Young Cultural Steward Fellowship is a youth arts program operated by the Chicago Park District. This youth-led initiative cultivates young people (ages 12-14) as caretakers of culture and agents of change within their parks and neighborhoods. With regional hubs in Rogers Park at Willye B. White, Little Village at Piotrowski, and Chatham at Tuley Park; YCS empowers youth to explore what culture and community mean to them while developing skills in cultural preservation, organizing, and healing justice.
In 2019, YCS will collaborate with Englewood-based photographer, community activist, and Chicago Magazine’s Person of the Year, Tonika Johnson on an initiative entitled “Belonging.” This joint effort between the ArtSeed, YCS Fellows, Inferno, and TRACE programs will engage 6,000 youth across 100 Chicago parks to explore questions around belonging, acceptance, and interconnection. Youth will work in partnership with Johnson to engage their parks and neighborhoods through critical reflection of the boundaries and barriers young people face today as well as the places of welcoming and sanctuary they encounter within our hyper-segregated city. Belonging will culminating in a city-wide exhibition featuring artwork created by young people, which will be displayed alongside Tonika’s own explorations of belonging.
Lead Teaching Artist collaborate with Visiting Artists to co-facilitate a creative, healing, and liberatory space for YCS fellows (ages 12-14) and YCS Creative Core (ages 14-16). Teaching artists center the leadership of youth and engage restorative and transformative practices to address harm. They work in partnership with Chicago Park District staff including Irina Zadov, Senior Program Specialist and Najee-Zaid Searcy, Program Facilitator to develop curriculum, plan programming, and address challenges as they arise. In addition, Teaching Artists work closely with local park staff including Park Supervisors, Park Advisory Councils, community-based organizations, and schools to build awareness, support, and mutually beneficial relationships. Finally, YCS Teaching Artist work with ArtSeed, Inferno, and TRACE Teaching Artists and staff as part of the Culture, Arts & Nature Department of the Chicago Park District.