“What Would You Do with a Million Dollars?”
Marissa Reyes describes the impetus for SPACE, or School Partnership for Art and Civic Engagement, a major education partnership with CPS.
SPACE—School Partnership for Art and Civic Engagement—is two years in the making, and came at a moment when a couple of things happened. A donor had challenged us to think about: What would you do with a million dollars? Always a great question to have to answer, and coming from a donor that was—It's just a great invitation to sort of rethink and reimagine our program. But the way she phrased it was that, "What would you do with a million dollars that would change and deepen the impact that you're making with Chicago youth?"
And so we took that question and sort of marinated it for about a year and a half and did some real deep dive into researching, into looking at: What is it that we're doing well? What are the strengths of our current programs? And where do we want to see ourselves stretching and innovating? And then we looked at other models elsewhere. We looked at what's happening in New York. We looked at what's happening on the West Coast. We looked at programs that are happening in Europe. And to really just began to piece together some of the elements that we admired in other institutions and sort of marry that with the research that we were doing around pedagogy and standards and what's happening in the education landscape in Chicago.
And so out of that process we knew that we wanted to really uptick the way we worked with artists. I mean, you know that artists have a specific way of looking at the world and asking questions. We know that there's a real hunger and a need for that kind of thinking, that kind of process in Chicago public schools.
And we also know that we wanted to work with high school students, building off of the strengths of our Teen Creative Agency, which is our in-depth creative youth development for teens here at the museum. We know that we wanted to work with youth because they have such a particular way of looking at and responding to the world around us. And we also know that there's a real need in Chicago Public Schools for new ways of catalyzing arts learning. And we also know that what had emerged from Chicago Public Schools is this requirement for civic education, and new models for getting—having kids think about their role as civic agents. So putting all of that together, what emerged was SPACE, or School Partnership for Art and Civic Engagement, which embeds a contemporary artist and his or her practice in the school, transforming spaces in the school into a site for creative and civic exchange, and actual—sort of creating an actual artist's studio inside the school, and then tapping sort of the entire school community—school, faculty, and students—to think about their role in making civic change. So along the way we're developing curriculum that's informed by contemporary art practices, by—and with a core team of the SPACE artists, the civics teacher, and the art teacher together, we're making—we're creating curriculum that really is putting us at the intersection of art and civic learning.