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