Feature photo of interior mural at Radio Arte by Firebelly

As I browsed through my daily Facebook and Twitter feed the other day, I came across some disheartening news—the license of Radio Arte, WRTE 90.5 FM, Chicago’s only noncommercial youth-led Latino radio station, is for sale. More disheartening still, the building where Radio Arte and another youth program, Yollocali Arts Reach are headquartered, is for sale.

The space, located at 1401 W. 18th St., has been a staple for the predominantly Latino community of Pilsen for more than a decade and has been a space where youth have gathered to give a voice to issues in their community. Radio Arte’s bilingual programming includes socially conscious talk shows, as well as broadcasts of varied types of Latin music. All programs are geared to enable Latino youth to pursue future careers in journalism and media by simultaneously engaging them in their community. Similarly, Yollocali Arts Reach, which offers youth programs in silk-screening, graphic design, mural painting and more, has existed to create a space where youth partner with local artists to learn the tools and skills necessary to become artists themselves.

But as thriving and influential as these programs have been for both Pilsen and the youth, it’s funding that’s putting it all at risk. Both programs are funded by the National Museum of Mexican Fine Arts; however, with the plague of the recession, the museum can no longer find the funds to budget Radio Arte and the building in its expenses. After giving it much thought, NMMA President Carlos Tortolero and the museum’s Board of Trustees decided to sell the radio station’s license, the building and the equipment to potential buyers, such as Chicago Public Media and DePaul University, promising that the programming will continue. But with the building gone, where will the programming continue? Downtown? Lincoln Park? It’s a question of accessibility–taking away a space where  youth in Pilsen and neighboring communities gather, lead and create artwork and media projects about their neighborhood,  in their own neighborhood. You see, their neighborhood is their muse and by taking away that space, it’s potentially taking away a big part of their inspiration as artists.

If you’ve never been to Pilsen you might not be aware of the impact that these two programs have had on both the youth and the neighborhood.  Simply take a walk along 18th Street, and you’ll see the striking youth-created murals that line the walls of buildings and the large windows that give one a view into the live youth-created radio broadcasts. Look closer and you will see that inside those walls are our future Latino journalists, artists, advocates, activists and leaders. It’s no wonder then, that the youth involved in these programs aren’t taking the news lightly.

According to a report by WBEZ, youth involved in Radio Arte are organizing to gain control of the station’s name, license and transmitter, forming a group to save the station that has helped them succeed throughout the years.  They don’t agree with Tortolero’s plan of selling the license nor of plans to switch programming  from radio signals  to web streaming and podcasting  as they believe radio signals reach bigger audiences, especially in immigrant and low-income communities. Their willingness to stand up and fight demonstrates the loyalty they have for the radio station they helped create and the impact it’s had in their lives. This is why it’s so vital for the program to keep existing in the place it originated–Pilsen.

So, with the potential loss of these programs what is one to do? My answer is simply to not give up. We should support the efforts of the youth who are fighting to gain control of Radio Arte and furthermore, the building itself, whether that be through funding or simply standing alongside the youth in their effort, no matter the outcome. Most importantly, as artists, musicians, writers, journalists, producers, community liaisons, etc., we ourselves should be mentoring youth every day no matter if a program exists or not. We possess the skills and tools to transform our neighborhood and empower the youth through our medium, while youth possess the creative prowess to take on the information and reinvent it. It’s up to us to keep art thriving in our communities, even if it’s through one youth at a time. So, go around your neighborhood, get to know the youth in your community and for gods sake mentor them!

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