‘Now is the Time’ initiative aims to remedy youth violence with the arts
Published: Friday, May 4, 2012
Updated: Monday, August 27, 2012 16:08
Although the great social issues of youth violence and intolerance have existed much longer than they have been publicized, the effort to combat such issues has gone largely ignored.
This is where the joint initiative ‘Now is the Time’ steps in. Shared by the Chicago Public Library, anti-bigotry educational organization Facing History and Ourselves, and Steppenwolf Theatre Company, the initiative announced on the morning of Monday, April 30 aims to begin dialogues regarding social activism and civic responsibility among Chicago’s youth.
The three-year project in the making has its roots in one specific event. Artistic and Education Director for Steppenwolf Young Adults, Hallie Gordon, was emotionally struck by the murder of 16-year-old Chicago South Side high school student Derrion Albert. Most shocking was how Albert’s brutal beating was documented on video, which was highly circulated and brought on national attention.
The negative use of social media then brought the issue of youth violence to the forefront, which inspired Gordon to start talking to others about the issue. Gordon recalls how DePaul English professor Miles Harvey was interested in starting an oral history class at the time (which has now existed for two years) and the people at the Chicago Public Library as well as theatre directors at other theatre companies shared the same concerns.
“How the murder of Derrion unfolded and how youth violence and intolerance exists is so disserving,” said Gordon. “The Chicago Public Library and Facing History and Ourselves have been partners with Steppenwolf in other areas before and with awareness of these issues we sought to come together to make a difference.”
Thus far, major projects underway include Facing History and Ourselves hosting the multimedia exhibit Choosing to Participate at the Harold Washington Library Center, workshops on digital media creation by Chicago Public Library’s teen learning space YOUmedia , author Murkus Zusak of “The Book Thief” (the 2012 selection for One Book, One Chicago) visiting the Chicago Public Library to interact with others about his book that explores the youth’s potential as civic participants, Steppenwolf’s stage adaptation of “The Book Thief” as part of the theater’s Steppenwolf for Young Adults program, and oral histories about youth violence compiled city-wide by DePaul University students in Harvey’s class will be used to create a play at Steppenwolf that will make a library tour.
Using the arts as a means to fight against these issues of concern is a new approach to tackling inherent problems in modern society.
“The arts provide an outlet for kids to not make bad choices. It gives them something positive to focus on and a safe place so that they’re not out on the street,” said Gordon. “A lot of times people join gangs because it’s like a family. With bullying and gay bashing in schools, it’s reached its peak for me. A lot of the schools the program targets don’t have arts programs.”
Gordon insists that it is important to note that ‘Now is the Time’ is anything but exclusive. “Although there is an urgency in lower income schools, what we hope to show is that it’s a city-wide endeavor,” said Gordon. “We have to reach all neighborhoods to achieve a common understanding. The issue is more complex than a kid born to be violent.”
The drive to bring awareness to these long-ignored issues is what the initiative ‘Now is the Time’ hopes to continue fueling in the long run.
“My hope is that we can bring a city together with all of its resources and gain collective knowledge through dialogue,” said Gordon. “The kids must come first. Coming from a civic and arts perspective, we see how the arts benefits kids and it’s amazing how it provides a saving grace.”
The urgency behind ‘Now is the Time’ is the hope that society will have a harder time pushing aside such social issues any longer.