Local artist works with at-risk youth to highlight experiences with racism


Joshua Kaplan/Daily Senior Staffer

Students draw portraits and write about their experiences with racism. The works were displayed at Curt’s Cafe North, 2922 Central St.

Samantha Handler, Reporter

When Evanston artist Kathy Pilat saw an art show featuring people’s experiences with racism, she said she realized the importance of understanding these stories.

Building on that knowledge, she began working with men at Curt’s Café North — a workforce training program for at-risk youth — to showcase their own narratives.

Pilat said she encouraged eight students to draw self-portraits and write a few paragraphs below the artwork describing their experiences with racism. She displayed the drawings at Curt’s Café North, 2922 Central St., and plans to have new students add their own portraits and stories to the series.

“Giving (a) voice to any kind of hurtful experience can be helpful,” Pilat said. “Art can be a place to hold those kinds of feelings, and it’s important for the public to be able to hear their stories.”

Pilat said Ben Blount, an Evanston-based designer and printer, inspired her with his February show at the 1100 Florence Gallery. Blount drew a series of portraits depicting stereotypes about people of color, but displayed peoples’ first-person narratives about racism along with each drawing.

When Pilat’s students finished their project, she sent the work to Blount. Pilat said she wants to work with Blount to compile the students’ stories into a book.

“Seeing people’s stories unadulterated is really powerful,” Blount said. “It really humanizes people. You get to see them share a part of them that you wouldn’t typically see. If you know them you wouldn’t necessarily get that piece out of a conversation.”

Blount said the stories “have to get in front of more people.” Though most of the students aren’t professional artists, he said seeing their drawings are still “pretty amazing.”

Pilat, a former art teacher at New Trier High School, said the men she works with at Curt’s Café range in age from 16 to 21. Cafe owner Susan Trieschmann said the work Pilat does is “amazing” and allows students to “dig a little deeper” into their past.

“A lot of our young men are working through PTSD, so through art therapy they really can put what’s in their hearts onto paper, which is sometimes easier than to speak the words,” Trieschmann said.

Curt’s Café staff and volunteers also help students gain life and job skills that lead to employment, Trieschmann said. She said a lot of the students have “been in touch with” the judicial system and spent some time in prison.

Pilat said volunteering at Curt’s Café has allowed her to gain more insight about her students.

“I listen to their stories and try to understand,” Pilat said. “By having the public read their stories they might gain a little insight and perspective, too.”

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Twitter: @sn_handler