The Museum of Contemporary Photography (MoCP) at Columbia College Chicago will receive a $20,000 award from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to aid MoCP’s Picture Me after-school photography mentorship program for high-school students. Picture Me develops Chicago teenagers as independent artists by cultivating skills to produce creativity. This aim coincides with NEA’s commitment for “advancing learning, fueling creativity, and celebrating the arts,” as Jane Chu, NEA chairman, puts it in the press release.
MoCP’s photography programs have been offered at three Chicago high schools for the past twelve years: Curie Metropolitan High School, Benito Juarez Community Academy and Nicholas Senn High School. About eighty students across these locations make up the Picture Me program, which runs approximately twenty-three weeks, Chaz Olajide, manager of marketing and communications at MoCP, explains in an email.
Students meet for five to nine hours each week where they receive “intensive instruction” and “are taught a strong foundation of technical skills,” Olajide adds. Putting instruction to practice, students have the opportunity to work independently on projects “to develop their creative voice and vision.” Picture Me is supplemented by museum visits and contact with guest artists and MoCP staff; students also look at and critique professional work. “This spring, students all created work based on photographs by seminal Chicago photographer Barbara Crane,” Olajide offers as an example. Picture Me concludes each spring with an exhibition called “Talking Back.” Held in the MoCP galleries, this exhibition features key works by program participants; students also have the opportunity to help edit and design the display of their work.
Given the variety this program offers, how will the awarded funds be allocated? Olajide says, “This funding will make it possible to more deeply enrich our students’ educational experience through visiting artists, field trips to cultural institutions, and the purchase of arts supplies and equipment, including cameras.”
MoCP’s $20,000 award is one of more than a thousand that the NEA will distribute throughout the U.S. during this funding period. According to Chu, “funding these new projects like the one from the Museum of Contemporary Photography represents an investment in both local communities and our nation’s creative vitality.” Indeed it does. “MoCP is embedded in [the] diverse cultural fabric of Chicago and adheres to values stated in the 2012 City of Chicago’s Cultural Plan: that all Chicagoans should have access to rich artistic experiences,” Olajide concludes. (Amy Haddad)