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Letter to the Editor: SAIC and Homan Square

By Letters, SAIC

Dear Managing Editor Sophie Lucido Johnson,

Samuel Schwindt’s article “Homan Square: The Corner of Corrupt Cops, Occupy Protesters, and … SAIC?” included concerns about [The School of the Art Institute of Chicago] in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood and specifically Homan Square. As the coordinator of SAIC’s Homan Square programming, I would like to take the opportunity to address these concerns and provide clarity.

In 2013, the Foundation for Homan Square invited SAIC to bring arts programming to its neighborhood of North Lawndale, which has experienced decades of city and disinvestment. The Foundation has been working since 1995 to improve the Homan Square campus and surrounding area, including the historic Nichols Tower. Through meetings with community organizations and local residents, the Foundation identified a number of services most needed in the neighborhood. One of those was access to art and art education, and SAIC was invited to join the partnership of organizations that would make up the Nichols Tower. SAIC now rents two floors in the tower and provides free arts programming to residents of all ages through Continuing Studies; space for SAIC classes focused on engagement with the community; and an artist in residence program for socially and civically engaged artists.
In Schwindt’s article, Jackson Morsey of UIC’s Great Cities Institute raised a criticism of bringing arts education to an area with pressing economic and social needs. While basic human services are essential, providing arts programming in North Lawndale does not replace addressing the needs Morsey mentioned. In fact, the collective of organizations in the Nichols Tower aims to be a holistic resource to the community and provides a diverse array of services, of which SAIC is only a part. These include vocational assistance and financial coaching; anti-violence and empowerment programming for youth; housing services; local business development; teen media production training; and educational support services for CPS students and parents.

Our platform is to strengthen both North Lawndale and our SAIC community through the arts and arts education. Community members have a voice in shaping our programming to make it relevant to them, including the development of courses in viable career fields including graphic design, audio production and podcasting, and fashion. SAIC degree-level courses offered at the tower are influenced strongly by the interests of faculty and students, who may request courses in particular disciplines.

I would like to emphasize that SAIC has no affiliation with the Chicago Police Department, aside from the Nichols Tower’s proximity to the adjacent CPD facility. When the Let Us Breathe Collective protested at Freedom Square, our team supported them with food donations, use of our classroom space, youth art workshops and engaged discussions with the Artists in Residence at the tower. Our goal is to be an open resource to all members of the community.

Finally, I work with an incredible team of people in Continuing Studies, the Shapiro Center, the Office of Engagement, SAIC students and across SAIC at large, in addition to our partners in North Lawndale, to make our programming happen. SAIC is honored to be part of such a dedicated group who are now welcome members of our SAIC campus.

Sincerely,

Jaclyn Jacunski

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