Roosevelt University Alums Increasing Awareness of Diversity Through Art

By Hannah Ballerstedt
Staff Reporter


“Voices of the City” audio can be heard on their website, voicesofthecity.com. Photo courtesy of “Voices of the City” Facebook page.

Chicago’s lasting violent reputation is something most of its residents do not identify with. When talking about the experience of living in the city, Chicagoans rarely focus on its more dangerous aspects. Nonetheless, Chicago’s rich culture and ethnic resources are often overlooked due to its reputation, especially by those who do not live inside of the city.

        Composer John Nichols, a Roosevelt University alumni who graduated from the Chicago College of Performing Arts with a BM in music and the College of Arts and Sciences with a BA in philosophy, wanted to encourage inclusiveness through art in the city. Through work with Shazia Ilyas, a Roosevelt alum with a BA in english and philosophy, he created an audio art project titled, “Voices of the City.”

When talking about the inspiration for the project, Ilyas, the project administrator, said, “We wanted to promote a welcoming, enthusiastic, and inclusive environment through electroacoustic music techniques while showcasing the Chicago area’s strengths.”

This audio art gallery only uses voices of people with “diverse backgrounds, including different races, ages, and gender,” Ilyas said. She went on to say that the gallery shares their favorite place to visit in the Chicago area.

“Voices of the City” is currently installed on suburban Pace buses. The audio recordings play aloud on the bus while passengers ride. Ilyas said deciding to install the project on public transit was natural.”

“Having ridden Pace Suburban Bus, we knew that they have an active audio system in place,” Ilyas said. Because a diverse set of people ride Pace buses, the voices in the project reflect its audience. That way “Voices of the City” reaches an entire population, not just those who can afford a visit to an accredited museum.

Ilyas also appreciates the support Pace has given the project, saying the creators are “very pleased” that they wanted to include this on their services. “I think Pace realizes the potential for a project like this and they are interested in improving both the services for people and the transit experience,” Ilyas said.

“Voices of the City” intends for listeners to learn about new places or dialects. “This project aims to increase people’s awareness and develop a greater appreciation for the diversity that literally surrounds them,” Ilyas said.  

According to the project’s website, “350 voices have been recorded from 22 Chicago neighborhoods and suburbs. The project goal is to reach 1000 voices by Fall 2019.”

Ilyas hoped that when people hear diverse voices stimulates, “people’s minds toward inquiry and critique, leading to greater social and global development.”  

She also mentioned that the project wants to increase Chicago pride. “After all, what other cities have a project like this?” Ilyas said.

While the project is only currently installed in the suburbs, “Voices of the City” plans to expand its audience. The project creators have been engaging in talks with the Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA) and Chicago Transit Authority (CTA). Ilyas explains that the project is still growing.

“We are looking for people interested in our project to join the team, as we are assessing this innovative project’s results right now,” Ilyas said. “We’re also looking to record more people, especially those who are fluent in other languages for our current work with the CDA.”



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