Harvey Pranian Grows YEA! Day

Are you an artist? Before you jump to answer “no,” reflect on your day.

Did you arrange flowers? Come up with a creative sales strategy at work? Play a game that made getting ready this morning fun for your kids?

If so, Evanston resident Harvey Pranian thinks your answer should be “yes.”

“You almost don’t have to be an artist to be an artist,” he says with a laugh.

And that’s why, 24 years ago, he created YEA! Day in Evanston, an arts festival that showcases student art and music performances.

YEA! stands for Young Evanston Artists, and 6,500 children from more than 40 Evanston schools participate by creating art or performing.

YEA! Day is Saturday, May 21, at the corner of Chicago and Dempster. The blocks-long event is a feat of coordination and cooperation among volunteers, local businesses, the Chamber of Commerce, the City of Evanston, the schools and their PTAs, and children, teachers and parents.

It’s a labor of love for Pranian, who says the benefits of participating in the arts are tangible.

“As an employer, you’re not hiring employees to stand around, waiting to be told what to do,” says Pranian. “You want people who have ideas on how to contribute to your business.” This creative thinking begins with the arts, he says.

Children who participate in the arts three days a week for at least one full year are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement, Pranian says.

Pranian himself has lived a creative life. He was born in Detroit, and went on to graduate from the Yale School of Divinity. He moved to a Presbyterian church on the South Side of Chicago and worked with gangs, before marrying and moving to Evanston, where he opened a storefront antiques shop. He thought he would like to give back to his community, and he would like to involve children.

“I went to the art teachers of District 65 with an idea for a children’s art fair, and they loved it,” he says.

The work is inspiring, says Pranian: “One year, a teacher gave kids a large piece of paper, and told the kids, `Draw a cat.’ The results were just spectacular. Each reflected the imagination and creativity of the child.”

Looking ahead, Pranian is working to bring together a network of existing community arts resources dedicated to enhancing learning through after-school arts experiences for Evanston students.

“That will be the legacy,” he says.

To learn more about YEA! Day or to donate, visit yeaevanston.org.