Most gallery walls are white and sterile, but not the South Side Community Art Center. The walls making up this building are vertical wooden planks filled with small holes. These walls have told many stories, each hole representing a piece of art that once hung on the wall.
On Thursday, September 12, Alliance for the Great Lakes staff and Young Professional Council (YPC) gathered at the South Side Community Art Center to honor one high school artist in particular, Nkonyeasua Osamor. He is the winner of the Clean Water Art & Storytelling Competition entitled Wave of Expression, an Alliance YPC Initiative.
As speakers Tim Oravec, 2018-2019 YPC Co-Chair, and Tyrone Dobson, Alliance for the Great Lakes Senior Volunteer Engagement Manager, told the group, this Arts & Storytelling Competition was judged based on each artist’s ability to thoughtfully address the theme Water & Community in Chicago.
The South Side Community Art Center served as an ideal place for guests and new and returning YPC members to mix and mingle. Visitors were also able to learn more about the history of the art center from Natalie Battles, Office Manager of the South Side Community Art Center, as well as further explore the building and artwork on display.
The South Side Community Art Center is a Chicago Historic Landmark. This building was opened under President Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) as a venue to showcase the work of African American artists. This historic landmark is the only such art center opened under the WPA to remain open in its original building.
Alliance President and CEO Joel Brammeier addressed the group, emphasizing the unifying power of water and the importance of supporting youth visions, with young people being the future of the environmental movement.
This July marked the centennial of the Race Riots that broke out after the murder of Eugene Williams, a 17-year-old Black youth who accidently drifted into an informally segregated “whites-only” swimming area at 29th St. Beach. Racial segregation and oppression ultimately erupted into violence, leaving 38 Chicagoans dead and over 500 injured. The winning submission by Nkonyeasua addressed the prompt to explore the connection between water and race in Chicago, both past and present.
Nkonyeasua is able to experience a freedom of expression through his art that he is not always able to experience with words. Detail and emotion pour out of his drawing. When speaking to the group, Nkonyeasua said that when creating the piece, he was not focused on the competition and eventual evaluation of his submission, but rather on “how much [he] could connect [his] feelings with this art.” Nkonyeasua also emphasized that he is able to empathize with Eugene Williams, as he is near his age and the same race, allowing Nkonyeasua to have “some sort of idea of how he must have felt.”
The Alliance for the Great Lakes would like to thank returning YPC members and welcome new YPC members. We greatly appreciate all of your hard work and look forward to your continued positive impact on the Great Lakes community.
The Alliance would also like to thank Nkonyeasua Osamor and all other artists who submitted pieces to our first-ever Arts & Storytelling Competition for sharing their thoughtful creative works.
By Olivia Reda, Volunteer Engagement Associate