Educator, Artist, Activist
Your mind threatens to explode just listening to Silvia Ines Gonzalez, ’11 FAA, ’11 FAA. What exactly is she? An artist? Curator? Teacher? Community activist? Here she describes a think tank she recently facilitated at the Chicago Art Department, a residency program for artists in Pilsen, on the topic of mending: “We were thinking through topics like grief, liberation, health and identity. Then we figured out what to create for a public exhibition. It was a pretty big example of what I do as both a facilitator and an artist.”
Here is how she turned a major 2019 teachers’ union protest into another art exhibit titled, “When We Fight We Win”: “I’m very proud of that show,” she says. “They were pieces that people marched with that we took out of a basement and put into a gallery. We were going through a pandemic and civil unrest, and it allowed people to pause and grieve—something we don’t typically do as teachers.”
Gonzalez is a certified visual arts teacher in the Chicago Public Schools, but she’s also an artist who steers curriculum toward visual literacy and cultural competency. Her achievements as a freelance designer take up a half page of her résumé. The entire next page is on community engagement—ranging from her work with the Hyde Park Arts Center as a program artist to roles at the Chicago Humanities Festival and Chicago ACT (Artists Creating Transformation), to name but a few organizations where Gonzalez devotes her time and energy.
“I was very lucky to be part of the Illinois Promise program and the Fine Arts Department at Illinois that helped me cultivate my ideas both as an artist and educator.” —Silvia Ines Gonzalez, ’11 FAA, ’11 FAA
Gonzalez lives in a unique world of her own making, as fluent at creating collage art and prints as she is collating a range of people and disciplines to address social issues. This July, for instance, she co-curated a show called “Seeding Ceremony” at the Chicago Art Department that brings together artists to explore “grieving and healing in the context of environmental justice.” The show’s program manager, Carlos Flores, ’16 UIC, has known Gonzalez for years and is one of her biggest fans: “She’s a genius facilitator and wonderfully uplifting for BIPOC people. She’s just fantastic!”
Gonzalez, who was born in Chicago, can’t remember when all the threads in her life first came together, but a lot coalesced during her years at the University of Illinois where she graduated with a double major in art education and photography.
“Illinois was very impactful. It was where I started to think about community and what it would look like and what justice meant. I was very lucky to be part of the Illinois Promise program and the Fine Arts Department at Illinois that helped me cultivate my ideas both as an artist and educator.”
The ideas of change and transformation are at the core of Gonzalez’s work, which helps explain why she’s thrilled that another teacher and union activist was recently elected mayor of Chicago. “Am I excited about Brandon Johnson? Oh, for sure! Chicago has always been a strong union city. I can’t wait to see what the future will look like.”
Talking to Gonzalez, it’s impossible not to get excited about what her future will look like. The possibilities are enough to make you dizzy.