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Feature Mon Jul 26 2010
[Editor's note: This article was submitted by freelance writer Michael Moreci.]
All photos courtesy of Ag47
Reaching out to children, as a mentor, is never an easy thing. But the difficulty of finding a common ground works both ways. Often, children have trouble communicating fully with adults; they feel that their voices aren't heard, their opinions not appreciated, or they simply aren't comfortable opening up in the first place. The women who run Ag47, a Logan Square arts mentorship program catering to pre-teen and teenage girls, never take these communication gaps for granted.
"All the girls come because they love the idea of being listened to, being heard by an adult," Executive Director Virginia Killian Lund said.
Ag47 is more than a mentorship program. The foundation of reaching out to children on a creative level is what fosters an environment of expression and the idea that everyone has a story to tell, everyone has a unique perspective on the world. Having just wrapped up its first six-week session, the program is off to a quick start. And the result of this inaugural run? An inspiring collection of photographs, paintings, and poems that is currently touring the city.
The women who started Ag47, including Lund, had all worked together before, with a different mentorship program. When that program closed, the big question was, what next?
"Some of us began thinking, if we were to do something on our own, what would it look like?" Lund said. "What excited us was being an arts collective, bringing in the skills of the adult mentor with the skills and interests of the girls."
The theme of Ag47's inaugural workshop was "How Do You Share the World?" The idea behind such a question is perfectly fitting to Ag47's intents. According to Lund, what's important in reaching out to these girls is getting them to understand how distinctive their voices are; most of the girls live in Logan Square and come from similar working-class backgrounds. Yet despite that, they don't realize that they process similar experiences in very different ways. This understanding unlocks both the artist and the individual.
"It's about drawing the girls out, then stepping back and letting them be in the forefront," Lund said.
The first showing of the girls' work, which took place at the Dispatch Art Center in Bucktown, was a success. Many pieces of the original artwork were sold, including selections from a mural created by all the girls, collectively. The finished piece became a statement on the collaborative nature of art; how voices, inspiration, and culture all tend to blend into a single piece, whether it's recognized or not.
Selling the pieces to outside individuals became an important ambition to Ag47's mentors. Not only because of the funds raised, but because of the message it sent.
"We want the girls to know that what they are making can have value to other people," Lund said. "We're giving not just an opportunity to be heard, we're giving other people the chance to think 'wow, a 11-year-old girl has something interesting to say.'"
This feature is supported in part by a Community News Matters grant from The Chicago Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. More information.