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The PrivateBank Norman Bobins Leadership Award


She’s always there for the kids. But when she’s not in the studio encouraging youngsters, Sarah Ward most often can be found in her office managing and expanding one of the city’s most successful youth development programs.

Easy to overlook in this distant corner of the city, under Ward’s leadership the South Chicago Art Center has grown from a twice-a-week class serving 18 children to an oasis of art and affirmation, open daily, serving over 3,000 kids and reaching into 19 area schools.

And more is on the way later in 2015, what with the blossoming of a larger, brighter and better-located studio complex carved from a long-vacant industrial building. Turns out the Art Center’s executive director runs a capital campaign as brilliantly as she coaches kids on creativity.

But her focus is the students, many in serious need of a dependable “third place” between home and school.

“Kids read people pretty fast,” says Ward. “And with so much disruption in their lives — our average household moves twice a year — they really cling to what they can depend on.”

Since 2001 they’ve depended on Sarah Ward, not just for instruction in the visual arts but for a sense of self-worth “and a belief they can do anything they put their minds to.” It’s also a place that builds community, where black and brown kids make art side-by-side without racial, ethnic or gang divisions.

A registered art therapist with a masters from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Ward founded the Art Center in 2001 after setting up an arts program at Cook County’s Juvenile Court. Now she encourages talented students to consider careers in art, often beginning with paid internships at the Center, where several have returned in adulthood as art instructors.

There may be a new building and name-change — SkyART — on the way, but Ward promises it will remain a calm space for dreams and aspirations to grow.