Categorized | News

Artists seek to make change

By Elise Guillen and Agape Alfaro

[Editor’s note: This piece was updated on Oct. 3, 2017.]

Senior Daria Velazquez and junior Millie Martinez were the only high schoolers chosen to be finalists in the National Youth Art Movement Against Gun Violence (NYAM) art contest.

The organization helps bring awareness of the affects of gun violence in Chicago through the creation of art by youth, ages 12 – 25.

“Today’s youth are powerful,” NYAM founder Janice Tisha Samuels writes in her piece Youth: The Change-Makers, on the NYAM blog. She said that people of any age are “capable of motivating the masses,” and that change is possible.

In addition to Daria and Millie, the NYAM team included experienced artists in their 20s.

Daria Velazquez (self-portrait) and Millie Martinez (NYAM photo)

Daria Velazquez (self-portrait) and Millie Martinez (NYAM photo)

Millie and Daria’s pieces are displayed on billboards on the west side and south side of Chicago from Aug. 28 through Oct. 1. The six other pieces by NYAM artists are also displayed. The NYAM website shows the images and provides the locations of all the pieces. 

Daria’s piece is on a billboard at 2854 W. Armitage; Millie’s piece is displayed in two places – at 2327 W. Fullerton and 7555 S. Racine.

Art teacher Rosanna Mark had encouraged the students to apply to NYAM. Once Daria and Millie were accepted, they participated in workshops. They learned techniques used by the older artists and grew as artists.

They also had the chance to “reflect on and unpack the deeply layered ways in which violence, either experienced or perceived through a sense of fear or worry, affects life in Chicago for everyone,” as the NYAM website states was part of the first stage of the project.

“I didn’t know much about gun violence since I live in a safe area,” Millie said. “But I wanted to learn more about it.”

Daria had more experience with gun violence, she said. When she was younger, she lived in Humboldt Park. She moved to Belmont Craigen and recently moved back to Humboldt Park. Her involvement in NYAM showed her how common the violence is in Humboldt Park.

“I started to pay attention to the news more and it made me realize we don’t have strong gun laws,” Daria said. “Innocent people die everyday and politicians should do something about it.”

Through their art, NYAM artists have been able to bring awareness to gun violence and share powerful messages.

'You or Me (America)' by Daria Velazquez and 'Caught in the Noose' by Millie Martinez

‘You or Me (America)’ by Daria Velazquez and ‘Caught in the Noose’ by Millie Martinez

“Anyone could be a victim to gun violence,” Daria said about her piece.

Millie’s message was more about how people don’t really pay close attention to gun violence, but it’s always there.

NYAM is about making people think about gun violence and the issues that arise from it by putting up the artwork in the city.

“The power of visual art and multimedia animation shows how gun violence affects those living in Chicago,” the NYAM website states.

In the NYAM workshops, Millie and Daria’s artwork was analyzed and criticized before going up on billboards. This helped for the best version of all of the art pieces to occur before displayed.

The opportunity helped Millie and Daria grow as artists and allowed them to showcase their art where their pieces are bound to be noticed.

Millie’s piece at 2327 W. Fullerton

Millie’s piece at 2327 W. Fullerton

Millie said she felt happy and proud seeing her art on the billboard.

NYAM encourages everyone to see the billboards. By using a downloadable app for Augmented Reality and visiting the billboards, viewers can literally see the art come to life.

“Using Augmented Reality technology (think Pokemon Go!), each billboard will also be equipped with informational videos on organizations working to reduce violence in the city and the functionality for viewers to instantly sign-up to volunteer with these organizations,” the NYAM website states.

“Art + Activism + Technology = NYAM.”

The third stage of the NYAM is for the campaign to take the tour to other cities.

“These youth then take what they’ve learned and use it to co-lead an outdoor art tour in another US city besieged by gun violence,” the NYAM website states. “In this way, the project seeks to galvanize a national youth art movement and to provide these youth with educational and career opportunities in the arts and public service.”

As part of this effort, NYAM artists attended the Nobel Peace Prize Forum on September 14-17.

“The forum was the most eye-opening experience I’ve ever had; even making me realize the potential I had all along,” Daria said.

She and Millie were flown to Minneapolis and provided with food and a hotel room.

“During this experience, the most memorable thing was being able to meet the U.S. Senator from Arizona, Gabrielle Giffords, who in person is such an inspiring individual,” Daria said. “Her story of surviving an assassination attempt that left her with a severe brain injury echoed through the auditorium and even brought tears to people’s eyes.

“She was full of spirit even after the tragic incident she went through. Giffords took that negativity and turned it into positivity. In her work against gun violence she inspired me to work on myself and to do the same.”

NYAM encourages viewers of the art to not only see the creative work, but to actually take action against gun violence.

Daria's piece at 2854 W. Armitage.

Daria’s piece at 2854 W. Armitage.

Artist descriptions from the “Our Team” tab of the NYAM website:

Daria V., NYAM Emerging Artist and Thought Leader

Daria is a self-taught artist living in Chicago who expresses her thoughts, real-life experiences and beliefs through her work. Using art for self-care and self-expression for the last 7 years has inspired her to become an Art Therapist. Daria plans to pursue a Master’s degree in both Psychology and Art after she graduates high school in 2018.

Millie M., NYAM Emerging Artist and Thought Leader

Millie is a rising junior in high school with a 4.9 GPA.  She is a growing artist who started becoming serious about her art practice three years ago. As a teenager working with NYAM, she hopes to spread awareness of gun violence and to positively impact her peers.


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