When you can’t actually take a field trip to the Caribbean…

Summer has reached its peak in Chicago, and depending largely on the dew point, you’re probably spending a lot of time either lounging away from the sun or exploring, whether locally, nationally, or internationally.

Urban Gateways works largely in schools, which means that our program schedule tends to be lighter in the summer. But by no means does it come to a full stop. Miles Davis Elementary School in West Englewood offers a great example of what students can accomplish artistically during the open summer months; kindergarten through 8th grade students there participated in an 18-session, multidisciplinary arts program with Urban Gateways artists Aquil Charlton (visual art), Yolanda Pittman (dance), Ashley Winston (theater), and Kimberly Mahal-Laude (vocal music). The program’s overall theme was the Caribbean Carnival Festival, and while a field trip all the way to the Caribbean wasn’t quite feasible, the program coordinators and teaching artists found great ways to incorporate exploration (culturally, artistically, and within the city of Chicago) throughout the program.

Miles Davis students showing off their Urban Gateways T-shirts.

They chose the Caribbean theme because of abundant connections within the Miles Davis community and for the artists: Some Miles Davis students knew that their families had roots in Haiti, Belize, Trinidad, and more. The artists all had knowledge of Caribbean art forms and/or family connections themselves. And many Caribbean islands celebrate their Carnival Festivals during the summer months.

“The Caribbean community is very spread out throughout Chicago. It’s extremely different from New York where you can go to Crown Heights or Queens and everyone is in one neighborhood,” said Urban Gateways Residency Program Associate Kiara Sinclair. “You almost have to search for the cultural connection.”

They found that connection, however, by taking Miles Davis students on a July 22 field trip to Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center in Chicago’s Logan Square community. A field trip to Belvis Cultural Center offered exploration on many levels. It removed students from their neighborhood and showed them a new part of the city that many of them were not familiar with (some students even saw the lakefront for the first time while riding the bus); and it exposed them specifically to Puerto Rican heritage, since the mission at Belvis Cultural Center is to promote the understanding and accessibility of Puerto Rican arts and culture. It also introduced them to yet another set of artistic experiences.

Students participated in a hand-drum workshop with an instructor based at Belvis Cultural Center, learning how to produce a wide variety of sounds from this seemingly simple instrument. They practiced tones that are commonly used in Afro-Caribbean percussion, including the open tone, the slap, and the bass note.

They also completed a cardboard construction workshop with local artists from the Adventure Sandwich Collective, during which they not only learned how to construct a mask out of construction paper, but participated in guided play and character creation inspired by Carnival.

“They were very engaged, and they were actively making connections between what they’d been learning throughout the [program] and what they were learning there [at Belvis Cultural Center], which was the idea of Carnival,” Kiara said. “And one student who never smiles – he was smiling the whole time.”

Thanks to Miles Davis Elementary School and Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center for being fantastic partners this summer!

Special thanks for program innovation funding from the King Family Foundation.

Check out more photos of this program here. >>