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Street-Level Youth Media


Web projects produced by Street-Level young people can be viewed on their website


Street-Level Youth Media

Contact details

Street-Level Youth Media
1856 West Chicago Avenue
Chicago, IL 60622, USA
Tel: +1 773 862 5331
Fax: +1 773 862 0754
Email: admin@street-level.org
Website: www.street-level.org

Project partners

Chicago's Cable Access Network Television
Illinois Institute of Technology
Gallery 37
Tech 37
Chicago Historical Society
Chicago Park District
Chicago Youth Centers' Elliott Donnelley Center
Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education
Chicago Public Schools
Columbia College, Chicago's Office of Community Arts Partnership


West Town and Uptown, Chicago, USA.


Everything we are today started from a simple idea. What if young people in our West Town neighbourhood had video cameras to document the world as they saw it? What stories would they tell? What could they teach us? Teenagers from the local high school took the idea and ran with it. That first summer they made 40 videos about everything from gangs to their families to the gradual gentrification of their neighbourhood.

They threw a giant community block party and broadcast their videos on 70 monitors up and down the street. This first Street-Level Block Party drew national attention and inspired an entire community to celebrate the talents and dreams of their youngest residents.

With the success of this first effort, a new idea arose. What if there were a place in the neighbourhood where Street-Level students could teach other kids how to make videos? What if there were a safe place to come in off the street and actually do something about the problems? That place was the first Street-Level storefront. Located across the street from Wells High School and on a corner where four gang lines converge, the storefront became known throughout the city as 'that video place run by kids'.

Aims and objectives

Street-Level Youth Media educates Chicago's inner-city youth in media arts and emerging technologies for use in self-expression, communication and social change. Street-Level programmes build self-esteem and critical thinking skills for urban youth who have been historically neglected by policy makers and mass media. Using video production, computer art and the Internet, young people address community issues, access advanced technology and gain inclusion in our information-based society.

We work with youth rejected by mainstream society and traditional youth agencies, advocating their needs and pushing them to new heights. We want to show how art and social commentary can meld together at the grassroots level to empower youth. Our ongoing hope is to create opportunities for young people to find solutions to their problems, to strengthen their communities and work together towards economic viability.


Urban inner-city youth, ages 8-22. Street-Level serves over 1,800 young people each year who are predominantly from low-income, minority backgrounds.

Target audience

Street-Level's programmes help urban youth, who have historically been neglected and negatively portrayed by mainstream mass media, to see themselves in a positive light. The programmes also provide state-of-the-art digital technologies for communities that do not have access or purchasing power to obtain such technologies.

Wider beneficiaries

In addition to the children and young people, who benefit directly from this programme, the inner-city communities they come from, as well as society in general, will be the indirect recipients of these benefits.

Involvement of children

Street-Level has always been insistent on involving young people's voices in every aspect of decision-making, organization and programmes that we offer and undertake. To this end, a Street-Level youth, Lucia Gonzales, serves on the Board of Directors. Youth are represented on decision-making programme committees, such as for the Block Party. Recently, Street-Level has started a youth intern programme, whereby Street-Level's college scholars are given the opportunity to get involved with the activities of different departments and thus better understand the workings of the organization. Street-level is also in the process of developing an ongoing online evaluation system, which would allow participants to direct the flow of curriculum and programming.

Summary of project

Drop-In programmes at neighbourhood multimedia labs provide access to computers, the Internet, video production and editing facilities.

Special Projects offers media-making employment opportunities in collaboration with recognized cultural institutions throughout Chicago and the US.

In-School programmes model an integrated arts curriculum in Chicago's public schools, working with classroom teachers to weave media into existing coursework. Works are created in many formats - video, web-based, computer art, digital photography and writing. The themes range from creative expression on self-identity to socially conscious works on gentrification, violence, racism and other community issues.


Street-Level was able to provide youth programming in 2001 through the generous support of Boeing, Chicago Foundation for Women, City of Chicago Department of Human Services and the Department of Cultural Affairs, Arie & Ida Crown Memorial, Field Foundation, Gap Inc., Illinois Arts Council, Kaufherr Foundation, Kaplan Family Foundation, Kraft Foods Inc., MacArthur Foundation, Manufacturers Bank, Marshall Field's Project Imagine, National Endowment for the Arts, New Control Inc., Northern Trust Company, IBM, Garry J. Scheuring Charitable Trust, Girl's Best Friend Foundation, Open Society Institute, Sara Lee Foundation, Surdna Foundation, Polk Bros. Foundation, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, First Industrial Realty Trust, Gardner, Carton & Douglas, Service Club of Chicago, and TCF Bank.


Total operating costs are US$995,000.

Strengths of project

Street-Level's organizational model is unique as it employs shared management. Five co-directors share the duties and responsibilities of one executive director, overseeing various aspects of the agency's programmes and development. By sharing these roles, Street-Level has greater accountability and visibility. To ensure Street-Level's management team is working effectively, the organization works to improve accountability and communication skills through weekly co- director meetings and regular evaluations conducted by peers, staff and the agency's Board of Directors. This management structure also lowers administrative costs.


One of the issues that Street-Level is constantly trying to address efficiently and responsibly is that of recruitment. Street-Level is open to all youths who would like to participate in its programmes, but usually it is the young people who do not make it to our sites on their own - those who have fallen between the cracks - who need to be targeted and educated about the opportunities available to them. Another challenge comes in finding new resources and financial support in order to continue and expand programme facilities. Street-Level tries to offer competitive wages to its staff, but it is always a challenge to create a healthy work environment that will attract and retain talented staff at non-profit wages. Finally, the role of the artist collaborator when working with youth, as well as the importance of maintaining youth voice as the foremost component of the work we do, is prominent in the discussions of process at Street-Level.


Using the power of technology, Street-Level intends to move its youth intake, tracking and evaluation online, creating an ongoing, real-time record of the agency's media arts programming and the impact it has on participants. Street- Level will create a database that will serve as a model for innovative youth tracking and assessment. Street-Level's online database will be a new platform on the agency's existing website. Portions of the platform will be made accessible to other community groups, funders, educators, policy makers and those working with young people or media arts programming. Through a password-protected web-based platform, new participants will fill out intake forms on which they will identify their background and issues of concern. Street-Level staff will use this information to tailor the curriculum to young people and measure their artistic and technical development as well as self-confidence and critical-thinking skills.

Each time a youth participates in a Street-Level programme or comes to a Street-Level site, they will log into the database, updating their information and involvement. Street-Level Programme Instructors will be able to monitor youth progress through ongoing participant evaluation forms in which young people demonstrate skills that they have attained while assessing programme content. This data will also help to enhance future projects and give youth a voice in the design of the organization's activities. By creating this web platform, Street-Level and its programme partners will be better able to use this type of valuable information to reveal the impact of the programmes and the needs of its youth.

Lessons learned

One of the reasons Street-Level has been able to go so far in its endeavours is that the staff have always stayed close to the mission of the organization, and return to its message in times of need. With the mission as the centre of gravity of the organization, the goals and the path to be taken are always in focus.


Street-Level has been recognized by Fast Company magazine, a national publication charting trends in the digital world. In 'Across the Great Divide' - a feature article in the 1999 July/August edition - Fast Company examines the growing gap between 'America's techno-haves and have-nots', stressing the importance of innovative programmes that bridge the digital divide. On Street-Level, they write, 'Their message is clear: forget about technology as a tool. At Street-Level, technology is an art form, a vehicle for self-expression that gives disconnected urban youth a way to say, "This is my world, and this is how I see it." Programme participant Noreen Jenkins, 17, was quoted as saying, "The best thing they've given to me at Street-Level is my self-esteem."'


Jacyn Bell's son Jason participated in Street-Level's In-School programming at Dodge Elementary. Jason was also one of the youth participants chosen to tour the Comdex Conference and to meet former President Clinton in April of 2000. After these events, Ms. Bell wrote to Street-Level's In-School Director these encouraging words: "Ms. Searcy, be very encouraged knowing that you are such an inspiration to inner-city students. As a parent I have been trying to involve my children in constructive after-school curriculums. Street-Level Youth Media has proven itself to be one of the most positive time investments that any youth could make. The equipment that is available, the education, and the guidance from the mentors is priceless."

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