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 1991 artist Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle initiated a project in his West Town neighborhood as part of “Culture in Action,” a public art program of Sculpture Chicago aimed to express the concern of Chicago communities. With the cooperation of Wells High School and Community TV Network, they created a vast array of videos, presenting them on the street, at hot dog stands and settlement houses, as well as the Museum of Contemporary Art. The culminating event, entitled Tele-vecindario, was staged one summer evening in 1993 along a single block of Wood Street. This installation of 75 monitors took the form of a block party, while at the same time bringing to light issues played out daily—from gangs to gentrification—as it engaged residents and informed other Chicagoans attending.
The success of this and subsequent community-based public art projects inspired the formation of a collective formally established as 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. It has also inspired such artist-initiated social projects the world over.
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.
Urban Gateways gratefully acknowledges the support of the Abakanowicz Arts and Culture Charitable Foundation, which nurtures creativity as a dynamic force for overcoming violence and cultivating conscious citizenship in contemporary society.