Arts + Public Life brings spirit of UChicago to Chicago youth and seniors

Arts + Public Life, UChicago’s initiative to form creative bonds with the community, hosts artist residencies, community education and projects led by local artists. One such program is a range of summer classes hosted at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, which began in early June and ends mid-August. These classes aim to provide the University, the South Side and Chicago at large with engagement and enrichment across cultural, generational or economic boundaries.

“Arts + Public Life is about building connections with the community through arts and culture,” said Emily Hooper Lansana, the program’s associate director of community arts engagement. “Our programming takes on a variety of forms, from nurturing partnerships with arts organizations to creating platforms to magnify the work of Chicago-based artists.”

Lansana is currently teaching a course in storytelling, which she described as “an introduction to several aspects of storytelling, from personal stories, to folklore, to history, to ethnography. I have a wonderful group of older adults,” she said, “representing many people from the community surrounding Logan and the [Washington Park Arts] Incubator, as well as other parts of the city.”

Simone Wright, a training consultant, says her motivation “was not only to hone the skill of storytelling, but to learn more about how to integrate storytelling into training.” Wright took Lansana’s course in 2012 and has returned to take it again this year. “I’ve done IT conversions,” she adds, “and also trained engineers in coaching, and they respond very positively to it—because they realize that, if they can give illustrative examples, it’s easier to get people to invest.”

Even apart from this practical application, Wright said, the class “introduced me to the art of storytelling. It introduced me to being able to verbalize in a short, concise, entertaining way, a message that I might want to deliver. I met some interesting people whose paths I never would have crossed, I learned that storytelling is alive and well in Chicago with a lot of venues and I learned that storytelling can be a cathartic way of maybe coming to rest or peace with your own past and present.”

Some of these classes are free, while some only have a $10 suggested donation. Other offerings this year include a news and media literacy class for youth and a movement class for seniors taught by Kevin Iega Jeff of the Deeply Rooted Dance Company. The course, he said “is designed to strengthen each participant’s spirit, mind and body connections, fostering joy and healing through fellowship and the power of dance.”

Lansana’s husband, poet Quraysh Ali Lansana, has taught classes for all ages in past years, and his next creative writing session for older adults will begin on July 22. He hopes to empower his students “to explore the connections between their youth in relation to their understanding and opinions about young people today. I often use music and media as a trigger to engage in story and make those intergenerational connections.”