by Cat Debacker (MA 2019)
On March 30, SAIC’s third annual Day of Service went off without a hitch. Under the guidance of student leader Nicolás Rodriguez (MA 2018) and alum Taykhoom Biviji (MA 2017), around 100 volunteers set off to tackle the numerous projects in the North Lawndale neighborhood at Homan Square, where the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) operates a classroom space in Nichols Tower. “Last year’s project was about community building. This year it’s about finding that balance between service and the arts, bringing the art part of SAIC," states Rodriguez.
After a hearty breakfast of fruit, vegan muffins, and coffee, the students were shuttled off to their destinations for the day at the Chicago Youth Center's (CYC) Sidney Epstein Youth Center and the Better Boys Foundation (BBF). Some painted bathrooms and constructed art for the hallways at BBF, while others got down and dirty with gardening and cleaning tasks at the bLUMEN pavilion, or with the Gardeneers at Homan Rails Farm.
One of the most memorable parts of this year's Day of Service is the outdoor mural of former President Barack Obama requested on behalf of the CYC, whose Sunshine Garden Club won the President’s Environmental Youth Award in 2016 for their Peace Garden. The Barack Obama mural was designed by Elana Tenner (MA 2018) and painted with the help of Jenna Boyles (MFA 2018). This painting will be the newest addition next to the previously existing portrait of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Shelley Davis (BFA 2019), an undergraduate in the Film, Video, New Media, and Animation department, helped to clean up the Peace Garden at the CYC. She dutifully set aside her shears to share some thoughts about the School’s involvement with communities outside the Loop. “Most of the students aren’t from Chicago. I’m from Florida where we don’t have community or art centers like this. This gives people a perspective of what regular communities look like in Chicago and encourages youth to be more involved," Davis says.
At lunch, faculty coordinators and professors emphasized that courses and projects are offered at Homan Square year-round that are about and for the Chicago community. Jaclyn Jacunski (MA 2007), director of civic engagement at SAIC, is seeking to change the rhetoric of “off-campus” to generate a more inclusive form of the SAIC community.
Paul Coffey (BFA 1990), vice provost and dean of community engagement at the School, also stood up to share some words on the history of the Day of Service. It began with a challenge from Walter Massey to create sustained involvement in community service. Coffey’s ending sentiments reflected the whole of the School’s involvement with North Lawndale. “As much as we work with the community we’re being taught by the community," he says.