Everything that Street Level is today started from a simple idea. What if young people had video cameras to document the world as they saw it? What stories would they tell? What could they teach us? And how would the power of media arts technology affect them and their communities?
In the summer of 1993, two artists and a teacher collaborated with teens from a local West Town high school to produce Tele-vecindario, forty video installations that documented everything from gangs to their families to the gentrification of the neighborhood. The videos were projected at a neighborhood block party, organized by the artists and sponsored by Sculpture Chicago to initiate dialogue and encourage action around challenges faced by the community. The success of this and subsequent community-based public art projects inspired the collective to formally establish Street-Level Youth Media as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. After acquiring a storefront space, donated computers and software, and internet access, Street-Level Youth Media incorporated in 1995 to become one of the country’s first nonprofits to offer technology access and media arts training to urban youth. Three years later the organization won the inaugural Coming Up Taller award from President Clinton’s Committee for Arts and the Humanities for our innovative approach to arts education.
In January 2017, Street-Level Youth Media officially became a part of nonprofit arts education organization Urban Gateways. Urban Gateways engages young people in arts experiences to inspire creativity and impact social change; arts programs range from touring performances to artist residencies and apprenticeships. Visit www.urbangateways.org to learn more.
Today, Street Level (renamed from Street-Level Youth Media in 2018) remains committed to engaging young people in creative self-expression and critical thinking through media arts programming.
Street Level programs now include video production, audio and music production, stop-motion animation, digital photography, graphic arts, and new media. Street Level instructors lead classes and workshops at our multimedia center at 1637 North Ashland Avenue, and at partnering schools and community-based organizations throughout Chicago.