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ElevArte Familia, Meet Maria León

This week marks Maria León’s first official week in the Executive Director role at ElevArte. Over the last three weeks she has been shadowing Giselle, meeting with important stakeholders and getting to know staff on a one-on-one basis, all in an effort to learn about ElevArte’s many moving parts.

As she gets to know ElevArte, we want to extend an opportunity to the ElevArte familia to get to know her a little better too.

What inspires you to do this work?

I love that ElevArte is a social impact organization, meaning that by using the arts as a vehicle, we are able to impact different aspects of young people’s lives. I have always been passionate about creating opportunities for young people because I recognize the role that they play in shaping our future. Youth have such a unique perspective of the world: they see it with fresh eyes and have the natural ability to tell us what we need to change about it---whether we adults like it or not. Young people keep us grounded and hold us accountable -without them we would not evolve as a society. Why wouldn’t we help guide them and empower them to become the leaders the world needs? We can do that using the arts as a tool to accomplish this. Not only can we fuel their creativity and teach them various art disciplines but they also get the added benefit of learning life and job readiness skills, which will translate to any field they choose to go into.

When I reflect on my own life and I think about those individuals that helped me along my path I realize that I was guided by each and every one of them—they were adult allies. They saw potential in me and provided the encouragement, guidance and opportunities to help me succeed. If I can be a youth ally and help transform their lives in real ways, que mas podría pedir?

What are you most excited about in your new role?

I’m excited about many things, but here are my top three:

  1. Partnering with like-minded individuals and organizations who are also passionate about youth work and the arts to create innovative programming. 
  2. Getting to know the young people we serve in our programs and hearing their thoughts, ideas and needs in order to stay engaged.
  3. Working with my dynamic team to strengthen and expand the reach of our organization to at-promise youth in the Back of the Yards community, where I grew up.

What is your vision for the future of ElevArte?

My vision for ElevArte is multi-layered. First, it’s important that we continue to provide arts programming in the Pilsen community where the organization has firmly planted roots, but I also hope to grow and expand to other communities like the Back of the Yards, McKinley Park, Gage Park and Brighton Park so that youth there can have access to creative arts programming. I also wish to engage an expanded group of donors who are willing to make a commitment to provide generous support to our work. Lastly, without investing in the staff (administrative and teaching artists) that make these opportunities possible, we would not have the impact that we do today. It is one of my goals to help our staff evolve within the organization and invest in their own professional growth and development. Ultimately, the goal is to build on the great foundation that ElevArte’s predecessors Jean Parisi and Giselle Mercier worked so hard to achieve.   

How do you plan to work side by side with youth?

I would like to build community with them. It’s so important to get to know them and their stories—what are their struggles, what are their hopes for the future, what are their interests, what makes them tick? I want to keep up with the current lingo being used by teens. Youth culture evolves and I want to speak the same language—I can’t do that without knowing how they express themselves. I also want to give them a platform so they can speak up and share their thoughts and opinions. I would like to partner with them so they can help us identify the best way to do this. As adults, it is our responsibility to help provide a framework, but ultimately they determine the content.

What are some of your hobbies?

I like to challenge myself to try new things. I recently decided to learn how to crochet. Although I am not an artist by training, I feel a deep need to be creative. So far, I’ve created blankets for my nieces. I’m calling them reading blankets so they can use to curl up and read a book. This is my way of creating something beautiful but also finding a way to nurture a love for reading in them. I’m also working on a baby blanket for a friend who is expecting her first baby in May – we have to start them young!

I also enjoy baking. Cheesecakes and flan are my strongest desserts.

What is your favorite expression or dicho and why?

“Echando a perder se aprende”. Growing up my mom always used to say this and still does. In a nutshell, we learn through trial and error. This is the version of “practice makes perfect” but it’s a bit deeper because it implies that we learn from our mistakes. Often, we can be our own toughest critics and this is a gentle reminder that we are human and that there is beauty in making mistakes because we learn from them and they truly make us stronger and better at whatever it is we are trying to achieve. This is perfect dicho to connect with baking, which is one of my favorite hobbies, because sometimes we have to make adjustments to the recipe in order to get it just right.

Anything else you would like to add?

I am thankful and honored for the opportunity to lead ElevArte in its next phase of growth. Together, we are a group of empowered, intelligent and mission driven women and we will be exitosas in bringing to life a shared vision for ElevArte.   

Want to stay up to date with ElevArte happenings and events? Visit our Facebook and Twitter page for up to date info and chances to meet Maria in person.