Engage! at Portage-Cragin

Librarian: Nanette Freeman

Participants discussed all five themes in six meetings. The total attendance for all of the meetings was 138 students.

Who the Teens Were

Nanette recruited teens by talking about the program to various teens who utilize the library. She hand-picked participants based on their enthusiasm and likelihood to commit. She continued her outreach by personally telephoning interested teens to remind them of upcoming Engage! meetings. The result was a group of teens who hailed from Chicago public schools around the city. The age group was also varied, combining to create a group of teens from a multitude of backgrounds and with a variety of different experiences.

Leadership Opportunities

  1. One week’s teens were asked to present a piece of art and/or information about the artist. Student volunteers researched and presented one of the images to the group of teens for discussion. The teens chose the “I Can Do It” image of Rosie the Riveter and gave detailed information regarding the time period of the image and the changing role of women during wartime. The teens went so far as to even prepare their own discussion questions for the group and helped facilitate discussion.

  2. Teens were given the opportunity to create their own personal art at each session. One ongoing project was decorating cigar boxes that could then be used to showcase the teens’ individual style and hold items that held meaning for them. This project was introduced by the visit of a local artist, who presented a collection of her own cigar boxes and spoke to the teens about the importance of expressing oneself artistically. Teens gathered one hour prior to the regularly scheduled Engage! meeting and listened to music while decorating their boxes. It was a continued chance for teens to talk about their creations and art itself without adult interjection. The freedom inherent in this type of creative process was popular with the teens, and Nanette noticed a rise in attendance numbers as teens seemed eager to share with one another in a safe space while making art.

Tangible Opportunities to Engage! with Ideas or Materials

At every single Engage! session, teens were offered some type of reflective and hands-on activity. Some stand-out projects included:

  1. One example of a successful session focused on the Romare Bearden image The Dove, a collage piece. Nanette was aware of the artist’s personal love of jazz and used this session to introduce the teens to some jazz while discussing the image and how it related to the style and tone of the music. Nanette shared supplemental images from artists also working in the collage medium and teens discussed the disjointedness of the two art forms. In order to further the teens’ understanding of the collage medium, they participated in a game of Exquisite Corpse, which is a method by which a collection of words or images is collectively assembled. Each collaborator adds to a composition in sequence, either by following a rule (for example, the sequence “adjective noun adverb verb adjective noun”) or by being allowed to see the end of what the previous person contributed.
    Hands-On Activity: The teens were then given the opportunity to create their own collage images using actual pictures of themselves. The results reflected the same theme of disjointedness or collection. Having the ability to actually insert their own images into their creations was an especially effective tool for personalizing their creations.

  2. Another interesting phenomenon that occurred as a result of the Engage! program was triggered by a piece of promotional material Nanette had displayed in the window of the library. She was inspired by a project by artists from the Art Institute of Chicago, where members of the community donated old dolls that were then transformed by the artists into works of art. The artist’s doll in the window had been converted into a bug, and the students, after weeks of art discussion and activity in the program, were so inspired that they initiated a project themselves by asking Nanette if they too could try their hand at turning a doll into a work of art.
    Hands-On Activity: After members of the library community donated dolls, Nanette let the teens decide what direction they would take their own transformations in. Teens worked on their creations in their free time and brought them into sessions to share with the group. One girl in the Engage! sessions was so inspired that she created a doll a week. The girl’s mother claimed that she had not recognized any artistic talent or interest in the teen prior to the project. Teens utilized a multitude of materials to personalize their creations, and the dolls were displayed throughout the library for the duration of the Engage! program.