On Tuesday at the headquarters of the Yollocalli Arts Reach program in Pilsen, Alex Aguilar was hunched over a piece of 8-by-11 paper, carefully outlining the word "Chicago" in cursive. He drew the city skyline rising from the tops of the letters, a tangle of train routes sprouting from beneath them.
Behind the city's name waved its familiar four-star flag, and Aguilar was planning to add in the logos of Chicago sports teams. His miniature mural will eventually appear in an online gallery, and Aguilar wanted to show what he loves about Chicago to counter the city's reputation for crime.
"Shootings, killings," the 15-year-old explained. "It's true and all, but not everybody's part of that."
Yollocalli Arts Reach, run by the National Museum of Mexican Art, is one of more than 30 programs, including many in the arts, that will benefit from a $2.2 million grant announced Thursday. The grant is made up of $500,000 from the Burberry Foundation -- the philanthropic offshoot of the London-based clothier known for its plaid -- and $1.7 million from the MacArthur Foundation.
The money goes into the Hive Chicago Learning Network, a three-year-old umbrella network based at DePaul University (the MacArthur Foundation is a major funder) that helps youth programs collaborate on curriculum material in an effort to expand out-of-school learning opportunities.
The idea behind the network is to sneak lessons on critical thinking, civic engagement and digital literacy into kid-friendly activities like Yollocalli's "History and Techniques of Graffiti." A few weeks ago Aguilar's class of about 15 young graffiti artists participated in a discussion about violence prevention and social issues with outreach workers, including one from the anti-violence group CeaseFire.
Also involved in the anti-violence curriculum: Steppenwolf Theatre Company, which is developing a performance about youth violence based on oral histories from Chicagoans. The play will travel to library branches around the city and be followed by discussion groups for teens.