Resilient Evanston Youth art showcase highlights youth experiences


Samantha Aguilar/Daily Senior Staffer

Jayda Cochrane, Chute Middle School eighth grader, stands in front of her artwork at the Resilient Evanston Youth art showcase.

Samantha Aguilar, Senior Staffer

When Jayda Cochrane, an eighth grader at Chute Middle School, was assigned a quarantine-inspired project in her media arts class, she wanted to capture the struggles she had with mental health during the pandemic.

On May 1, their art piece was presented to the public at the Resilient Evanston Youth Showcase — called “REYS of Sunshine” — at Open Studio Project’s Gallery 901 in Evanston.

The exhibit, sponsored by Evanston Cradle to Career, Young Evanston Artists and Open Studio Project, featured art by youth and for youth about racial trauma, healing and life during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cochrane, whose piece features a pair of crying eyes, wanted to portray anger, stress and other emotions in her art, she said. The purple bags under the eyes and the green tears are meant to depict a “tired and sickening” feeling, and the blue and gray hues are meant to look sad, they said.

The showcase was the first time she had shared an emotional piece with others. Cochrane said they feared others would perceive her as “weird” after sharing their art because of its “sad and scary” nature.

“It helped to finally get what I was feeling out on paper,” Cochrane said. “I could finally get off my chest how I was feeling about the world at the moment.”

Sylvie Smith , a seventh grader at Nichols Middle School, also had doubts about sharing their art at a public gallery.

Smith said they were excited but nervous when their media arts teacher asked if they wanted to submit artwork. With some encouragement from friends, Smith said they decided to “put themself out there.”

Their photos tell a nine-part story about getting dressed in the morning — a process they said displays the confusion they’ve had about their gender identity. Smith said the photos with a dress and a suit represent their gradual identification toward their masculine side and away from their feminine side.

Nine rectangular photos show Smith picking an outfit.
Sylvie Smith’s nine part photo story depicting a young person’s struggle with finding clothes that accurately reflect their gender identity. (Samantha Aguilar/Daily Senior Staffer)

“The piece was me putting on a dress and trying to feel happy in the dress, but it just didn’t quite feel right,” Smith said. “Then I put on a suit and I felt a lot happier.”

The photo story also expresses their love for fashion that emerged during the pandemic.

Shopping less often during quarantine made them put more thought into picking pieces and assembling outfits, Smith said.

“I realized when I put certain pieces together, I felt really happy,” they said. “Having an outfit that makes me feel really confident has been a real help on my self-esteem during covid.”

Smith said they want to pursue photography and mixed media arts in high school and continue to incorporate fashion and clothes they love into their life in a way that makes them feel “amazing.”

Evanston Township High School sophomore Hanna Lindroth, served on a committee to plan the showcase for two years. The event was originally planned to be a dinner, complete with live performances and art, but the committee had to restructure when the pandemic began, Lindroth said.

Rectangular art pieces hang on a wall in the studio.
Art from Evanston youth on display at Gallery 901. Many of the pieces are inspired by the racial justice and Black Lives Matter movements. (Samantha Aguilar/Daily Senior Staffer)

The event went through so many phases of planning before and during the pandemic that Lindroth said she did not know what the showcase was going to look like until opening, she said.

Lindroth performed a monologue at the opening of the event. As an actress, she said art has always been a passion and coping mechanism. She said the art at the showcase exceeded all of her expectations in the way it touches on a variety of topics and highlights the experiences of Evanston youth.

“It’s part of a larger effort to recognize youth and support them,” Lindroth said. “I know what it feels like to suffer in silence and take it out with your art.”

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