About Yollocalli Arts Reach

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Declaration of Immigration mural created by the students of Yollocalli Arts Reach.

Vanessa Sanchez is the director of Yollocalli Arts Reach in Pilsen. When Sanchez started out she was a student and then she became an intern, eventually working her way up to the role of director. The organization began in 1997 after The National Museum of Mexican Art purchased WRTE radio station on 18th and Loomis and they decided to create a youth arts program. Their most recent projects involve teaching mural making and mixed media to the youth in the community.

OTW: What mural projects has the organization been part of?
VS: We’ve done over 30 murals and our most well known is the one on our building, which is about immigration. It’s called declaration of immigration and it was based off of The National Museum of Mexican Art’s show about immigration and they had this manifesto, this declaration, so we took some of the verbage from that to create the piece that we have on our wall. We’ve done three murals for the YMCA on Blue Island and Western, they’re all inside, and the newest mural has digital media involved in it as well and sculptural elements. We’ve just also last year did a really large mural for the new Lurie Children’s Memorial Hospital downtown, we did a large mosaic for that. This past summer we did a mixed media installation mural with the help of Chris Silva on 18th street near Throop. He also then helped us create a mural for the 16th street wall with our young people.

OTW: Chris Silva, is he a muralist?
VS: He’s just a local artist, who currently lives in Chicago. He’s a well-known artist. He used to do a lot of work with found wood pieces so that was the kind of piece that he helped our young people do recently.

The name Yollocalli comes from an indigenous language in Mexico where “yollo” means heart and “calli” means house.

OTW: How do you guys choose who can become an instructor here? Is there a selection process or do they just have to qualify?
VS: I would say it’s people that we kind of know, that we’ve known as artist ourselves, and that we know the young people would be interested in. So it’s based on their style, or their technique. And we either will solicit them to see if they can work for us or sometimes they would ask to work for us as well. And lately not just the mural artists, but  other artists, if we are looking for a new artist then we put out a call. We’re now trying to have our young people select those artist programs. So now it’s really their investment and their input into what they want.

OTW:How did you guys get involved in the 16th street mural project?
VS:We actually were supposed to be involved last year with the resurrection project but they were not able to get the right permission from the railroad stations. So when Alderman Solis took over that initiative this past summer and was able to get permission and after he put out that call for proposals for artwork, we took it upon ourselves to see if we could get a spot on the wall. And that’s how it happened, you know, we spoke with the Alderman and he was all for having young people from the neighborhood put up artwork.

OTW: How long did that mural take to do?
VS: We did it pretty quickly actually. About 2 weeks, they had just finished six weeks of working with Chris [Silva] on the other mural on 18th street and Chris [Silva] then had them work on a design that all combines this one sort of shape and all the young people had to make a design with that one shape. So they put all those pieces together to make that image and then they just went to the wall and went for it. They were all pretty advanced youth that were working with him, all pretty much over 18 and so they already had experience kind of working and knew the process of working on the wall.

OTW: And how many of them were there working on the wall?
VS: 10.

OTW: Very cool. So what’s your take on the alley, alley art, or art in alleys?
VS: Yeah we were really excited about that. So [Danny] Solis and Lauren [Pacheco] gave us permission to then continue in our alleyways. Because the corner right across from us used to always get plastered with either other peoples street art or it was tagged a lot, so Lauren [Pacheco] kind of wanted to deter that and so I know she commissioned an artist to work specifically in that corner that leads to they alley. And so, she then gave us permission to continue onto those walls. So we made a call out to our young people that if they wanted to paint on these walls we would provide the materials for them, they just had to send us a drawing of they would want to do and a reason why they want to do it. And then our interns and myself helped select the pieces that we wanted to be in the alley.

And so we like being able to have our work in that space because a lot of community members cross through that alley. It’s just a quicker way to get from one place to another. So it’s kind of nice now that they have imagery or artwork to look at as they walk past.

OTW: And is it just that one alley or are there others on 18th?
VS: I’m not sure. So the artwork that was supposed to go up on 16th street last year, we were asking around the neighborhood, because we were already making on parachute cloth, the imagery and we had the image, we had everything, we just needed a place to put it. So we went to different businesses and [Taqueria Los] Comales, right there on 18th, was the one that gave us the thumbs up. And we thought it was the best space so that’s actually another piece that’s in an alley that gets used because people walk from the parking lot, through the alley, to go to [Taqueria Los] Comales. So it’s kind of nice that we have another piece there. I’m not sure about other places, but you know it’s a good thing. People use alleys, might as well beautify them as well.

“Reach for Peace,” a mural painted by the students of Yollocalli located in an alley near 18th Street and Ashland Avenue.

OTW: How do you want the youth to feel after they leave this program or what do hope they takeaway from the program?
VS: Definitely that they’ve learned a new skill, especially mural making. That they feel confident in working large scale and that they can go out and perhaps do it on their own. And that they have now a landmark or a space within the community that they can say that they were a part of.

OTW: Why is it murals? What made you guys decide to do murals, instead of just, you know, a canvas or something?
VS: I think it’s just public art in general. It’s that great combination of being able to express yourself but then allowing a large audience to be able to see it, to be able to interact with it, to be a part of it. So it’s just a good way, again, to get the young people involved with their community or if it’s outside the community, it’s them learning more about the community that they’re providing the mural for. And then being able to put their creativity in a space that will either be there permanently or semi-permanently depending on the weather, or things that they make. But it’s something that they feel that they’re a part of and that other people they know will be looking at it.

OTW: What’s Yollocalli’s goal for the future?
VS: You know continue programming. We definitely want to continue our mural projects because again, we just feel like they’re a great way to have the young people be a part of Chicago and different neighborhoods within Chicago. And continue to offer more traditional and non-traditional art programs to keep young people creative and invested in the arts.

An alley mural painted by the students of Yollocalli located near 18th Street and Blue Island.

OTW: Is there anything else that you would like to add?
VS: You could just check out our website Yollocalli.org.

By Rachel Syms

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