20 Neighborhoods with the Arts of Life and Center on Halsted


Teaching Artist Elyse Schauer writes about the artistic collaboration between Center on Halsted and The Arts of Life

The 20 Neighborhoods Project is meant to inspire conversations about community building, and these two different communities have some distinct similarities to explore. The Arts of Life is a collaborative art studio on Chicago’s West Side where people with and without disabilities make art and music together. I volunteered as a music mentor last year, so I’ve experienced what a strong sense of Imagecommunity accountability and inspiration the Arts of Life fosters. Center on Halsted is a large LGBTQ organization in Lakeview that offers free social services, as well as social programming for different ages of LGBTQ people. Members of both of these communities face stigma, personal and societal challenges, and use tremendous courage and creativity to express themselves and take control of their lives. We have a lot to learn from each other.

My fellow teaching artists Veronica Stein and NIC Kay and I focused our planning around visual art methods that could convey community and be worked upon collaboratively. We decided to focus the workshops around the creation of a large mobile sculpture, in which found objects and personalized prints could be worked in to symbolize how individuals come together in community.

Our first session acquainted participants with the idea of a mobile through making mini-mobiles on hangers. The pieces combined collage, found object assemblage, and worked with weight, light, and motion.

Our next workshop focused on printmaking. We traced our faces and traced magazine images we found inspiring, creating our own personalized designs to be printed, using foam core and block printing.

The third workshop introduced hand knitting and hand crochet as ways to decorate, tie our prints and collage pieces to one another, and to create more hanging, mobile, and dangly components. Image

Our final two workshops involved finding locations of our physical neighborhoods and communities on the map, along with a discussion around the idea that we all come from different locations to work together in one space. We also worked on using wire and a bike wheel to create our finished mobile sculpture, uniting the various elements we had created into one piece and painting it blue (a favorite color among a majority of participants, as well as a symbol of Lake Michigan), and combining it all together to create a cohesive expression.

Our discussions throughout the project focused on the concept of community. We acquainted ourselves with the idea of community as being based on physical location, and we realized that we all live in different neighborhoods throughout Chicago, and recognized how special it is that we came together for this project. We also discussed LGBTQ community and the Arts of Life community, focusing on the idea that community can be made up of people who share your particular passions, lifestyle, & values.

ImageOur workshops came with challenges, particularly in collaboratively creating the mobile structure, perhaps because art-making is often such an individualized process for us as art makers. Sometimes it was hard to work together. Although we attempted to create equal opportunities for participating artists to take park in individual work and collaborative work, there was a natural tendency for individualized processes to take over.

And not only is collaborative art-making a challenge, so is collaborative teaching! Personally, taking part in the collective development and implementation of a workshop plan has been an important learning experience for me. It’s quite a balance between articulating your wants, expressing your goals, and leaving space for others to do the same, while at the same time continuously thinking of the participating artists, and trying to convey to them a united vision from which they could explore, create, and grow.

–Elyse Schauer, 20 Neighborhoods Teaching Artist

The finished mobile sculpture was exhibited at a Community Showcase and Celebration at Center on Halsted. With its blue monochromatic mix of collage, found objects, prints, and fiber elements, the finished mobile is at once wild and serene, not to mention a great conversation-starter. Teaching artists, participating artists, and staff from both Center on Halsted and The Arts of Life, as well as Woman Made Gallery, gathered around the large hanging art piece, enjoying snacks, conversation, and reflection on the project. We discussed all of the first-time experiences that came with the project—new working styles and techniques, and meeting new people in different locations. We also laughed about the group’s collective propensity for Michael Jackson and the color blue, as well as shared more individual expressions of love for animals, the vampires of True Blood, and collage techniques. To see more photos of the workshop and showcase, check out our COH & The Arts of Life Facebook album.