Urban Gateways to process and store thousands more member account records as the program grows. Considerable time has also been spent on understanding and implementing the integration of the app systems into Salesforce. 

Other functions that have been implemented include connecting the existing TAP website with the app utilizing Amazon Web Services to handle communication across all platforms. This allows Urban Gateways to update information such as partners and the TAP events calendar in one location, which will seamlessly update across all other systems.

The app also utilizes iBeacon Technology; partner venues have installed beacons at their box offices which automatically connect to the TAP App via a Bluetooth signal. Teens are then able to check in at an event through the app and all corresponding information is sent directly to Salesforce. This has streamlined the box office experience as well as ensuring that we capture and report accurate program data. Additional funding was secured from the Zell Family Foundation to help with the beacon technology integration. Beacons were provided at no cost by Gimbal, the company that manufactures and supports the beacon technology.

So What’s Next?

We developed this great technology and we’re putting it in the hands of teens all around Chicago. So what’s next?

Urban Gateways will continue to monitor the app for bugs, hiccups, workflow concerns, etc. and will work with TangoCode to address any issues immediately. (If you notice something in the app that we need to fix, fill out our feedback form here.)

Our one-year goals for the app are to see 40% user adoption from teens registered for TAP as well as a 4+ star rating in both App Stores.

We’ll be monitoring these statistics over the course of the next year. Our Teen Council will continue to test and use the app and offer valuable feedback.

And things are already in the works for Phase 2 of the app. There’s a long list of functions, screens, and other capabilities we’d like to add or refine, including:


  • Enhanced Geo-Fencing
  • Sharing Events on Social Media (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.)
  • Manual & Automatic Push Notifications
  • Event Reviews & Comments
  • Add to Calendar
  • Partner Profile Pages
  • Refer a Friend
  • International Registration
  • Calendar Views
  • Filter Events using Calendar
  • Filter Events by Location
  • Edit Your Profile (for teen members)
  • View Past Events

Urban Gateways is looking forward to partnering with additional funders, donors, and technology advisors to take the TAP App to the next level. Phase 2 is just around the corner as we look to continue developing cutting-edge technology to engage with Chicago’s newest arts audience – our teenagers.


THANK YOU to our TAP App Funders & Partners!