A wide shot of a ceramics studio, featuring students working with pottery wheels and other tools.

Day of Service at Homan Square: Integrating Art into Community Building

The registration deadline to volunteer is Friday, March 23. Sign up and get more info at saic.edu/homansquare. One more info session will be held on Thursday, March 22, at 4:00 p.m. in the Sharp Building, room 205.

I sat down with The Office of Engagement’s Community Research Fellow, Nicolás Rodriguez (MAAAP 2018), and the Oaks of North Lawndale Research Associate, Taykhoom Biviji (MA 2017), to discuss Day of Service, the different volunteer opportunities, and how the event has changed in the past three years.

How did each of you get involved in Day of Service?

Nicolás Rodriguez (NR): I’m currently finishing my time in the Master of Arts Administration and Policy (MA) program. In our classes, it’s very natural to have guest speakers. Paul Coffey, who is Taykhoom’s boss and Dean of Community Engagement, came to our Management Studio class to talk about their work at Homan Square. That’s when I became a bit curious.

Back then, Taykhoom was a second-year Arts Admin student. He saw that interest and started to kind of push me to learn more about our community there. That opened me up to contacting Jaclyn Jacunski, my current boss [and Research Assistant for the Shapiro Center]. I jumped in during the Fall semester of 2017, assisting Taykhoom and Jaclyn in their projects. When he graduated I absorbed that position.

Taykhoom Biviji (TB): I got involved with Homan Square as part of a Management Studio project, which is a core class in the Arts Administration and Policy program, in the Fall of 2015. This eventually led to me working the first Day of Service in Spring of 2016. I started off as a volunteer. For my first day, I painted a stairwell in Nichols Tower. I ended up working there the Summer of 2016 as the Homan Square Community Coordinator. Spring of 2017 is when I managed my first Day of Service, Nicolás was also on board by then.

What goes into planning the event?

TB: We use the last day of Critique Week. Most classes are done. Undergrads are completely free and grad students are done with critiques.

NR: Homan Square has kind of informally become the community engagement wing for the Arts Admin program, also for the community of SAIC at large. In the beginning, it began with this idea to have classes there, then projects like Day of Service came along. Two years later, it’s become a very robust thing. We have gotten a grasp of the impact of arts in the community, and we are able to dig deep into that. So for this third year, we want to aim at two things: one is very traditional service projects, like muscle-based stuff. Cleaning gardens, painting walls, reorganizing libraries. Elbow grease is required.

TB: There are also projects that require skills that art students do have. It could be designing a flyer, or making a brochure or a sign. Or something like remaking signs for the community park.

NR: Each semester, we have two or three degree classes that happen at Homan Square. This semester, we have the luck of having Miguel Aguilar’s Sprayrunners, Street Art, and Body Training class and Leah Gipson’s Explorations in Community-Based Art Practices.

All of the faculty and students from those classes are going to be involved in the projects, they’re going to lead projects while the volunteers initiate conversations. That’s kind of how the trajectory of the past two years has informed this third year.

TB: Last year, the main focus for Day of Service was building community partnerships, to reach out to the Homan Square community like the Chicago Youth Centers, to create a foundation for Day of Service, like a guidebook: things we’re sure of like where we get the food from, where the buses are, how we work, our communications system. Nicolás designed this beautiful poster last year with this teal color, which has been this overarching color for the event. This teal, now when you think of it, you think of Day of Service. He’s creatively looking at this and not just as a structure. That says something about our programming and as artists. We can look at existing errors, see where gaps are and keep filling those gaps creatively.

I’m sure whoever does this next year will be like ‘let’s push this further, push our commitment in the community further and push our responsibilities further’ and see what more can we do next year. And I think that’s really exciting, responding and bringing more people in and giving more opportunities to volunteer.

How does being in the Arts Administration and Policy program inform what you’re doing with Day of Service?

NR: The thing about the Arts Admin program is that it has an outreach-based focus, it’s not a classroom-centered program. From the first semester, you’re reaching out by working with organizations and creating projects. That approach, that perspective informs heavily what happens in SAIC at Homan Square and how we approach Day of Service.

TB: Something that Kate Dumbleton encourages, who is someone I really admire as a professor in Arts Administration, is the focus on listening. Our partnerships, collaborations, and Day of Service is so informed by waiting and listening to community members and their needs, going to schools and organizations -- whether they are a daycare center or a large organization that works in employment -- and just giving them time to think about what they would like to utilize from us.

Why North Lawndale?

TB: SAIC has made a commitment to the North Lawndale community. The school was invited there about five years ago by community members. They wanted a space for an art and design center there. At that time, Walter Massey was president. When he came on, he wanted to know what projects SAIC was doing and how we were participating in the city. He preferred that we have an institutional commitment.

One of our core values is Chicago, the City of Chicago, the name itself. It goes about seeing that we are a majestic city and we are a beautiful city but we have our own urban contradictions and complexities. We decided not to do dilettante projects all across the city, but put all our resources and all our skills in this neighborhood, as long as we’re needed and as long as the community wants us there. So, it only makes sense that Day of Service also be at North Lawndale. We are a part of this, this is our city so we need to work with citizens and make this city what everybody wants it to be.

Out of Day of Service, we have national collaborations starting to take place. Some students who went to volunteer at Homan Square totally had never been there. Some of them had never left the Downtown Loop area. They were so excited and met people, they met Chicagoans for the first time. Only 8% of SAIC students are Chicago residents. Everybody's from somewhere else.

What kind of volunteer work have you done in the past?

NR: For international students, volunteer work is so important, it’s taken very seriously here in the US. When you come from places like Colombia, there’s always some sort of continuing state of crisis. Everyone has to gather around to make a collective response to that.

TB: I’ve done service projects in Mumbai, and the most common ones are the cleanup programs: clean up the beach and basically pick up trash. And those are very important, it’s like the first step. So getting the chance to think about what more we can do and how we can build the community, to see new collaborations happening is truly a great opportunity. And that’s a part of service right? Making sure that students get to have a fulfilling experience.


Interview by Mallory Somera (MANAJ 2018)