The Crusader Newspaper Group

Chicagoland Youth Artists create original works for Steppenwolf

By Bonnie DeShong

Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company held a youth visual arts competition to exhibit in their new Arts and Education Center. The competition provided between $1,500 and $2,500 to young Chicagoland artists for original new artwork to be displayed in The Loft Steppenwolf’s first-ever dedicated education space that encompasses the entire fourth floor of the Arts and Education Center designed by world-renowned architect Gordon Gill of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture.

I asked Rae Taylor, Steppenwolf’s Manager of Education Partnerships, what does the new space mean for the community? “The new education space is enabling us to expand our educational programs from 20,000 to 30,000 students annually, and young adults were a major part of envisioning what The Loft is, including our gallery of artworks by young artists.”

The theme for the competition was “The Future I See: Creating for Community.”

Juried by a panel of acclaimed artists including Nick Cave, Liz Flores, Alex Garcia, Silvia I. Gonzalez and Santiago X, the Loft Teen Arts Project awarded commissions to two group projects and five individual artists.

One of those artists is Alyha Khalil who was 16 at the time of receiving the commission. In speaking with her, I asked why she decided to enter the competition.

“I saw that Steppenwolf Theater had this new project and that they were seeking artists to create art and to be up for this exhibition that they were creating in a new building. I took it as a perfect opportunity to upload my art and to create something for it. The second I heard about it, I immediately started creating this painting of Angela Davis, and I completed it in a week, which for me and my paintings usually take months to do, but I was so eager to do it and submit it. The theme just tied in really well with my body of work and my concept of exploring a community, specifically with Black identities and their placements in our communities. It just felt right, and it made sense for what I was doing.”

Tia and Tyra Smith

Viewing Alyha’s piece took me back to my college days and listening to Angela Davis, wearing our afros and big earrings and the political climate then and how it resonates today.

When I expressed this sentiment to Alyha, her response was, “That’s the idea with the majority of my artwork, but it’s just like finding that connection, especially being a Black woman, it resonates with me and seeking that importance. So, I’m glad that it reached others the same way that I was expecting it to be.

The other amazing artists commissioned are Elisabeth Cervantes, Liz Olivarez Lyles, Kaleia Maxey, Stevia Ndoe, Tia and Tyra Smith, and the organization BUILD, a violence prevention and youth development organization based on the West Side of Chicago. The runners up are Ivan Damian, Hailey Murray, and Noor Alkhafaji who received a $250 cash prize for submitting their work.

Congratulations to all of the young people whose artwork is being exhibited and those who submitted. The works will be on display through the Fall. Visit to find out more about the artists, their works, and the Arts and Education Center.

Until next time, keep your EYE to the sky!


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