The story of women is the story of America, so it’s appropriate that this year’s Women’s History Month theme is “Celebrating Women Who Tell our Stories.” From writers and podcasters to musicians and artists, women are crucial to chronicling our history and culture.
In Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood, Charlie Branda uses art to connect residents and help them to tell their stories. Charlie is the founder and executive director of Art on Sedgwick in Related Midwest’s Marshall Field Garden affordable housing community. The art center is part of our commitment to help foster spaces for residents to come together as a community such as our investment in Project H.O.O.D. and our event series at Northpoint Apartments.
Art on Sedgwick offers art classes and collaborative events not only to residents in Marshall Field Garden, but also to the greater Old Town community. Charlie Branda envisioned the space as a location where the neighborhood’s diverse residents could get to know each other through art. She believes art has the power to bridge the gap between affordable housing residents and their neighbors.
In 2017, Charlie brought together sixth graders from private Catherine Cook School and public Manierre Elementary for “the kite project.” Students took photos of each other and used these images to craft kites. Through art, the children were able to get to know their peers from the other school whom they may have not met otherwise. Collaborative projects such as the kite project foster a stronger sense of community and empathy.
Charlie also started Peace Circles as a way to facilitate productive conversations between children and teens. She says there were tensions in the area between youth, so the Circles were an opportunity to build a safe space for them to talk through their problems. In one instance, several teen girls who had an argument were brought in to speak with a Peace Circle consultant and together created a process for them to move beyond their disagreement.
Next on the docket for Art on Sedgwick is helping facilitate the Old Town Portrait Project, an initiative from founding board member and local artist John Bakker. The project, which was partially sponsored by the Related Affordable Foundation, involves Bakker painting portraits of the diverse Chicagoans that call Old Town home, and builds on Art on Sedgwick’s commitment to creating an inclusive neighborhood. The portraits of community members will celebrate the contributions of all community members across different income levels.
We can’t wait to see the portraits and the other pieces of art that come out of Art on Sedgwick, and the story they tell about the residents of Old Town.