When I was showing some of my Shared Spaces studies in Chicago last fall (at SOFA Chicago) a visitor, Mary Ferazza, became quite interested in the work, instantly seeing its meaning, and we agreed that she would do the necessary groundwork to help me create a Shared Spaces event this year on Chicago’s southside where she lives in a small arts enclave in Pullman. This former manufacturing center, for many years now a poor, crime-blighted area was of interest for lots of reasons, not the least of which was that Obama had his formative years here and that I felt it represented an important perspective in the American experience.
After lots of back and forth with Sargeant Regina Hightower in the Chicago PD who oversees public outreach activities in the area, a few dates and times were offered where the public would be gathered and I felt I could reasonably find a quiet place off to one side and draw some participants over to get involved with the project. When the dates and interest all seemed to line up for the All Schools Network Peace Rally, I didn’t think much about it - they really seemed to want me there and I assumed it would be a gathering of a few thousand students from area schools gathered to hear adults talk about “Peace” as a theoretical Mom and apple pie kind of thing.
While the event is still to come, June 7, I spoke with the organizers yesterday and understood that much more is going on than I had imagined. It turns out many of the schools are more than just metaphorically “at war” with each other, with gang and school-based violence a common and corrosive presence. Peace is hardly some theoretical approach for problems ‘out there’. Learning to live alongside people we may not like, who may have values we cannot accept is not theoretical at all. It will be real peacemaking, learning the hard paths of putting it into daily practice.
As such I am really glad they found the Shared Spaces project and grasped its ability to make concrete the situations these schools and students find themselves in. Pluralistic and competing, even conflicting values, finding a way to live alongside each other in some sort of dynamic whole. It’s a small step toward visualizing how our cherished worlds live alongside others in this Shared Space we call our city, our community, our country.
Very grateful to all who’ve been working to make this event come together, including Joyce Chapman the executive director of the event, Mary Ferazza my champion, Sargeant Regina Hightower of the Chicago PD, Dee Smith who’s offering me studio space, and more.
Update, May 21 - from today’s planning meeting, comments by Joyce Chapman that the newly elected Mayor of Chicago, Lori Lightfoot, has heard about the All Schools Network Peace Rally and may make an appearance. It would be a blast to meet her and would certainly make for some great photos at the Shared Spaces tent!