Galtieri builds communities through the arts

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Galtieri (right) with her cousin in Italy

Dawn Marie Galtieri has devoted most of her professional career to nurturing Voice of the City, a small multi-arts nonprofit she founded 24 years ago in Chicago.

“Our mission is to build community through making art and teaching art,” she explains.

The nonprofit has a staff of two — Galtieri, who serves as executive and artistic director, and Christopher Ellis, executive producer and associate artistic director — along with about 20 associate artists.

They currently focus their efforts on Chicago’s Logan Square and Roseland/Pullman neighborhoods, offering a variety of programming, including Design.Build.Grow.Eat. and UNITED Voices, both for teens.

The nonprofit was awarded a Neighborhood Access grant by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events for its “Pullman: Laboring Together” project. It also was selected by the Chicago Community Trust to participate in the SMART Growth cohort from 2018 to 2021.

Voice of the City collaborates with artists “who are very good at what they do and also are very generous with their time,” Galtieri says.

A sneaker-making workshop offered by Voice of the City

In late July, for example, the nonprofit offered a sneaker-making workshop led by master teacher Alva Nelms and held at the Greenstone United Method Church in Pullman.

“The smell of leather, being able to be in a room together and make something together… that is a really great example of the essence of what we do,” Galtieri says. “It’s collaborative. It’s dynamic. And it came from an idea from an artist.”

Galtieri was born in Staten Island, New York, and was into singing and dancing while growing up in Connecticut. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Wheaton College and an MFA in music theater from Roosevelt University. Over the years, she has built a resume chockfull of experience in performance, directing and stage management.

When Voice of the City was born in 1999, there wasn’t much in the way of local multi-arts initiatives, Galtieri recalls. The nonprofit also was ahead of its time with its focus on the need to build community, which is even more profound nowadays, she points out. In May, the U.S. Surgeon General issued a general advisory about the epidemic of loneliness and isolation in the United States.

Voice of the City was recently gifted a 36,000-square-foot property in the West Pullman neighborhood that has historic significance as a boundary line in the Treaty of Chicago between the U.S. government and Native American peoples, Galtieri says. The nonprofit plans to use the land for a project that combines art, nature and ancestry.

Galtieri has a keen interest in the latter topic, and has done extensive research into her own ancestry and that of her daughters, who are also African American.

Her Italian roots trace back to Naples, Basilicata and Calabria. In 2020, just before the pandemic hit, Galtieri co-bought a home in Ferrandina, Basilicata, with a friend. She later sold her share of that home to her friend and bought another home just up the street. She is studying Italian at ItalCultura Chicago.

“My children are in school so I don’t get back there as much as I’d like,” she says of her home in Italy. “I hope to spend more time there as time goes on.”

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About Elena Ferrarin

Elena Ferrarin is a native of Rome who has worked as a journalist in the United States since 2002. She has been a correspondent for Fra Noi for more than a decade. She previously worked as a reporter for The Daily Herald in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, The Regional News in Palos Heights and as a reporter/assistant editor for Reflejos, a Spanish-English newspaper in Arlington Heights. She has a bachelor’s degree from Brown University and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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