Medill School of Journalism


Jazz singer Cassandra Wilson leads the Kenwood Academy Concert Choir during a jazz concert last Friday at the University of Chicago’s Rockefeller Chapel.

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Nonprofits work in harmony to provide arts programs for CPS students
by Marissa Mitchell
Sep 29, 2009

When Kenwood Academy High School senior Edwin Davis belted out notes alongside Grammy-winning jazz singer Cassandra Wilson at the University of Chicago’s Rockefeller Chapel recently he beamed at the real-life experience that previously existed in his dreams.

“I thought that nothing like this could ever happen… I would sit back and watch concerts and say, ‘Man I wish something like that would happen to me,’” said the 17-year-old student. He and a handful of members of the Kenwood Academy Concert Choir sang Friday at a kickoff concert for the Hyde Park Jazz Festival.

Thanks to a collaboration of two South Side nonprofit groups, the Yoruba Arts Foundation and the Hyde Park Alliance for Arts and Culture, Davis was able to participate in a two-week, afterschool workshop with the star that culminated in the jazz festival concert.

Nonprofit involvement in school arts programs shows ways that community groups are supplementing funds amid a sour economic market. The concert was primarily funded by donations and Wilson’s agreement to work with the students for free, said Oyekunle Oyegbemi, board president of the Yoruba Arts Foundation.

Glenda Zahra Baker of the South Side’s eta Creative Arts Foundation said her organization has felt the economic pinch. In order to meet her program’s goals, she said the group has expanded its arts programs to include sessions at North Shore surburban schools and in Chicago’s Catholic schools. She said more schools are requesting the $150 after-school drama class, instead of the in-school arts performances, which cost $200 per artist for a three-hour session.

Tarah Ortiz, program coordinator for the Urban Gateways Center for Arts Education performance programs, said the organization has experienced a 35 percent drop in Chicago-area schools’ requests for its traveling artist programs over the past two years. This year Urban Gateways will assist schools in finding funding to pay for arts programming, and has partnered with the San Francisco-based nonprofit, Music National Service to bring MusicianCorps, a new national “musical Peace Corps,” to Chicago.

Ortiz said nonprofits will continue to find harmony in increasing the arts in schools, so that students, like Edwin Davis, can reap invaluable benefits.

“Students should not just learn math and science, and look at things in right and wrong or black and white,” she said. “They need to have an outside-the-box approach to creative solutions.”