Welcome back, Ellie! A staff Q&A with Urban Gateways’ Executive Assistant

We’re continuing our staff interview series with the friendliest Executive Assistant you could ever meet, Ellie O’Hagan. After a month overseas visiting her son and adorable new granddaughter, Ellie has returned to the Urban Gateways office and we couldn’t be happier about it! But she’s not only the smiling face at the front desk; Ellie is also a major advocate for the arts and arts education. Here are some of her answers to our burning questions:

UG: What do you do at Urban Gateways?

Ellie: As Executive Assistant, I like to say I’m in charge of keeping order. I send out calendar notices, information and material to the Board and Staff, I keep the Teaching Artist files and the general files, I answer the phone, and I know where we keep the handtools and the forms. I facilitate meetings, take minutes, make arrangements. And, yes, I love order. You’re a woman of many trades, having worked as a waitress, flower shop owner, bookseller, English tutor, etc. What led you to the position you’re in now?

A few years ago, I was looking for a part time job, and mentioned this to the Interim Executive Director at Urban Gateways, Eileen Gill, whom I’d known for many years. She offered me the job. Interestingly, we were having pedicures at the time. What’s the most rewarding aspect of working at Urban Gateways, for you?

Of the many rewarding aspects of my job, I most treasure my working relationships and the fact that we bring arts programming to kids. There are few things better than this. You went to school for painting and have had exhibitions in several large cities across the U.S. What draws you to painting as an artistic medium?

I paint because I have to. It is one of the ways I communicate, and one of the ways I make sense of the world. I see messages in the colors of the world. As a native Chicagoan, what are some of your favorite cultural & artistic events the city has to offer? Are you looking forward to any this summer?

I love the lake. It calls me. I feel it. I love to paint it, to walk along the shores, to watch it. My favorite Chicago pastime is walking along the lake shore. And then, there is the Art Institute and the other art museums, the Symphony, the theaters. I love them all. We have a world-class city offering world class events. If you could live in any other country, which would it be and why?

If I could live anywhere besides Chicago, (why would I want to do that?) I’d live in London because my son and his family live there. My goal? Half the year here, half there. Why do you think access to an arts education is so critical at this point in time for Chicago school children? What benefits do you think children in particular can glean from an arts education?

It is true that without art we are just monkeys with car keys. Art fills the void and saves the world, and gives us a way to feel whole. I want every child everywhere to have access to art and I am so happy to be with Urban Gateways whose motto is “Every Art, Every Child, Every Day.” They mean it and so do I. If you could meet any artist from the past or present, who would it be and why?

I would love to meet or to have met Georgia O’Keeffe, Mark Rothko, Paul Klee, Paul Gauguin, Picasso and Lucien Freud because they are my teachers. What positive changes do you see Urban Gateways affecting in Chicago Public Schools? What have been some of your favorite programs over the years?

I see UG programs increasing school attendance, diminishing violence, giving voice to kids who never knew what poets they are, showing them how to dance, to sing, and to open up to the world. I love what Karen Light is doing at Woodson. If you weren’t involved in the arts, what else could you see yourself doing?

It’s hard to imagine a life without involvement in the arts. How does anybody do that?