Better Makers: Yo-Yo Ma Congratulates Ingenuity on 10 Years of Success as Arts Education Nonprofit Looks to the Next Decade

Ingenuity has dedicated itself to supporting and building arts education in Chicago, and after a decade of work, the results are in. 

Today, Ingenuity reports 75,000 more students have access to arts programs each year than 10 years ago, and there’s been a 97% increase in the number of Chicago public schools offering arts programs over that time.

“I think the distance we have traveled is remarkable,” said Julia deBettencourt, director of arts education for CPS. “We’ve made access to high quality arts education an integral part of the fabric of our school system.” 

The work, though, is not over. Far from it. 

During the past year, Ingenuity partnered with educators to continue arts education virtually. This year, Ingenuity is working with educators as they prepare for a full return to school and to assist students as they heal from the past year. 

“This is a critical time for Chicago schools and the arts education community,” Ingenuity Executive Director Paul Sznewajs said. “While we’re slowly getting back to some level of normalcy there’s much work to be done to keep advancing our mission that every child deserves access to arts in school.” 

Ingenuity celebrated its 10th anniversary with a virtual event in May, bringing together more than 300 guests and raising more than $435,000 to support the nonprofit’s work. Better contributed a $10,000 matching grant.

The event included comments from world renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, plus a moving song and dance performance from Senn High School arts students.

Ma called Sznewajs, Ingenuity’s founding director, one of his “heroes”

“I saw what Ingenuity did with CPS over a number of years to bring back arts education,” Ma said. “Thank you, thank you, thank you, Ingenuity. Thank you, Paul Sznewajs, for your passion and for your work over the last decade. And, boy, are we lucky to have you.” 

Ingenuity notes that arts education improves overall student performance in school and enriches the community the schools serve. 

Tarik Brown, a CPS graduate, is one of those students who found inspiration through the arts. He shared that he once talked with a stutter and lisp and struggled to talk with others, but drawing and arts education opened up other avenues of communication. 

“As I grew into visual arts and I was able to communicate with myself in that way, I gained a confidence that has helped me with talking to people,” Brown said.

Today, Brown is a student at University of the Arts London

Former CPS CEO Dr. Janice Jackson has also witnessed the impact of Ingenuity’s work and arts education.

“I’ve seen firsthand the transformative power of the arts. I’ve seen a withdrawn student reconnect with the world when a paintbrush is put in their hand. And a painfully quiet child find their voice through the gift of song,” Jackson said. 

There are still thousands of students with little to no exposure to arts education, and many of them could thrive if given the opportunity. That means Ingenuity’s work must continue. 

“The last 10 years have given us many reasons to celebrate,” said Ingenuity Board Chair Francia Harrington. “Ingenuity played a major role in Chicago’s dramatic improvements in arts education access, quality, and equity, and we look forward to working with the district, city and school leadership, CPS parents, arts teachers, partners and funders to ensure the next 10 years bring even more arts progress for Chicago’s children.” 

Sponsors of Ingenuity’s 10th anniversary event included: The Margot & Thomas Pritzker Foundation, Nancy and Steve Crown and The Crown Family, Exelon, Jim and Kay Mabie, Capital Group Private Client Services, Better, Anna and Greg Brown, CIBC US, Jim and Karen Frank, Ellen and Paul Gignilliat, Julian Family Foundation, Mary Ittleson, ITW, LaunchPad, Alexandra and John Nichols, Northern Trust, Peoples Gas Community Fund, Polk Bros. Foundation, Pritzker Traubert Foundation, The Sidley Austin Foundation, Elaine and Richard Tinberg, and Marilyn and David Vitale.


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Ann Marie Scheidler is a freelance writer who lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband and five children. She tends to be where her kids are, but if you can’t find her there, she’s proudly supporting Beacon Place as one of its newest board members. Beacon Place is a nonprofit organization that has changed the lives of 4,000 children and families in Waukegan. Their innovative programs take a whole child and family approach to education, enrichment and healthy lifestyles support.