Chicago Urban Art Retreat Center's annual Youth Art Fest returns to Peace Park

alt text By F. Amanda Tugade, Arts & Culture Editor, The Real Chi

Dianna Long remembers what it was like to be a young artist and discover her own creativity for the very first time. She was drawn to the idea of creating something with her hands all while using her imagination as the tool, and she became even more thrilled when others began noticing her passion and talent.

“It meant a lot to me to show my skills,” said Long, director and president of the Chicago Urban Art Retreat Center in North Lawndale.

Long’s interest in fine arts unfolded into a lifelong career in art therapy and working with people of all ages, and she sought to offer that same opportunity and help children and teens discover their own artistic gifts through the Youth Art Fest. The annual event includes plenty of activities, an art contest, games and live music. This year’s fest will take place on Saturday, Aug. 25, from noon to 5 p.m. at CUARC’s Peace Park, 2101 S. Spaulding Ave.

“Youth need to know that adults are behind them and want them to succeed.”

Long, who has organized this event for the last decade, said her favorite part is hosting the teen art contest where  young artists paint portraits of African-American heroes on pieces of wood which are later put on display in the park. One of CUARC’s missions is to bring the community together to celebrate the key figures in black history and the art contest is just one  example of those small efforts.

This year, Long is also looking forward to  the return of the Original Sixty Fourth Street Beach Drummers, a nonprofit from the South Side that promotes music therapy through Conga drum art for children, teens and adults.

“You’re going to hear the beat of those drums. That’s going to put you in the mood,” said Beach Drummers co-founder Juliet Jones.

While the Beach Drummers strive to do more than just have listeners get up and move with their music, Jones explained that her organization’s main focus is to provide a safe and peaceful atmosphere where people feel open and comfortable enough to dance and let loose.

This particular performance at the Youth Art Fest has become meaningful for Jones, who grew up in North Lawndale. Jones said being invited to the fest opened up a world of opportunity for her to reconnect with her old neighborhood and motivate young artists to think outside the box.

“This is our mission,” Jones said, noting how excited she is to bring the Beach Dummers to the west side.  

The Youth Art Fest is free and open to the public, and CUARC is giving away art supplies to all those who attend. Volunteers are still needed for the event, and those interested in participating can email Long at Some of the tasks involve setting up tables and tents, and distributing prizes and snacks.

“I really encourage people—adults—to support the youth when they do positive things,” Long said. “Youth need to know that adults are behind them and want them to succeed.”