The Urban Gatekeeper
“It is only in the gripping prose of a well-written tale, the quiet harmonic tickling of a sonata, the bold brush strokes of a watercolor, or in the tracks of a smoothing finger in a clay sculpture that the lessons of life are revealed.” (Tracy Clark of N’DIGO, writing about Jessie Woods and Urban Gateways in 1994)
Urban Gateways has been providing arts programming for Chicago’s youth for over five decades and is today regarded as a national leader in integrating arts education with classroom learning. There are no doubt hundreds of people who can be recognized for helping UG achieve that status through the years. But if not for arts education advocate and pioneer Jessie Woods, the organization may have never even been conceived. Woods was one of Urban Gateways’ original founders and its first executive director, serving in the position for 18 years before she retired in 1981. Following her exit from Urban Gateways, Woods served as a presidential appointee to the National Council on the Arts and was a chairperson on the advisory board of the Department of Cultural Affairs, remaining a fervent advocate for the arts until her death in 2004. We dug up this wonderful feature story on Woods in an N’Digo newspaper from 1994 – and couldn’t help but recognize how relevant and insightful Woods’ views on the arts and arts education still are nearly 20 years later. “Art is an appreciation of life,” Woods says in the article. “They bring joy and stimulation. Art has been the record of history before there was any history and they’ll be a record of our society long after we’re gone. They are a way of knowing and feeling, and when they’re used in arts education, they’re also a way of understanding other things.” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. Read about Jessie Woods’ incredible contributions to the Chicago and national arts communities, and how Urban Gateways started with a one-time field trip for 60 South Side students to an American Ballet Theater production of “Billy the Kid” on a rented bus. We are proud of our roots!