Radical welcome in youth performance spaces on Chicago's south side: the child as hungry, the child as village, the child as visible

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My project maps assets of welcome in the built environment in youth performing arts spaces. What signifiers reveal how a physical space conceptualizes the child, reflects professed theological claims, and

My project maps assets of welcome in the built environment in youth performing arts spaces. What signifiers reveal how a physical space conceptualizes the child, reflects professed theological claims, and cues youth to practice ownership and experience belonging? I explore the cultural capital that emerges from the sites and I assert theological implications of the findings. Through mixed qualitative, quantitative, and arts-based methods, I employ asset-based and cultural mapping tools to collect data. I parse theories of space, race, and capital. Half of the ten sites are faith-based; others make room for practices that participants bring to the table. Therefore, I discuss theologies and theories about racialized, religious, public, and arts spaces. My research shows that one ethnographic task for the arts groups is unearthing and embedding neighborhood legacy. I source fifty-six written youth questionnaires, forty youth in focus groups, staff questionnaires, parent interviews, and observations across fourteen months at ten sites. Interpreting the data required that I reconceive multiple terms, including “youth dedicated,” “partnership,” and art itself. The research codes spatial, relational, economic, temporal, and comfort-level assets. Observed assets include strategies for physical safety, gender inclusivity, literary agility, entrepreneurship, advocacy, and healing. Analyzing data showed the sites as conceptualizing the child in three change-making areas: the Child as Hungry, the Child as Village, and the Child as Visible. The Child as Hungry emerged because participants self-report myriad “feeding” physically, spiritually, and artistically at each site. Youth participants at each site maintain a Village presence, and each site offers a manner of gathering space that signifies Village responsibility. Each site carves space to witness the child, contrastingly with other spheres—so much so that being a Visible Child becomes a craft itself, added alongside the fine art. Child theology is the primary theoretical lens that I use to contribute to and intersect with performance studies theory, critical race theory, child drama, and childhood studies.