Exploring the Creative Oasis: Chicago Urban Art Retreat Center

Nestled in the bustling city of Chicago, the Chicago Urban Art Retreat Center (CUARC) stands as a beacon of creativity and social change. This non-profit organization, located at 1957 S Spaulding Ave, Chicago, IL, is more than just an art space; it’s a community hub dedicated to fostering acceptance, diversity, and personal growth through the power of art.

Artistic Endeavors and Community Engagement

CUARC offers a plethora of artistic experiences that cater to a diverse audience. The center’s Art Gallery showcases underrepresented artists, providing them with a platform to exhibit their work and gain recognition in the competitive art world. The gallery also hosts theme shows that delve into social justice issues, reflecting CUARC’s commitment to using art as a medium for awareness and dialogue.

The center’s Art Workshops and Youth Programs are designed to inspire and educate. From hands-on art-making to discussions on social justice, participants are encouraged to express themselves and explore various artistic mediums. These programs not only nurture creativity but also empower individuals by equipping them with valuable skills and knowledge.

A Hub for Social Justice and Empowerment

CUARC’s mission extends beyond art; it’s a place where social justice is actively promoted. The center organizes Social Justice Events and Self-Improvement Workshops that invite people to engage with pressing societal issues. By examining topics such as sexism, racism, and other forms of oppression, CUARC urges its community to learn, grow, and contribute to positive change.

Sustainability and Well-being

The Nature is Nurture program and Vegan Activities at CUARC emphasize the importance of a healthy lifestyle and sustainable living. These initiatives encourage participants to connect with nature and adopt practices that are beneficial for both personal well-being and the environment.

Volunteerism and Skill Development

CUARC thrives on the support of its volunteers. The center offers Volunteer Opportunities that allow individuals to contribute their time and skills to various projects. One such initiative is the SUMMER BARISTAS Youth Training Program, which aims to provide young people with work experience and skills in the hospitality industry. This program not only prepares youth for future employment but also fosters entrepreneurship among them.

Our Founder, Calynn Lawrence, had the pleasure of visiting their location and spending the day with the co-founder and Executive Director, Ms. Dianna Long, along with a few regular volunteers and residents, Kat, Yvonne, and Cesar! Throughout this experience, she got to not only witness the incredible work that they do and the impact they have on the Southside of Chicago as an entirely volunteer-run organization, but to learn more about the stories of the people they serve. Some quotes that she found highly interesting during her visit were as follows.

"We keep trauma and freedom at the forefront of our programming, trying to be as inclusive as possible to make the greatest positive impact without navigating the bureaucracies that some larger, federally funded nonprofits face. Being a people-first organization that prioritizes depth of impact on our participants over quantity of beneficiaries, we look at success data from a qualitative lense, as opposed to a quantitative one. To do this, we sacrifice the convenience of a lot of grant opportunities, in order to maintain maximum flexibility with our programs and community work. As a result of a lean budget, we're able to accomplish our mission with 0 paid staff, including myself who doesn't take a salary and lives on my retirement from a long career in nonprofit management. We're very hands on from the creative to the operational to the maintenance sides of the organization, we all pitch in. Through in-kind donations and frugal budgeting, we've been able to do well like this, despite this kind of setup being uncommon."

"As an idea person, who is very creative and nomadic, my experience at CUARC has been fulfilling! What I've learned over the years is to use what you have and what's available to you to make a difference. And, I've been able to do that. In pursuit of independence and entrepreneurship, my journey in life has led me here after being tired of working traditional jobs for a long time. Landing here was unique to me because of the peace, quiet, creativity and opportunities. While being and working here (and even starting the upcoming summer barista intern program), I'm also able to work on starting my own company!"

-Yvonne, Volunteer & Resident

"I've been volunteering at CUARC since April 2014 (over a decade). I love the diversity in opportunities that CUARC offers to have a range of volunteer duties that allow me to have fun and never get bored! From distributing flyers, producing and hosting events, doing art classes, promoting the organization in the community, running our annual summer camp or even building maintenance, I love getting to be a part of a nonprofit that promotes social justice and equality. Ms. Dianna has helped me realize that my interests and talents can intersect across various art forms and activities."

- Cesar, Longtime Volunteer 

"I've titled myself an 'artivist' or an artist who leverages my art to advocate for important causes. At CUARC, I serve as the Equity Officer, leading initiatives for us to promote DEI through our work. We're currently seeking more volunteers and board members to launch a project that will offer more art space for those of low income, queer and minority backgrounds. I'm used to networking through my work as an artist, so my role at CUARC, being charged with building connections in the community and fostering opportunities for Marginalized groups, is very fulfilling!" 

- Kat, Volunteer Equity Officer


The Chicago Urban Art Retreat Center is more than just an art center; it’s a vibrant community space that champions art, social justice, and sustainability. It’s a place where creativity is nurtured, voices are heard, and positive change is enacted. Whether you’re an artist, a volunteer, or simply someone looking to explore the transformative power of art, CUARC welcomes you to join its thriving creative community.

For those interested in learning more about the Chicago Urban Art Retreat Center or becoming a part of its vibrant community, visit their website, follow their social media or stop by during their open hours to experience the magic firsthand.

WEBSITE: https://www.urbanartretreat.com/ 

FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/urbanartretreat 

INSTAGRAM: https://www.instagram.com/chicagourbanart/ 

DONATE: https://www.urbanartretreat.com/donate/ 


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