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Making SPACE: A New Year

by Ricardo Gamboa and Lydia Ross

Main Text

Three years ago, I wrote a critique about a proposed performance at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago that relied on community engagement for its development. I believed the project repeated missteps that often happen when big institutions pursue socially engaged work, such as parachuting into communities with artists not from those communities and providing resources that disappear when those artists finish their projects and leave. So I was surprised when I was invited to learn about the MCA’s SPACE program.

The SPACE program was an unexpected, revolutionary find: refurbishing old rooms to create artists studios in Chicago public schools, embedding them in the school community. Artists explore the intersection of radical imagination, education, art, and civic activism; work with teachers and students; and conceive curricula and projects to affect social change. It was a program I always hoped to be a part of as an artist. But, more importantly, growing up Mexican-American and queer on the South Side of Chicago, affected by social inequality but without the tools to understand or address it, SPACE is exactly the program I wish I had when I was a teen.

I’ve worked with hundreds of young people in Chicago. I know firsthand that youth is not wasted on video games, selfies, and chasing trends. Instead, young people—especially in Chicago—are asking hard questions about their social circumstances. But they’re not just looking for answers to simply understand their social reality. Given the tools and opportunity, they will also act in ways that are innovative and inspiring to improve the world around them.

So often, we think of art as just a complement to social change—think witty protest posters. But with the songs of the civil rights movement, fashion of the Black Power movement, poetry of the feminist movement, and murals of the Chicano movement, art has been a central, driving force for social change—so have young people.

I’m excited to spend the year at Curie Metro High School, working with young people and educators, exploring how we can make change together, with art.

Credit Text

Lead support for SPACE is provided by The Crown Family.

Additional generous support is provided by The Siragusa Family Foundation.