Leah Ra’Chel Gipson’s Chicago
by Micco Caporale (MA 2018)
When Leah Ra’Chel Gipson (MA 2010) moved to Chicago to study at SAIC in 2008, hope felt palpable; she was on a path to turn her passion for art, community engagement, and social justice into a career. Now an assistant professor in Art Therapy and a practicing art therapist, Gipson’s way of navigating the city is shaped by her love of open spaces and her professional path. This is her Chicago.
It’s a beautiful park, and it can be a really quiet place to unwind. There are geese that you have to move around because that’s their territory. Or there are golfers riding around or kids running around. If you’re up for it, you can jog. It feels really open, and that can be a break from a lot of the congestion in the city. That’s something I really love about the West Side: the parks and the amount of space.
Austin Town Hall
This has become one of my favorite places because it’s a place where you get to see Black kids playing. It’s being rehabilitated right now, and you can see the life coming back to this beautiful community. I was walking around with a teen group I work with. It was kinda rainy, but we were taking photos, and one of the teens from the neighborhood just started tagging along with us. It’s a space that’s about joy and celebration and playfulness that contrasts a lot of negative stories about Black youth.
I go there for a radio show called Divisive that I do once a month with Craig Harshaw (MFA 1992). I think it’s a great place that says a lot about a space’s possibilities: exhibitions, radio shows, events. Sometimes the events and the radio shows are happening at the same time, and that can be interesting if you’re doing a live broadcast. Co-Prosperity Sphere represents a landscape of collaboration for me.
Brown or Gray Buildings
The traditional places where therapy happens are not terribly exciting. While those spaces aren’t for people to visit and enjoy like other places in Chicago, they give a level of truth to who we are and where we are right now in terms of humanity. When I think about a brown or a gray building, people might not know what those buildings are for and that there are social services happening there. The invisible work that’s happening all of the time there—there’s space for us to talk about that or to transform the way that people’s stories are marginalized or silenced by physical space. Maybe we can make an intervention.