They Smile Beneath Their Mask

In collaboration with Chicago Parks District, artists Kendall Hill and Ezra Sera Pelaez were tasked with documenting the arts, nature, and cultural youth programming of Young Cultural Stewards and ArtSeed during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the 8-month commission, the artists followed park district administrators, teaching artists, and youth participants throughout Chicago’s west and south sides. The park department’s summer curriculum:  "Reparations for the Earth" was realized with caring vigilance, in the midst of coronavirus spikes and political demonstrations throughout the city. With the outdoor-only programming taking place in parks and community gardens, THEY SMILE BENEATH THEIR MASK showcases the abundance of community support, resources, and resilience in a time of social restriction. The documentation project consists of a short documentary, film photography, and writing.

Our Flock - Pt. 1

In the middle of the summer fire, my phone goes off. It’s Irina, alerting our flock of a meeting planned for tomorrow about protocol going forward, due to an increasing amount of COVID-19 cases appearing in some of the parks over the last week. 

Our time is short, though every moment has reminded me of summer. Exploring nature with three-year-olds, finger painting, hula hoop. The responsibility to care for a garden reminds me of chores I hated when I was young and also provokes my anxious mind. I asked myself questions like Will my time be cut short? Is this it? Have I done my job? What is my job? 

The 3pm Zoom meeting commences. Najee and Irina (our fearless Park District program leaders over the summer) are dancing as everyone enters the virtual scene. Everyone checks in and speaks: Today’s ice breaker, your pronouns and a plant you’ve been connecting with today. Me? A succulent. 

Everyone is always somewhat on the move. It is to feel a rush to produce this work, traveling to various parks throughout the city to connect and inspire. Young Cultural Stewards & Art Seed, entities of the Park District set on steering youth to become advocates for their parks and communities, have been the programs we are following this summer. Along with seven other very capable teaching artists, this is our team. The flock. 

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