Meet our 2024 Library Foundation Award honorees.

YOUmedia: A Creative Space to Learn Life Skills

With Lead Corporate support from Allstate and other generous donors, YOUmedia is a safe space for teens to collaborate with other teens on creative projects, and gain skills they can apply in school and in life.

Art tells stories

It’s no secret that there’s power in art, with the messages it sends, the worlds it creates, and the communities it builds. For teen artists at Chicago Public Library’s YOUmedia, art motivates and invites new ways of thinking. “I think art is a way to tell stories and inspire change-making conversations,” says 19-year-old Joshalynne Gibson.

“Art is a way for teens like me to express our voices and share our thoughts. A lot of my art and my friends’ art are personal. They are inspired by our experiences, by our surroundings. We see things. We hear things. And we care about our community, our generation, and what’s happening in the world,” states incoming college freshman, Mariah Jackson.

Creating Art at YOUmedia

Three individuals are looking at a pamphlet.
YOUmedia Resident Artist Dorian Sylvain with two teens.

Devin, Mariah, and Joshalynne attend YOUmedia at the Whitney M. Young, Jr. Branch, and view it as a safe space for teens to connect and collaborate with one another on artistic projects like murals and paintings.

“What I especially love about this space is that there’s no judgement about your art. We’re not being graded. We’re not being critiqued. We just get to do, and we just get to be teens,” says Mariah, who’s been attending YOUmedia since she was 12.

This summer, teens are working on a mural that will be exhibited at the library. “We are still in the conceptualizing phase, but right now, we’re exploring the meaning of community and neighborhood and how we can show that through the teens’ creations,” says Dorian Sylvain, resident artist at Whitney M. Young, Jr. The mural will consist of photo collages from the 10 teens participating and will answer questions about how these teens feel they are part of their community and contributing to the improvement of it.

When I ask the teens about their thoughts on the mural, they’re eager to see the finished product but mostly just enjoying the process . Some of them have attended YOUmedia for years. In true YOUmedia tradition, the teens experiment with different mediums and learning new skills along the way.

“YOUmedia in general has been a highlight of my childhood because of what it incorporates. I love the fact that I’m able to come here after school to chill out with my friends, play games, express, make music, draw random things, or use a 3D printer. It opens up opportunities that some teens don’t have,” says Devin, who’s been attending YOUmedia since he began high school.

When art skills become life skills

But for these highschoolers, creativity is only one aspect of their time in YOUmedia. Art is a transferable skill that can be applied as they navigate life.

“What the teens learn during this time are valuable life skills that can be transferred—to their academic life, their future professional life, their social life, their community life,” Dorian muses. “For example, the teen artists are learning the value of commitment… They are also learning the importance of process—how to transform thought into steps and actions. And of course, they’re learning how to work with other people.”

Young woman standing next to a colorful painting of flowers in a vase.
YOUmedia teen Mariah Jackson and her painting.

Take Mariah, for example. She’s been able to apply the 3D printing skills she learned at the Library to her work as a prosthetics designer. “Thanks to the skills I learned in YOUmedia, I am designing prosthetic coverings for 30 kids. I can’t believe that my art is helping others.”
Another teen, Shnya, has been able to gain the confidence to take opportunities. “I learned that you should just not be afraid to take that step, or something, that can really lead your future to be greater…” she says. “Go for opportunities instead of just sitting around.

Imagining change in creative and constructive ways

In line with the theme of this year’s Summer Learning Challenge, “Make Space. Take Action” I ask, “How has art allowed you to imagine change in the world and want to take action?”

“Art gives you a space where people who think like you or people who might have a different opinion from you can come together and think of different solutions,” says Joshalynne.

A yellow flower.
Photo taken by YOUmedia teen, Shnya.

To Devin, the transformative power of art lies in its storytelling. “By inspiring people, art can make a difference and show them that they can get through whatever they’re going through because there’s other people who have been through that and have made it through and lived just the same.”

Despite their age, it’s certain that these teens aren’t letting people dismiss art and the role of teens in their communities. “I think children in Chicago are really given a stereotype and I don’t think creativity is really shown as anything other than just a hobby. So, I think, this mural will really show how creative and open-minded teens can be,” says Shnya.

We can’t wait to see the mural and what these teens will accomplish! As Dorian said to us, the youth really are the future.

Do you know teens who want to learn some new creative skills? Find a YOUmedia space here. Get the latest resources, services, and opportunities at the Library when you sign up for our free monthly newsletter.

YOUmedia Chicago is an innovative, 21st century teen digital learning space at 23 Chicago Public Library locations. With an emphasis on digital media and the maker movement, teens engage in projects across a variety of core content areas including graphic design, photography, video, music, 2D/3D design, STEM and hands-on making. With your help, we can continue to provide Chicago’s teens with learning opportunities that will lead to skill-building and career development.