More than Feeling Fancy

Arts exposure ain’t just about entertaining

In a city fueled by a prodigious cultural output — museums, plays, concerts and more — many local youth have never experienced a part of what makes Chicago a world-class city.

Jamani, 17, is one of the lucky local teens who have tapped into the Teen Arts Pass Program (TAP) sponsored by Urban Gateways. Youth ages 13–19 can use the TAP website or app to access day-of-show tickets for $5.

“Kids should have access to art because you can find a passion in something you never knew you had,” says Jamani, who attends Johnson College Prep in Englewood. She is a member of the TAP Teen Council, which tested the program before Urban Gateways opened it up to all Chicago teens.

Jamani is on to something…

    • ​Countries with mandatory art and music education rank highest on math and science scores, according to
    • Youth from low-income families have better outcomes, such as going to college, when they are exposed to arts education, according to the National Endowment for the Arts
    • That same NEA study shows that eighth graders steeped in arts engagement earned higher scores on science and writing, and students with “arts-rich experiences” had higher grade point averages.


Recently, Jamani saw a concert at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (Mozart), something she didn’t think she’d be into “because it wasn’t my type of music.”

“But I ended up going, and the box-office guy, he was very nice, and said ‘Since you’re a special guest, I’m going to give you the best seat in the house.’ And I got a great seat, and I actually ended up enjoying it,” Jamani says.

Ida, 18, a TAP Teen Council member who attends Whitney Young, says she comes from a classical music background. She feels like there’s a widespread belief that classical music is dying, but she knows differently because her school orchestra is thriving.

“Even though going to, like, plays or, like, the opera might seem like adult things, one day we will be adults, and our generation will be doing that,” Ida says. “It’s cool to get involved early.”

TAP allows for companion passes, so teens can take a friend or guardian, though many participants often go alone; Deven, 16, who attends Disney II Magnet School in Lawndale, likes going solo.

“I can see the thing from my perspective and not have anybody else chiming in,” he says. “I don’t know, it’s like a personal time, and then you get to see something really good.”

Shows students have attended include Simon Stephen’s “Birdland” at Steep Theatre and “Jesus Christ Superstar” at Lyric Opera of Chicago. In addition to seeing shows, they’ve rated the service they receive as young people, and give venues high marks for being welcoming.

“In the beginning,” says Isabel, 17, who attends Francis W. Parker School in Lincoln Park, “it was only us in the program, and now so many people have joined it, it feels more like a citywide thing, and I’m really happy they’re really trying to get more kids involved in the arts.”

The all-access pass has also given Jamani a different outlook on arts education: “It just made me step out of my comfort zone and actually speak against the underfunding, and it actually inspired my school to fundraise to raise more money for arts. We just got the ‘OK.'”

This is a story about the Community Safety and Peace strategy of the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities.