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West Town youth media center displaced by fire

Street-Level Youth Media is looking for program and office space after an early-morning fire on October 14 rendered uninhabitable its Neutral Ground Multimedia Center, 1856 W. Chicago.

“We’re all shaken,” said Street-Level executive director Manwah Lee. “Some of the youth who’ve been coming here for years see this as a second home. But we’re keeping our spirits up so we can move forward and rebuild Street-Level.”

For over ten years, the center’s computer lab has provided open access and homework help to neighborhood youth and served as a community technology center for West Town residents. The center has offered free media arts workshops year-round on video, radio, music, and graphic arts production, and housed a gallery to exhibit youth productions, a community space for screenings and performances, and a small recording studio.

Street-Level’s music and radio workshops are moving temporarily to a nearby recording studio, Lee said. The group is also continuing in-school and after-school programming at several elementary and high schools. A permanent exhibit to showcase Street-Level productions at two schools, “My Community Matters,” opened this spring at the Chicago Children’s Museum.

Lee hopes to find temporary or permanent space so Street-Level can resume its full schedule in January. “We want to continue to be a place where young people are able to access resources so they can develop their voice, so they can have an avenue to address the things they care about through media arts.”

Growing out of a grassroots youth video project, Neutral Ground opened in the early 1990s at a location where four gang boundaries intersected. Young people concerned about violence created a series of video letters which opened a dialogue between rival gang members.

Street-Level incorporated as a nonprofit in 1995. In 1998 the organization won the Coming Up Taller Award from the President’s Committee on the Arts for its innovative approach to arts education.

“Street-Level gives young people a real sense of what engagement really means,” said founder Paul Teruel, who is now director of community partnerships for Columbia College. “More than just making a video or a CD or a website, what does it mean to care about your community and your world.”

He added that “my first thoughts go to the youth.”


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Category: arts, media, West Town, youth


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