With nonprofit organization CPS Lives, photographer and philanthropist Suzette Bross is making an impactful connection between Windy City artists and students from the Chicago Public Schools.
CPS Lives’ booth at EXPO Chicago 2019 featured the work of Cecil McDonald at Senn High School and Melissa Ann Pinney at Ogden School and Bell Elementary School.
The Chicago Public Schools system is full of inspiring stories, but because of the institution’s sheer size—more than 660 schools, over 350,000 students—many of them go untold. Chicago photographer Suzette Bross aims to change that with CPS Lives, an organization whose mission is to show the profound influence of public school education through artworks created by local artists in collaboration with individual schools. As the Gold Coast resident looks ahead to CPS Lives’ fifth anniversary in 2023, we caught up with the founder and executive director to talk the power of art and why the organization is a win-win for both artists and students.
In this photo by Kathryn Rodrigues, a student from Sullivan High School shows a photo of what reminds them of home.
What inspired you to establish CPS Lives?
I saw that there was a need for more opportunities for artists to make work, a need for students to learn from artists, and a need for everyone to learn more about our public schools. I knew that many artists wanted to help students in Chicago Public Schools but were not able to figure out entry into the large CPS system. My organization fulfills that need while also allowing our artists to make work. Through our organization, students can be exposed to professional artists at work and realize that an artistic career is a viable option, and we can also share the stories of Chicago Public Schools with everyone.
“If I Could Show the World,” a 2020 mural project featuring the work of CPS Lives artists
Why do you think art has the ability to change lives?
Art is everywhere and touches everyone—it can be a child’s drawing, an actor on a stage, a concert pianist, a poet, a painter, a beautiful yellow leaf on the ground. Art can be emotional and it can make you think about something in another way. When a person learns an art form where there are many approaches to a right answer, that person can use those skills to problem-solve in a more traditional setting.
Students at Michele Clark High School in a photo by Marzena Abrahamik
What has been the most satisfying aspect of building the organization?
Connecting with artists in our city and connecting with the principals, teachers and students in our schools. Everyone has amazing stories, and it is so inspiring to meet people in the art and education communities who want to help our students learn and make our city better.
Artist Nathan Miller in front of his work from Julian High School at the CPS Lives 2022 Benefit.
What has the response from the students been? From the artists?
Very positive! We are a great platform to help artists promote their work and find new audiences. And it is so gratifying to see how students respond to the work our artists make. … Students often play a key role in the collaboration between our artists and their schools. Our artists are sharing their unique and incredible stories with the world and providing them with the space to uplift their experiences through art making.
Photography by: FROM TOP: PHOTO COURTESY OF EXPO CHICAGO; PHOTO: BY KATHRYN RODRIGUES; PHOTO BY MARZENA ABRAHAMIK; PHOTO COURTESY OF CPS LIVES; PHOTO BY TIA MITCHELL