Beyond the Quads

Express Yourself

Three alumnae help Logan Square girls find a voice through art.

At the corner of Kimball and Wrightwood in Chicago, three blocks west of Logan Boulevard’s coffee shops, historic homes, and green lawns, sits Grace United Methodist Church. One Sunday afternoon in November, the church basement came alive with art. Message trumped medium as the young women and teenage girls of Ag47 zigzagged from drama to written autobiography to collage.

Ag47 is an arts mentorship program in Logan Square, founded last spring by Virginia Killian Lund, AB’04, Katie Hottinger, AB’05, and Cara Clifford, AB’07, along with five other Chicago-area women. The program gives neighborhood girls ages 11 to 16, some of whom come from a disadvantaged background, a forum for “bold creative expression” and for sharing their creativity with the community. “We think that the girls we work with have something really valuable to say through their art,” says Lund. The goal is to help them “walk into any situation with the mentality that they have something worth saying.”

All three alumnae participated in performance RSOs at the College—Clifford in Off-Off Campus, Hottinger in University Theatre, and Lund in both. They subsequently volunteered with Dramagirls, a Logan Square arts mentorship program sponsored by Redmoon Theater. When that program ended, the trio teamed with other Dramagirls volunteers to form Ag47.

The founders decided against one of their initial name ideas, Art Girls, but used the letters as inspiration: “We liked A and G,” says Clifford. They looked at the periodic table to find the atomic number for Ag, or silver. It’s 47, which is also the last two digits of their zip code in Logan Square.

The Ag47 season runs from October through April, with a public showcase performance and art sale on April 15. Workshops meet each Sunday at Grace-UMC. They begin with improv and performance exercises and finish with dance, painting, creative writing, and more.

The workshop exercises are organized and led by 13 female artists—actresses, photographers, videographers, dancers. Members visit area schools such as Josephinum Academy to recruit new mentees. The Chicago alums bring an education background to conceptualizing and planning Ag47: Lund is a seventh-grade English teacher in Homer Glen; Clifford and Hottinger are students in Chicago’s Urban Teacher Education Program.

On that November day, Nikki Zaleski, a theater artist and choreographer, and photographer Katherine Robinson led a workshop together based on this season’s theme, trust and risk. First, Zaleski led the girls and their mentors through performance exercises. In one, they formed a tableau vivant—a frozen grouping of human figures—representing the theme concepts.

After a quick snack break, the group wrote postcards to their younger selves at a time when they faced a risk. They then decorated the postcards with red and yellow tissue paper and black-and-white images of circus animals and performers—who negotiate risks and place trust in others every day. Everyone worked on their postcard for ten minutes, then passed them to the right, then repeated. After several rounds, the postcards were rife with colors, shapes, and voices—each one overflowing.

—Katherine E. Muhlenkamp

Photos by Michelle Alba


Virginia Killian Lund (bottom center) and Cara Clifford (top center) with other Ag47 members.