Loft Teen Arts Project

THE LOFT TEEN ARTS PROJECT

A Visual Arts Commission for Chicago Youth

We are thrilled to announce the incredible winners of the Loft Teen Arts Project visual arts commission competition. These artists' original artworks will be displayed in The Loft—Steppenwolf’s first-ever dedicated education space that encompasses the entire fourth floor of its trailblazing new Arts and Education Center. 

The Loft Teen Arts Project commission winners include five individuals and two groups:

  • Elizabeth Cervantes (age 18) from Mount Greenwood with an oil painting project

  • Alyha Khalil (age 16) from Irving Park with an oil painting project

  • Liz Olivarez Lyles (age 21) from Lakeview with a mixed media project

  • Kaleia Maxey (age 17) from Beverly with a photography/collage project

  • Stevia Ndoe (age 18) from West Ridge/North Park with a photography project

  • Tia and Tyra Smith (age 20) from Chatham with a textile project

  • BUILD, a violence prevention and youth development organization based on the West side of Chicago, with a group artwork, medium TBA

The young artists will receive $1,500-$2,500 for their commissions and will create their works early this fall. Inspired by the theme “The Future I See: Creating for Community," the artwork will be unveiled this fall and displayed for one year in The Loft. 

In addition to the winners listed above, we are proud to announce three runners up, Ivan Damian, Hailey Murray and Noor Alkhafaji, who will each receive a $250 cash prize as a thank you for submitting their excellent work.

Finalists

Select artist statements, bios and juror remarks


Representative artwork by Alyha Khalil (R). 

Alyha Khalil is a senior at Senn High School in the Visual arts program. She is 17 years old and part Panamanian, Palestinian and Jamaican. She was born and raised in Chicago and plans to continue going to art school in the city. She currently works at JCC Apachi Northside Daycamp in the summertime as a Junior Counselor. She’s an artist who focuses on portraiture with oil painting and mainly works around painting and representing black figures' identities and their importance to their community. She’s been creating art for as long as she can remember, but her first realization that she was interested in art was three years ago when she attended a Marwen art class for oil painting. Ever since then, she’s been creating her own art projects and growing her art portfolio collection.

Alyha said, “The theme for this year really speaks to me, because a lot of my work revolves around recognizing the identities of important figures that make up the communities that we are in… I specifically chose to spotlight Angela Davis, because she is an important figure that advocates specifically for the rights of people of color that are too often undermined and mistreated." 

Of Alyha’s work, judge SANTIAGO X remarked, “This proposal is experimental, which I love. To me, this artist is trying to push their boundaries to try to sell something and drudge something up as they examine the theme 'the future I see.' Their portraits submitted as sample work are so multi-layered; I appreciate all the sediment and layering present in their work.”

 
Representative artwork by Liz Olivarez Lyles (R). 

Liz Olivarez Lyles is a Rio Grande Valley photographer based in Chicago. She attended The Theatre School at DePaul university, as a BFA theatre arts major. This is where she honed her critically artistic eye and direction. She began translating her training into the art form of photography. Liz aims to celebrate the authentic beauty of all her subjects. 

Liz said, “The community I'm interested in seeing in the future is one that is whole, healed and based in radical self-love. I took inspiration from Sonya Renée Taylor's book My Body is Not an Apology. As a portrait photographer, I've noticed we as people are often the most uncomfortable in front of the camera. I know for me, looking into the glassy eye of the lens, I have a fear that all my self-perceived imperfections will be illuminated in a picture of myself…as such, my piece “Mya in space” aims to visualize the essence of Sonya Renee Taylor's concept of radical self-love… Imagine if everyone in our communities had that same sense of self? What if they had that same radical self-love? With self-love comes compassion and love for othersandthat's the world I want to inhabit.

Of Liz’s multi-media work, judge Liz Flores remarked, “Liz’s work feels very mythical. She’s creating this different world and as an audience member when I viewed it, I thought, 'Yes, I want to be part of that.' She’s simply incredible.”

 
Representative artwork by Tia (L) and Tyra (R) Smith. 

Tyra Smith is an undergraduate student at Northwestern University double majoring in theatre and economics. In summer 2021, she was a selected participant of Expanding Diversity in Economics: A UChicago Summer Institute. This past winter, she was a featured playwright in Black Lives, Black Words at Northwestern University. During her junior and senior years at Lindblom Math and Science Academy, Tyra participated in Cindy Bandle Young Critics at the Goodman Theatre and the Young Adult Council at Steppenwolf Theatre. She placed as a second-round finalist for the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Essay Contest. She is a published knitwear designer with her first design set to be published in August 2021 in Pom Pom Quarterly Issue 38. She is a recipient of the Gates Scholarship and a Ryan Scholar.

Tia Smith is a writer and artist from the South Side of Chicago and a current undergraduate student at Duke University earning a degree in Theater Studies. Through her academic and artistic excellence, she has garnered several awards such as the Benenson Award in the Arts, the AKArama Foundation Inc. Barbara Guilbeaux Scholarship, and the Frank M. Clark/John T. Hooker Scholarship. As a selected participant in the Goodman Theatre Cindy Bandle Young Critics Program, Smith received extensive training in creative writing. In October 2020, Smith’s essay “Not Black Enough: The Cost of a Static View of What it Means to be Black for Black Women Performers” was published in Deliberations: Journal of First-Year Writing. She is a proud alum of Lindblom Math & Science Academy and the Steppenwolf Theatre Young Adult Council. She has been knitting and crocheting continuously since the fourth grade.

Tia and Tyra (twin sisters) said, “For this year’s theme, we were inspired by our personal history as young artists in the city often traveling from the Southside to northern neighborhoods to participate in programs and events while in high school. We often found ourselves practicing art with adults who were forty-plus years our senior. Therefore, the concept of movement and engagement between different communities and generations is the focal point of our proposed piece. In our future, we want people to deeply explore the places where they are from and engage with places outside of their communities. We want our piece to represent the dynamic interactions across generations, neighborhoods, and communities.”

Of Tia and Tyra’s proposed textile project, judge Alex Garcia remarked, “I love the fact that theirs is a different type of work and a different medium. Their perspective and vision are very mature—even bringing in the historical aspect to it. I can’t wait to see what this piece will become and see it on one of Steppenwolf’s walls in the future.” 

 

BUILD, one of Steppenwolf’s community partner organizations, will create a piece under the guidance of Ricardo Miranda, Manager of Arts Academy Programs. BUILD, a multi-year partner of Steppenwolf Education, is a violence prevention and youth development organization based on the West side of Chicago that uses the arts, in addition to other engagement strategies, to empower young people. In addition to hosting Steppenwolf artists for theater workshops and performances for the Austin community, BUILD brings youth to Steppenwolf to experience programming on site. Steppenwolf Education is honored by and proud to showcase artwork by the youth of BUILD in its brand-new arts and education center.

Timeline

  • Mid-September: Artwork installed in The Loft 
  • October: Artists invited to the new building opening celebration to see their work on display
  • Artwork exhibited in The Loft for one (1) year

Jury panel

The panel consisting of celebrated members of Chicago’s artist community in collaboration with Chicago youth and Steppenwolf Education staff will review portfolios of the artists' work.

ABOUT THE JURY PANELISTS 

Nick Cave (b. 1959, Fulton, MO; lives and works in Chicago, IL) is an artist, educator and foremost a messenger, working between the visual and performing arts through a wide range of mediums including sculpture, installation, video, sound and performance. Cave is well known for his Soundsuits, sculptural forms based on the scale of his body, initially created in direct response to the police beating of Rodney King in 1991. Soundsuits camouflage the body, masking and creating a second skin that conceals race, gender and class, forcing the viewer to look without judgment. They serve as a visual embodiment of social justice that represent both brutality and empowerment. Throughout his practice, Cave has created spaces of memorial through combining found historical objects with contemporary dialogues on gun violence and death, underscoring the anxiety of severe trauma brought on by catastrophic loss. The figure remains central as Cave casts his own body in bronze, an extension of the performative work so critical to his oeuvre. Cave reminds us, however, that while there may be despair, there remains space for hope and renewal. From dismembered body parts stem delicate metal flowers, affirming the potential of new growth. Cave encourages a profound and compassionate analysis of violence and its effects as the path towards an ultimate metamorphosis. While Cave’s works are rooted in our current societal moment, when progress on issues of global warming, racism and gun violence (both at the hands of citizens and law enforcement) seem maddeningly stalled, he asks how we may reposition ourselves to recognize the issues, come together on a global scale, instigate change, and ultimately, heal.

Liz Flores is a Chicago based painter and muralist. Her work experiments with how the human condition—with its interplay between emotion and memory—can be represented abstractly. She engages everyday human experience and the female body by using shape, color and form as a mode of visual storytelling. Flores, who grew up in Berwyn, IL, made the leap from corporate America into the art world six years ago. In this time, she has shared her story on the TEDx stage, CreativeMornings Chicago, and helped bring an interactive art installation titled ‘The World We Want’ to Michigan Avenue. Her mural work can be found throughout the Chicagoland Area and New York City. In addition to working with private and commercial clients, she has exhibited in galleries throughout Chicago and is driven by her interests in womanhood, belonging and inner life. 

Silvia Gonzalez is a multi-disciplinary artist, cultural worker, and educator in Chicago actively participating in spaces where collective wellness takes on critical dialogue, art making, and community building.  Her visual and audio work are a ballad to nostalgia--the borderline between myth and memory. Silvia has curated and facilitated workshops to address structures of power, imagination, play, confinement, and freedom. Her work has been exhibited at The National Mexican Museum of Art, Woman Made Gallery, Hyde Park Art Center, ACRE, and local grassroots art spaces. She is a member of the Chicago ACT Collective, Multiuso, and the 96 ACRES Project. As an organizer and administrator for the group POC (People of Color) Artist Space, she connects artists of color from across Chicago to resources through meet-ups and development opportunities. Gonzalez went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and received degrees in Photography and Art Education. She has a master’s from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago where she wrote a  Thesis on the work done with The 96 Acres Project. She was awarded with the 3Arts Make A Wave Award in 2018 and the CAC + OtherPeoplesPixels Maker Grant in 2020.

SANTIAGO X (Chamoru/Koasati) is an Indigenous Futurist, multidisciplinary artist and architect specializing in land, architectural, and new media installation. His work illuminates the liminal space between the ancestral plane and our accelerating post-human world. X’s upcoming large-scale permanent earthwork, The Coiled Serpent, will debut in Chicago later this year, alongside his augmented reality application in development entitled, Augment Earth.

Alex Garcia is a Chicago-based documentary photographer and director. He worked on staff at the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune before starting his own production company, Three Story Media which specializes in authentic storytelling. Along the way, his awards have included the highest in the editorial and advertising worlds: a team Pulitzer Prize and a team Titanium Lion at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity.  He was called by HarperCollins "one of the world's leading photojournalists." His blog while at the Tribune became the basis for a book "Depth of Field: Tips on Photojournalism and Creativity", which formed a part of teaching programs around the country.  He has served on the board of the National Press Photographers Association and as an adjunct professor at the Northwestern University Medill Journalism program and the School of Visual Arts - NY. After traveling to Cuba for twenty years as a Tribune foreign correspondent, New York Times Journeys tour leader and family member, he started a company called Cuba Workshops which brings creatives to the island on authorized trips to photograph and build-bridges across cultural boundaries.

For more information on anything related to LTAP, please contact Manager of Education Partnerships Rae Taylor (she/they) at rtaylor@steppenwolf.org.

 

THE LOFT

The fourth floor of Steppenwolf’s new Arts and Education Center, also known as The Loft, is a brand-new space designed to house all of Steppenwolf Education’s programming and inspire the next generation of theater learners, makers and appreciators. The Loft includes three dedicated learning spaces for young people to explore and create within, as well as gallery walls that will feature artwork created by Chicagoland youth. Steppenwolf's Loft: just bring yourself.

FAQs

You've got questions? We've got answers!
Be sure to check out our page of FAQs to get more detailed information on the logistics of the the commision, the artwork and all things Loft Teen Arts Project (LTAP).

LEARN MORE

THE LOFT

The fourth floor of Steppenwolf’s new Arts and Education Center, also known as The Loft, is a brand-new space designed to house all of Steppenwolf Education’s programming and inspire the next generation of theater learners, makers and appreciators. The Loft includes three dedicated learning spaces for young people to explore and create within, as well as gallery walls that will feature artwork created by Chicagoland youth. Steppenwolf's Loft: just bring yourself.

FAQs

You've got questions? We've got answers!
Be sure to check out our page of FAQs to get more detailed information on the logistics of the the commision, the artwork and all things Loft Teen Arts Project (LTAP).

LEARN MORE