The Art in Making a Difference

Desiree Dylong, Assistant Arts and Life Editor


When walking through the streets of South Lawndale, in Little Village, one can see traces of graffiti lining public property. To some, the paint from the aerosol cans may be a mark from a delinquent; a kid who, just like plenty of those before him on Chicago’s west side, is headed towards a life of crime. But to the individuals who began the LuchArte project, the graffiti presented the idea to channel art in a positive way. LuchArte is a community-based project that is changing the lives of Latino youth, one painting at a time.
It started with Eddie Bocanegra, a student studying social work at Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU). Bocanegra understood the dire and violent situations that Latino youths faced in South Lawndale and wanted to present neighborhood kids with a positive outlet that would steer them away from a life of violence. His love of art, and also meeting kids who enjoyed tagging up walls led to the idea of creating a program that would provide an artistic outlet for youth.
Bocanegra sought out NEIU Assistant Professor of Social Work Dr. Francisco Gaytàn for guidance and a helping hand in getting the project started. LuchArte eventually teamed up with local nonprofit called Enlace Chicago to provide a location in Little Village for the kids to have their art sessions.
Dr. Gaytàn explained how many of these young teens that Bocanegra sought out to be in the art program were just on the cusp of joining gangs. He also explained the harsh circumstances these kids face in their daily lives such as coming from single parent households, having siblings who have joined gangs, and going to schools that don’t offer them the resources that will allow them to excel. With the combination of all the hardships that these kids go through, the LuchArte programs offer them a chance to participate in productive and creative activities and to see their true potential.
The LuchArte program has artists from all levels and not only does the program offer a creative outlet, it also offers youth the chance to sell their artwork. What’s more important is that these kids are given an opportunity to express themselves, and due to the limited resources their neighborhood and schools provides them, LuchArte gives them the chance they may have otherwise never gotten. It’s also the camaraderie and the support that helps to lift these kids up. Dr. Gaytàn described how the sessions provide the kids a “safe space” where they can have fun, be creative and receive positive attention from adults.
LuchArte will begin sessions again in September and welcome volunteers. Interested in volunteering with LuchArte? Feel free to send an email to Dr. Gaytàn at [email protected]