Arts-Tech Learning Center – Why Not in Every Neighborhood?

Last Friday I attended a networking event hosted by Connect Chicago, where Street Level Youth Media and The Little Black Pearl showcased work they were doing with young people. Below is a video shown by Armand Morris, of Little Black Pearl.

As I looked at this I thought of the video club hosted by Cabrini Connections from 1995 to 2011, while I was leading the organization. Students produced videos like this, with the help of volunteers and donated equipment.  I was thrilled to see the type of space Little Black Pearl, located on Chicago’s South Side, at 47th Street and Greenwood Avenue,  has for its student learners, made possible by the Best Buy Foundation and several other corporate sponsors.  Street-Level Youth Media is located on Chicago’s North side, at 1637 N. Ashland Avenue (although it also provides programs in many public schools), also has generous corporate and foundation support.

In addition, as I listened to these two organizations, I had two other wishes. 1) I’d love to find a map showing locations of non-school organizations with layers of data showing non-school arts/tech and/or STEM focus program sites. 2) I’d also love to see planners and donors reach out to existing tutor/mentor locations in Chicago to offer help in adding an arts/tech/ program at their sites.  I created this Virtual Corporate Office presentation to show how volunteers could help make this happen.

At the right is a map-image from the Chicago Tutor/Mentor Program Locator, created by my organization in 2008, based on work I’d been doing since 1993. When this site is working properly (lack of funds/volunteers), you can click on a green star and get information about a youth serving organization that includes volunteer-includes tutoring/mentoring as part of its program design. 

The information has been collected via a programs survey started in 1994 and updated annually (until 2011).  You can sort the directory by type of program (pure tutoring, pure mentoring, tutor/mentor (which often includes arts/tech), and you can sort by age group served (elementary, middle, high school).  You can zoom into neighborhoods, and add layers showing indicators of need (poverty, poor schools, etc.) and assets who could help programs in the area grow (business, hospital, universities, etc.).  I recognized several years ago that adding layers of information showing arts/tech would enable users to know where such programs were located, and where more are needed, but I’ve never found the resources/partners to build this level of understanding.

On the Mapping for Justice blog I’ve been posting articles pointing to other data portals. I also created a concept map, showing some of the portals I have found.

Using various map platforms, community organizers, including  youth, could create maps, and map-stories that focus attention on existing tutoring, mentoring, arts/tech programs, and focus attention on the need for on-going operating resources to keep these available, or to help new programs grow in other places.  

While I’ve been giving this message for almost 20 years, too few people are hearing this invitation from me (see media stories), and too few leaders are using maps and visualizations to lead on-going discussions aimed at filling all high poverty neighborhoods with a wide range of age-appropriate learning, mentoring, arts and technology programs.

Which prompts me to share some reflection on an effort held last week and organized by #CLMOOC members Terry Elliott (from Kentucky) and Joe Dillon (from Denver).  

Through this blog article Joe introduced the activity, showing how people could add text to photos, to stimulate thinking, or just to entertain. 

Then, last week Joe and Terry hosted a Google hangout and a Twitter chat, which was archived in this Storify post.  

Finally, on Sunday, Joe wrote this post to offer a reflection on the week’s efforts. 

Joe wrote, “Going into this experiment, I was curious to see how a pop-up make cycle might impact the #clmooc #clmooc Twitter feed, orthe G+ community. For a MOOC, the impact was pretty small. Maybe that’s an indication that teachers are busy (surprise, surprise), or that political memes aren’t a topic of sufficient interest in our community to generate a lot of activity on little or no notice. Mostly, I think the jury is still out. I’m often interested in the interactions that take place in the channels of #clmooc when the MOOC isn’t taking place. Going forward, if political memes and social annotation become more of a mainstay in those channels, then perhaps that will indicate some type of impact.

I spend time in this type of learning and networking because I’ve always gained a few new ideas that I could apply in the tutor/mentor programs I’ve led, or in my work with Tutor/Mentor Institute,LLC.

However, I’ve found it very difficult to engage consistently with leaders, volunteers and supporters of Chicago area volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs on Twitter, Linkedin or Facebook. Probably, because they are “too busy” with the work of connecting youth and volunteers, and collecting information to convince donors to continue supporting them.

I’ve also found very few leaders from any city using maps to talk about ways to reach kids in all poverty neighborhoods, or  using concept maps/visualizations like the one below, to show the wide range of learning supports that are needed in many neighborhoods.

I met Joe, Terry and others by participating in a few cMOOCs over the past few years.  I keep posting articles like this and attending networking sessions such as the Connect Chicago event, with the goal of building on-line conversations, including strategically timed cMOOCs, that draw stakeholders together and talk about how we help existing tutor/mentor, arts/tech programs to thrive, while providing information that helps new programs grow in other places.

During last week’s chat I shared some of my map-stories, showing that this is a form of annotation that anyone could be doing, then suggested to Joe, that he and his students in Denver might duplicate my work in that city.  I’ve suggested the same to others who I network with because major cities throughout the US and the world have pockets of isolated poverty and thus could apply a Tutor/Mentor Connection type strategy in their own cities.  Rather than reinvent the wheel, my hope is that some will reach out to offer help for what I’ve been building since 1993, with the goal of borrowing what we build to use in their own cities.

I wrote an article last May, titled “After the Riots, Do the Planning“, and included this annotated 1993 Chicago SunTimes article.  At this link you can see map stories I’ve created since 1994. These could be duplicated, over and over, by students and volunteers from many places.

This needs to happen.

It will take the constant effort of many people, in many cities, to build the type of awareness and financial support needed just to engage more leaders in on-going, and on-line, discussions focused on strategy, program design, revenue generation, etc.  It will take an even greater effort to build a flow of talent, dollars and ideas needed to duplicate programs like Little Black Pearl and Street-Level Youth Media in hundreds of locations.

I hope you’ll share this story through your own networks and that we’ll connect in coming weeks on one of the different social media platforms where I’m active.