A prestigious arts high school where students endure four years of intensive training and teenage angst—where the trials of adolescence may just be punctuated with song and dance numbers—may seem a little fantastical. But for the nearly 570 students at Chicago High School for the Arts (ChiArts), performing arts high school is a reality. And for younger students who aspire to a career in the arts, admission to ChiArts’ top-tier programs in writing, dance, music, theater, or visual arts is the first step to achieving their dreams.
The school, Chicago’s sole arts-focused public high school, has moved through multiple spaces in Bronzeville since its opening in 2009, but this summer ChiArts acquired a permanent location, not on the South Side, but in Ukrainian Village on the North Side. The move marks the loss of an artistic resource on the South Side, an area already hit hard by last year’s CPS closures.
“It’s hard, because there was always an arts school on the South Side for kids to have an outlet and now they have to go to North Side to get that,” said Lamar Gayles, a senior art major from Hyde Park.
The northward migration of ChiArts was a decision made by CPS. Mayor Emanuel’s office announced the news last February. Chris Smith, manager of external partnerships and communications at the school, explained that the move offers ChiArts a large permanent space for its programs, space that is vital for any strong arts program. “Arts high schools require thirty-three to fifty percent more space in facilities than the average high school. The new space in Ukrainian Village offers visual arts studios and music practice rooms for the students,” he said in a phone interview.
Gayles has seen the change. “Our arts program has expanded to a whole new conservatory area, and we have more space for our artwork and studio space to practice work in.”
Chris Molina, a student at ChiArts from Marquette Park, believes the move creates a transportation problem for students. “The building is now more north, so it has made transportation difficult for kids from the South Side, like me, to get to school,” he said, noting that this challenge did not exist when current students applied to ChiArts.
According to Smith, families are organizing to solve the new issue of transportation. “Our parents are incredible and have organized two shuttles for the South Side students,” he said. These shuttles provide an alternative to the CTA for students commuting to and from school, but parents are currently asking $100-$150 per month for the service.
Smith says that the school’s administration has yet to see how the move affects admissions statistics. Chris Molina believes that the move has already started to impact the demographics at ChiArts, with some South Side students—many of whom are African-American or Latino—transferring out of ChiArts, though Smith was unable to confirm this. Gayles believes the move won’t deter students from auditioning for the school. “If kids are passionate about what they want to do, they will still apply.”