Young Cultural Stewards Fellowship

Chicago Park District’s Young Cultural Stewards (YCS) critically and creatively engage art, technology, and media to become advocates and caretakers of their parks, neighborhoods, and communities. Young Cultural Stewards cultivate: 

Cultural Stewardship 

  • Reframe public parks as sites for cultural organizing and creative capacity building
  • Build 21st century skills of creativity, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking

Civic Engagement

  • Cultivate the development of positive self-identity, community, and solidarity
  • Nurture the capacity to imagine change and the willingness to work for it
  • Practice culture making as a tool for social change

Community Safety

  • Foster trust, vulnerability, and the development of interdependent relationships
  • Utilize restorative and transformative justice to address harm and create accountability
  • Provide job training, career readiness, and building the capacity of youth as leaders and lifelong change makers

Using the framework from ArtsXIII as a launching off point, Young Cultural Stewards Fellowship is a program co-created by Irina Zadov and Mallory Muya under the general leadership of Meida McNeal. The Young Cultural Stewards Fellowship (YCSF) engages youth (ages 12-14) as caretakers of culture and agents of change within their parks and neighborhoods. With regional hubs in Willy B. White, Piotrowski, and Tuley Park, youth explore what culture and community mean to them while developing skills in cultural preservation, organizing, and building creative platforms for social change. YCS fellows grow their civic imaginations and practice cultural strategies to address issues impacting their communities.

If We Build It

In the inaugural launch of the Young Cultural Stewards Fellowship, youth gathered in three parks to meet with artists, each with their own unique cultural organizing practice, to learn strategies in finding and hearing the stories already being told in their communities, and amplifying these stories in a creative platform. Through the radical funding of Crossroads Fund, youth received an honorarium for their time and were given a budget to end their fellowship by integrating what they learned from artists to curate their own community gathering. Each event was planned with these guiding questions in mind:

  • Which cultures do we participate in? Create? Resist? Transform? 
  • What impact do we intend to have in our communities? How do we measure this impact? 
  • What is community-based art? In what ways is it similar to / different from community organizing? 
  • How can we hold ourselves / communities accountable?
  • What are some ways artists can be held accountable to the communities they work with and vice versa?

Made Possible by the creative and dedicated work of: David Anthony Guiry, Patricia Nguyen, William Carmargo, Irina Zadov, Mallory Muya and guest artists: Ciera Mckissick, Tempestt Hazel, Maria Gaspar, Amara – Rebel Betty, Kuumba Lynx, Jasmine Barber, Monica Trinidad, Jackie Carmen Guerrero

Emergent Strategy

The second YCSF cohort, was built around adrienne maree brown’s book Emergent Strategy and pulled at the following threads:

  • Moving at the speed of trust
  • Resiliency and transformation
  • Shaping change
  • Who we are at the small scale is who we are at the large scale
  • The pace and pathways of change
  • Creating more possibility

In each park, young people took part in circle-keeping, movement, dialogue, and art-making to plan community gatherings that reflected their time in the fellowship looking to nature to learn how to work towards personal and social transformation through the emergent strategy principles. Curriculum was designed around principles in biomimicry, a principle that can be described as mimicking natural and ecological systems to lean into new ways of being and doing.

Made Possible by the creative and dedicated work of: Juarez Hawkins, Mykele Deville, Sojourner Zenobia, Peregrine Bermas, Amara – Rebel Betty, Jenna Anast, Irina Zadov, Mallory Muya

The Art of Flocking

The third cohort deepened what was built from Emergent Strategy in The Art of Flocking. The project included a series of public programs and community exhibitions for Chicago youth exploring the history and impact of Mexican-American public artist Hector Duarte and Sapphire and Crystals, Chicago’s first and longest-operating black women’s artist collective.

The Art of Flocking Curriculum

While Mallory co-created the foundations of The Art of Flocking, she stepped away from that work and Chicago a month before the final programming coalesced. And watched the brilliant work of her collaborators continue to build and carry out the program.