My great-grandmother used to wait for me on the front porch. I noticed her from the playground during recess, my school directly across the street. She was beautiful, her silver hair wrapped in a bun. I loved to see her face through the screen on the porch. I felt safe and protected.
For many African-Americans who migrated from the south to Chicago’s Westside, the front porch serves as a cultural stage. Keli Stewart, a writer and the founder of Front Porch Arts Center, envisioned this when she created the organization. “The front porch is where we gathered, told stories, witnessed, celebrated culture and created community,” she says of her childhood growing up in both Lawndale and Austin on Chicago’s Westside.
Front Porch Arts Center was created in the summer of 2019 to meet the needs of Westside communities that although rich and culturally vibrant, are also artistically and economically under-served. According to Stewart, Front Porch Art Center is fulfilling a need that the community has longed for.
“Because Westside neighborhoods like Austin have lacked public art centers for years, we intend to fill a much needed void by creating arts and cultural programming, such as workshops, classes, performances, exhibitions, and artist partnerships that celebrate Westside life and culture by making space for our narratives.”
Even as a child, she envisioned greatness for the Westside and vividly remembers riding in her father’s truck down Madison St. past vacant lots and buildings and declaring artistic uses for abandoned spaces. Now, 30 years later, Ms. Stewart is able to deliver on that vision. A graduate of Columbia College and the Chicago State University Creative Writing MFA Program, she understands how art can fuel transformation.
“We intend to enhance our community by creating outlets for public discourse and community fellowship. Through monthly events, we hope to build critical thinking, artistic literacy and self-awareness. We intend to create platforms for residents to experience art and for Westside artists, and artists with Westside roots to use their talent within their community. Through this work, we aim to bridge the Westside with the Chicago creative community and strengthen public perception and self image.”
To learn more about this amazing new center visit: https://www.frontporchartscenter.org/
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