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Westside Poetic ACEs Project

Westside Poetic ACEs & Resilience is a survey and an art project that uses poetry, spoken word, music, and visual art to examine the prevalence of childhood traumas and protective factors on Chicago’s west side.

I am launching an ambitious and vitally necessary project this year. I have applied for funding from the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs (DCASE) to support this project for the last two years. Unfortunately, due to the highly competitive grant application process, it was not funded by DCASE. Because of the potential social impact, I have decided to proceed with this project on my own (regardless of DCASE funding). Any expenses will either be covered by my own modest resources, other funders, and/or private donations. I also plan to set-up a crowd-funding page to cover additional expenses.

I will use this page to post any relevant background information, survey data, and/or creative works derived from the data.

Westside Poetic ACEs Project Overview

Westside Poetic ACEs (WPA) project is Chicago poet Keith M. Kelley’s “cultural activism” in action. In response to the community violence, and loss of life in the city of Chicago (particularly on the west side), WPA combines Kelley’s socially conscious art making with his trauma-informed social practice. This project creates a community survey of west side residents based on the expanded Philadelphia Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study. Kelley will interpret the data using poetry, spoken word, music, and visual art for the public, rather than publish the results for an audience of social scientists and clinicians.

The main purpose of Westside Poetic ACEs is to address the public health issue of childhood trauma in Chicago using the arts. As a 25-year veteran teaching artist, Kelley has found the arts (particularly poetry and the spoken word) to be quite an effective way for both youth and adults to address their own traumatic experiences. The project’s secondary purpose is to identify opportunities for resilience, stimulate public discourse, and raise community awareness of the prevalence of various forms of traumas in a way that is accessible for the public.

Like the Philadelphia study, Westside Poetic ACEs will incorporate questions that take into consideration local sociopolitical context and culture. Since the intent is to promote resilience, the Westside Poetic ACEs survey will also gather data related to the presence of “protective factors” like family, community, and institutional supports in respondents’ lives. It will also drop the lowest age of survey respondents to fourteen (14) years. The reason for this is that (based on both research Kelley’s experience as a community-based teaching artist) teens often experience much adversity prior to entering high school.

The goals of Westside Poetic ACEs are: 1. to draft an expanded ACEs questionnaire specific to Chicago, and survey a population sample of west side residents (with the assistance of doctoral candidates from National-Louis University), 2. to examine the data and create a body of work based on all the ACEs, 3. recruit local teens and artists to create works on the top three (3) most prevalent ACEs, 4. present survey findings and creative works to the community.

The survey will be conducted in a manner which ensures that the results can be used for more scholarly study in the future. As a member of the Illinois ACEs Response Collaborative, Kelley will have access to doctoral students from National-Louis University familiar with the impact of trauma to assist with the survey administration. This will also ensure that the survey is administered in a manner that aligns with previous ACEs studies.

The success of Westside Poetic ACEs project will be measured by tracking the number of: survey responses, community events, exit surveys of audience members, and subsequent scholarly reviews of the findings. The body of work generated by the artist and his interns (comprised of both teens and adults) will also serve as the most visible measure of the project’s success. Although it may not be an immediate measure of success for this project, Kelley’s hope is that this work will prove to be useful in creating trauma-informed services for children and adults in Chicago.


I am currently drafting the survey questions, which are scheduled to be completed by December 2018. There will be plenty of opportunities form community members to volunteer (including “service learning” for students). If you would like to participate in the Westside Poetic ACEs project, please complete the contact form below.

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