I am making an effort to step out of my comfort zone. It's tough. I've been serving time in the 'burbs for the past several years, raising a family in a relatively safe neighborhood. It's by no means Mayberry, USA. But relative to parts of crime-riddled Chicago, you may call it "paradise".
At times (I must confess) I miss the grit and personality of the City life. Growing up in Rogers Park Chicago gave me a tough skin and perspective. Rogers Park is a diverse, active, creative part of the city. Amongst the rows of brick bungalows and 3-flats, there lies hardship and struggle balanced with opportunity and success. You see it in the people, businesses and the community. It's a fine blend of cultures, races, classes, personalities. It's representative of all what Chicago strives to be.
This past week, I had the opportunity to visit another part of the city, North Lawndale, a considerably less diverse, but with potential to become a creative blend of a community because of it's forward thinking community members and organizers. One of it's community organizers in particular, making an effort to offer the community something more is Dianna Long, of Urban Art Retreat, Chicago Urban Art Retreat Center (CUARC), Liz Long Gallery and Athena’s House. I attended the Women of Color Show at Liz Long Gallery Click here to see a gallery of images from the show.
About Chicago Urban Art Retreat Center (CUARC)
The all new Chicago Urban Art Retreat Center (CUARC) is organized to provide safe space for people who are different from each other to come together and learn from each other. This nonprofit was created to provide support and positive opportunities for under-represented people in an environment that strives to be multicultural. Visit The UAR website at http://www.urbanartretreat.com/
My Past Experience with CUARC
When I first visited CUARC(Summer 2012), I was unprepared for what I was about to experience. I had packed my two oldest daughters into the car for a day of art-making with some of the volunteers and to first meet Dianna. As I pulled of the expressway, I was promptly greeted by a panhandler at the first stoplight (this is not unusual in a large city like Chicago). I rarely have money on me, so I kindly waved him off. Driving on, I hit the next stoplight and Panhandler #2 approaches. It opened my eyes to a part of life that I had been sheltered from while hiding out in the 'burbs. Something that I realized may be shocking to my daughters if they never were to experience it growing up. I fear that there are many of us that may never have this encounter, and are worse of for it.
We made it to the center and were warmly greeted at the door. The center is a splash of color in a bleak and hardened part of Chicago's inner city. I have to admit that before, as I parked the car, I gave thought to the safety and well-being of my kids and whether or not I should just turn around and retreat to the safety of my Suburban living room.
Some activities were already underway, led by volunteers from local colleges and universities. A majority of the volunteers were local art students, white and middle class - not at all representative of the North Lawndale neighborhood. After an hour or so of activities one of the volunteers suggested a tour of the neighborhood with the kids and a set of disposable cameras. My inner reaction..."ARE YOU INSANE?!!", but my more adventurous self said "Suck it up and let's do this!" ...and so off we went into the concrete jungle.. 3 college girls(white), a black dude, and 2 suburban kids(one on piggy back) and Me. Okay, Let's roll. It turned out to be an exciting adventure with only a few uncomfortable interactions. I recall my daughter asking,"why are those 4 guys just sitting in that car?" (I wasn't about to ask them), and a bunch of teenage boys yelling something about "the snow-bunnies being up in here." Unfortunate, but such is life.
The experience was an eye-opener, a taste of reality and most of all a creative safe-haven in the middle of a hardened part of Chicago.