On the Ground in Chicago

by Paul Teruel

The Center for Community Arts Partnerships (CCAP) at Columbia College Chicago is committed to building meaningful, sustainable partnerships by uniting college, public schools and community. We bring together artists, educators, students, corporations, schools and community-based organizations as part of our ongoing practice.

Partnering with the National Performance Network residency program has been a great asset to the Columbia College student body and faculty. CCAP always tries to secure Community Fund grants to enhance artists’ work in the community during their NPN Performance Residencies. The Community Fund helps us reach the student and faculty at Columbia with a dynamic program, and it also has allowed us to bring artists into public schools and community-based arts organizations. This is important for a variety of reasons, including marketing, promotion, and most importantly, reaching and educating new audiences.

M.U.G.A.B.E.E. and All Chocolate during CCAP residency in Chicago (photo: Tony Gianneschi)

When we begin a dialogue with an artist, whether it’s Soulflower, Guillermo Gómez-Peña or M.U.G.A.B.E.E., we discuss the kinds of workshops, presentations, and discussions they can provide in a community setting. What age range do they feel comfortable with?  Are they open to public school visits?  Are they comfortable working with low-income communities? These are some of the conversations we have when developing the Community Fund application. We also discuss the level of capacity they have for conducting workshops and lectures.

In 2010 we invited M.U.G.A.B.E.E. (Men Under Guidance Acting Before Early Extinction), led by Maurice and Carlton Turner of Raymond, Mississippi, for an October 2011 residency. When we started to discuss the possibilities for engaged community involvement, M.U.G.A.B.E.E. made me aware of their extensive work in different communities and their potential to offer several types of programming:  lead story circles; conduct workshops on music production, writing and storytelling; and lecture on a variety of topics.

When planning the workshops and presentations we had several goals, including:

1) offering African American youth in the community an opportunity to gain a better appreciation of music, specifically jazz; and

2) helping African American youth and adults in the community understand the historical context of black musicians’ migration to the North, which gave rise to jazz and the blues.

Encouraged by the Turner brothers’ willingness to do as many workshops as possible, we started the residency with three college classroom visits and three public school workshops. The residency began with a welcoming reception in the Englewood neighborhood, which was a second geographic anchor to the residency in addition to Columbia College. Through word of mouth and M.U.G.A.B.E.E.’s own Chicago connections, the residency grew to a total of five community workshops/presentations and four college classroom visits, as well as the two planned performances and rehearsals! Whew! I quickly realized that Maurice and Carlton had an amazing amount of energy.

Maurice and Carlton Turner engage students at Guggenheim Elementary School (photo: Tony Gianneschi)

When working with public schools, we have learned that it is important to contact the principal early. Community Fund deadlines require us to do in-depth advance planning to prepare a complete and competitive application. Once Carlton and Maurice arrived for their residency, we had a couple of meetings with the schools to finalize their workshops.

The workshops and presentations were outstanding; in the end we reached more than 500 youth in the community and over 100 college students. We saw the effect of the workshops in the final performance during the residency, which was held at Hamilton Park, back in Englewood. Attending the concert were 200 neighborhood residents; and the level of excitement from the audience was impressive. Once the concert started, the youth in the audience started screaming and dancing in the aisles. It was a moment none of us will forget soon. I know I won’t.

Paul Teruel is the director of Community Partnerships, Center for Community Arts Partnerships (CCAP) at Columbia College Chicago.

The Community Fund is made possible by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, MetLife Foundation, and the Nathan Cummings Foundation.

August 2011

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