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Austin, Garfield Park, North Lawndale

A Free Arts Center Is Coming To The West Side, Along With Therapeutic Art Programs For Youth

SkyART is looking for youth to join its Project 3rd Space program, which is dedicated to helping teens on the West Side explore career pathways in art.

Young people painting in a SkyART program.
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GARFIELD PARK — Chicago’s only free art center plans to open a location that will bring therapeutic art programs to young people on the West Side.

SkyART has started its first dedicated program cohort for West Side students. The West Side center is still recruiting, and families can sign up or request more information by texting “SkyWAY,” “P3S” or “Project Impact” to 708-414-0732. 

The teen art program will run virtually until the summer, when the art nonprofit plans to rent a facility in the area and create additional programs, organizers said.

The center has been a South Side staple for two decades, providing a safe, accessible outlet for youth to express their creativity in areas that lack art opportunities in 91st Street.

But SkyART has heard more and more requests from individuals and from local schools to establish a center out west, said Director of Program Devon VanHouten-Maldonado.

“Their schools are under-resourced. There’s not a lot of opportunities for free art programs for youth. So, over time, it became apparent that there was sort of a need and a desire for a program like ours on the West Side,” VanHouten-Maldonado said.

SkyART’s flagship teen program is Project 3rd Space, which embodies the group’s mission to be a haven for students. Without a West Side location, it was impossible to give local participants the same level of immersion in the arts as South Side students, Maldonado said.

The group initially planned to develop a West Side center in 2020. Due to the pandemic, organizers pushed back their plans for a year, VanHouten-Maldonado said. In the meantime, SkyART used the shift to virtual programs as an opportunity to build participation among West Side youth, he said.

West Side youth in Project 3rd Space receive a small stipend as they cultivate their creative talents under the guidance of a resident teaching artist. The program is for young people who are serious about finding pathways into creative careers.

Teens in Project 3rd Space are given open studio time to find their creative style and develop their process for making art. The program has a focus on professionalism, and it gives participants opportunities to exhibit their work and connect with internships, VanHouten-Maldonado said.

“All of our programs are process-based and experimental, but this … [provides] just a much deeper dive into what it means to be an artist, so they’re really exploring their own creativity,” he said.

The arts organization is working to find a spot for the West Side location, but organizers plan to open by summer. Programs there will start small, but over the next two to three years it will grow into a center that parallels the South Side headquarters, VanHouten-Maldonado said.

As SkyART plans to make a bigger footprint on the West Side, the organization will partner with neighborhood groups and local artists to bring art opportunities to existing youth programs. The art center already has a partnership with Nash Elementary School in Austin to supply students with art materials.

Principal Marcie Byrd said the partnership has been beneficial for students’ social-emotional learning.

“One of the things that arts does is it alleviates that stress. They can be more creative, and it’s just a different way of expression,” Byrd said.

Art is inherently therapeutic, VanHouten-Maldonado said, and it can be an excellent way for young people to navigate trauma in their lives.

“The kind of process or process-based art that we do … we’re asking them to experiment with us. And that’s a way to learn more about yourself, explore creativity and really think about creativity as a tool,” VanHouten-Maldonado said.

Art is especially beneficial for young people who have experienced trauma since kids and teens often don’t have the language to talk through difficult emotional experiences, he said.

“They don’t have the vocabulary of mental health. And art therapy can be a great tool for working through some of those issues that are difficult to talk about … using materials and colors and shapes to work through those issues,” VanHouten-Maldonado said.

Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.

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