Art in Action is an annual festival launched by the Southside Solidarity Network, a University of Chicago student group; now in its third year, the event has blossomed into a full day of music, hands-on art, and community discussions where both students and the local community can “have a good time in a safe place,” according to UofC third-year Caroline Weiss. Numerous stands were scattered across the backyard of the First Presbyterian Church at 64th and Kimbark last Saturday, with everything from face painting and T-shirt spray painting to encouraging students registered in the state of Illinois to go out and vote. There was also an eclectic array of activities organized by students and local residents, such as a discussion titled “Hip Hop & Youth,” in which festival organizer Reola Avant and South Side hip-hop artist H.B. Sol led a conversational seminar on the differences between hip-hop culture and the music industry. Student volunteers played with and entertained neighborhood children, and at least for this day there were attempts to breach the wall that often separates the campus from the rest of the neighborhood.
As Clare Johnson, one of the students involved in organizing the event, explained, the festival has grown since its first installation as a student project; these days its organizing committee consists of students as well as other members of the Hyde Park, Woodlawn, Kenwood, and Bronzeville communities. Deborah Taylor, a Kenwood resident, is one such member and described the festival as a first step in improving the relationship between the University and the surrounding neighborhoods, which she characterized as strained.
While the general sentiment of the festival was one of cooperation–the ambiance was both relaxed and cheerful–there was nonetheless an underlying tone of cynicism coming from certain students who implied that this was all “idyllic in theory” but that it didn’t serve any practical purpose in improving the University’s relationship with the community. But the fact that a couple hundred students were able, if only for a day, to meet and bond with local residents served as proof that some members of the University are not only aware of and sensitive to their surroundings, but are also interested in taking the first step in bettering their relationship with their neighbors.