Catalyst Grantee Profile: Project FIRE, ArtReach Chicago

Project FIRE, ArtReach Chicago

Interview with Marine Tempels, Development Director, ArtReach Chicago

Organization Name
ArtReach Chicago
Organization Website
Organization Location
Chicago, IL
Founding Year 
Organization Mission
ArtReach Chicago’s mission is to empower and connect people through the practice of visual arts. ArtReach is proud to offer glassblowing and ceramics, two media that are not only hard to access, but by their very nature elicit healing and build community.
Population Served
ArtReach primarily serves populations that have been impacted by collective or individual trauma, including violently injured youth, veterans, formerly incarcerated individuals, undocumented populations, and Chicago Public School students on the South and West sides.
Please describe the problem your organization is working to solve and the ways in which your organization’s approach to this work is new or unique.
ArtReach works towards equity among Chicagoans by addressing barriers to accessing the arts, mental health resources, and employment. Our participants have told us that they’re looking for opportunities to connect with others who’ve experienced trauma, legitimate ways to earn money, and safe, positive relationships with mentors and adults. Project FIRE participants, who have been violently injured, face an additional challenge– their violence-related trauma places them at high risk for further violence (2014, Baskin & Sommers, 2). Project FIRE works to break this cycle of violence by supporting trauma recovery through intensive case management, employment, mentoring, healing through glassblowing and psychoeducation to individuals experiencing violence related trauma. Through Project FIRE, ArtReach has found trauma-informed arts programming to be a powerful tool for healing and building trust among participants. Therefore, ArtReach is currently working to expand this approach to other existing and future programs.
Combining glassblowing and ceramics with a trauma-informed approach is unique to ArtReach Chicago. Glassblowing, by nature, requires teamwork as it is very difficult to create a piece alone. Therefore it demands that individuals learn collaboration and build trust. Ceramics offers a different kind of healing, its meditative and tactile qualities offers respite, and creates a space for dialogue among community members. Glassblowing and ceramics combined with psychoeducation creates cycles of support that aid in trauma recovery and can interrupt cycles of violence.
What are some key accomplishments your organization has achieved.
In the past few years, ArtReach has nearly quadrupled its operating budget, more than doubled grant and individual donor revenue, and provided more professional development and resources to teaching artists to improve program quality.
Since its inception in 2015, Project FIRE has quadrupled its number of participants. Four participants moved into leadership and mentorship positions, of whom one is now a Teaching Artist for the program and ArtReach at large. Each year, several of our youth participate in national glass programs including Expanding Horizons in Corning, NY, as well as participating in conferences and lectures across the country. In 2017, Project FIRE was featured on NBC Nightly News and the Washington Post. The documentary by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation titled PTSD: Beyond Trauma, which features Project FIRE, was presented at the UChicago Trauma Conference. Here is what CBC lmmakers Patrick Reed and Andrea Schmidt had to say about the program, “ It is truly a safe space, where people not only can learn skills, but also rediscover themselves, and their city; a place to craft new affiliations, new friendships, and new lives.”
Most recently, ArtReach Chicago collaborated with Pop Up X to offer a glassblowing event aimed a destigmatize mental health through art. The event was supported by Dwyane Wade’s foundation. At the first workshop, Project FIRE participants, as the experts, taught NBA star, Dwyane Wade, how to make a paperweight. It was a powerful and empowering day of people working with and learning from each other.
Although not specifically designed as an advocacy campaign, one of the greatest victories of the program is that it has created an outlet for youth to share their full stories with a national and international audience, as well as important stakeholders in legislation reform such as Senator Dick Durbin. In this way, the program has impacted not only Project FIRE participants, but all young black men in Chicago who face challenges due to widespread false narratives about themselves and the root causes of violence and racism.
What obstacles (either expected or unexpected) has your organization faced and how have you addressed them?
Our participants face challenges in their lives that create obstacles for the implementation of the program. These challenges include personal and familial struggles that make it hard for them to show up to work on time, trauma that causes fight or flight responses and inhibit functions in their frontal cortex, making learning challenging, and transportation issues related to safety concerns. ArtReach works in very close partnership with HHP-C to provide services to participants and help overcome these challenges, including guidance on family struggles and finding a safe transportation routine, psychoeducation to assist with trauma recovery, bus cards and full meals to help meet basic needs, and financial literacy to help participants understand how to manage their paychecks.
What current and future trends have you identified in your field?
The use of ceramics as a tool for respite and healing appears to be growing among arts & culture organizations. Arts & Culture organizations have identified a need for spaces where niches of people, such as violently injured youth, undocumented individuals, Muslim women, veterans, etc., can meet privately and take ownership of a space. Arts programming, and especially ceramics, has the power to meet that need.
What advice do you have for others interested in contributing to positive changes in your field?
It’s been said many times, but speaking directly with those you wish to support before offering help is so important. To ensure that resources are distributed appropriately and no harm is done, one must gain a deep understanding of the problem. Listen first, then support appropriately.
For those in the field–include participant involvement in every stage of a program, including planning and evaluation. ArtReach has learned the importance of working with mentors or alumni of the program when creating pre and post surveys. They have helped us identify questions that may not have been appropriate and created other more compelling questions.
How can funders and supporters best help your organization accomplish its goals?
Invest in all parts of the organization including overhead costs, capacity building and personnel.
Pro bono professional support in various fields has proven to be extremely beneficial for the growth of our organization.
Opportunities for our participants to share their stories, sell their work or fulfill commissions are also very helpful.

Selected Media Mentions
WGN TV, Faces of Chicago, “How Victims of Gun Violence Find Healing in the Flames of Glass Art”
NBC Nightly News, “These Chicago Teens Are Fighting the City’s Gunfire With Fire”
Chicago Reader,  “Project Fire Offers Peace Forged in the Flame”
Greenexchange,  On Shannon Downey’s community craftivism project for Project FIRE”