Urban Gateways staffers become student artists for a day

As administrative staff, those of us who work in the Urban Gateways office sometimes see entire weeks slip by without direct engagement with an arts education experience. We try, we really do! But there are grants to complete. There are phone calls to make and oh-so-many emails to answer. There are blog posts to write!

During our Fall 2014 Staff Retreat, the goal set forth by Executive Director Eric Delli Bovi was to step out of our day-to-day work lives and spend a day as students, participating in arts activities that would possibly feel uncomfortable or unfamiliar (a sensation that our students experience constantly during our programs), but that would ultimately lead to the satisfaction of expression. Below, our September 18 Staff Retreat in photos!

After a quick rendezvous for coffee and bagels at the office (and a quick roundtable reading of our organizational values – Creativity, Collaborative Teamwork, etc. – to get in the spirit of things), we followed our fearless leaders up Wells Street and across the river with no idea where we might be headed. When we entered the Merchandise Mart and stood face-to-face with The Chopping Block, a shriek of joy erupted from at least one foodie on staff.

We spent the morning slicing, dicing, and learning some brilliant cooking techniques with our two amazing instructors before sitting down to enjoy the fruits of our labor: Fajitas, homemade salsa with tortilla chips, Spanish rice, and flourless chocolate cake. To say it was delicious would be an understatement.

“Stepping out of departmental silos and working together as a team was great! I feel more comfortable crossing over those departmental lines now to work with others on a daily basis.” -Abby Csanda, Associate Director of Development

With full stomachs and recipes in hand, we left the Mart and boarded a party bus to be driven to an undisclosed location. When we stopped at this building, reactions varied from terrified to amused:

But any discomfort was quickly set aside with a little help from our iO Chicago Improv instructor, Tarah, who led us through a sequence of improv games from “Zip-Zap-Zop” to “Yes, You”, all the way up to fully improvised storytelling and love letter-writing. The laughs were abundant and two hours flew by; staff members exclaimed afterwards that they had gone into the class afraid of making fools of themselves, and came out feeling as though maybe they had but that was A-ok.

“Tarah (the teacher) said something like ‘Americans always listen for their opportunity to talk, rather than listening to hear what is being said.’ I know that I am guilty of doing this. If everyone took the time and focused on listening to hear, especially in the workplace, we (general we) would all be more in sync and better able to support one another. The team storytelling game, the counting game, and ad game all focused on actually listening to what was being said and responding appropriately – who knew that silly little improv games could teach you so much about listening and communicating??” -Claire Meyers, Performance Programs Associate

We ended our day at Bottle & Bottega in the South Loop, where we popped open a bottle (or two) of wine and recreated an image of the Chicago skyline on our individual canvases. Personally, I love to cook and have done improv in the past, but I have very little experience with visual art, so this proved the part of the day I found most challenging – yet still fulfilling. Each of us had different experiences of novelty throughout the day, but we all came away tired and content (and ready for our after-party at the House of Blues), as you can see in our group shot below:

Director of Programs Jill Potter summed up the day’s adventures in a lovely way:

“Moments spent in creative play return us to a place in our youth when our lives were guided by curiosity, fearlessness and amusing ourselves to the point of reckless abandon. Our retreat reminded me of the importance of play both in my personal life and my professional life. One of my favorite quotes about play is from George C. Wolfe, playwright and director. He says, ‘Creativity and love and magic – all the wonderful things – come from a sense of play. As one gets older, regardless of what level of responsibility one takes on and regardless of what successes and failures one has, one must vigorously protect one’s right to play.’ I see more play dates in my future!”


Enormous thanks to Board Member Gary Cullen for hosting our after party at the House of Blues!

A note to leave you on – staffers perform an improvised jingle and dance to advertise bacon, at iO Chicago: