ROGERS PARK — The Rogers Park Art Alliance is working to get a new arts-focused pilot program up and running in Far North Side neighborhood schools by the fall — and they're asking the community for their help.
By raising $8,000, the alliance wants to put 12 working artists from different mediums into Rogers Park classrooms for one year at no extra cost to schools, according to Vanessa King, an alliance member and former art teacher with Chicago Public Schools in Old Town.
The program, known as Sidekick Arts, aims to empower student and teachers "to cultivate a stronger community and connection between artists and neighborhood schools; one where students feel inspired, teachers feel supported and artists feel accomplished," it says on their IndieGoGo fundraising site.
As of Wednesday morning, the campaign had raised almost $1,600.
By working with artists from across a variety of forms — performance, visual, graphic, painting, music — students will boost critical and creative thinking skills, get better overall grades and schools will have higher graduation rates, according to the group.
Sidekick Arts inside Kilmer Elementary School in Rogers Park. [Vimeo]
The Far North Side has become increasingly recognized for its ability to attract artists from around the city, a trend Sidekick hopes to keep going, King said.
"Rogers Park and the local artists there are really doing a great job of growing and expanding and trying to connect the community, so I feel like that neighborhood in particular is a great place to start — because it has so many artists there that are willing to share what they know," she said.
Although some other schools have participated in arts-centered programs, King said many occur after school hours or come at a cost to already tightly-stretched school budgets.
"The arts curriculum in especially elementary schools in Chicago, they don't often get art every day or for a full year, so anything extra I think is beneficial," King said.
Several artists have already signed on to work with Sidekick, but King says the organization is still accepting applications for open slots.
So far, King said her organization is trying to work with Sullivan High School and Kilmer Elementary School, both neighborhood CPS schools in Rogers Park for the program's pilot year.
"Kilmer Elementary especially has been really helpful," she said, noting the arts alliance recently sent artists into Kilmer to film a promotional video for Sidekick. "The art and music teacher there was really excited, and really welcoming, and just really wanted to help make this happen" for the students.
Kilmer music teacher Andrew McGuire agreed, saying his students "beamed with pride" after seeing their artistic feats in the video.
"It was a wonderful experience for them and us," he said.
After the online fundraising officially ends, King says donors can still send funds through the IndieGoGo website past the deadline. But, she said, the alliance will have to "get creative" with other ways to engage the community and raise the funds needed to get local artists into classrooms.
Ultimately, the group's goal is to create a database of local artists that schools can use to look up specific teachers that would would jive best with the class.
"It just opens up a new world" for students, King said. "It's difficult for teachers to enhance their art curriculum because they have very little time and small budgets in order to do this, so if the community can kind of come together and give them this extra push I think that would not only benefit the school but also the community."
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