Donda’s House empowers youth with new partner

Virgin Hotels Chicago established a partnership with Donda’s House to provide volunteer opportunities and a trusted outlet for the organization’s youth artists.

By Arts & Culture Reporter

Donda’s House, a nonprofit started by Kanye West to commemorate his late mother, and Virgin Hotels Chicago recently teamed up to encourage young Chicago artists by offering them safe studio spaces and resources for creating art.

The initiative is set to launch April 9, according to a March 23 press release from the nonprofit. Donda’s House, located at 7800 S. Racine Ave. in the Auburn Gresham community, aims to empower underprivileged city youth ages 13–23 by providing opportunities to explore their passions in photography, fashion and music, the press release stated.

“What attracted Virgin Hotels Chicago to Donda’s House is the organization’s focus on supporting young aspiring artists in Chicago in the world of fashion, art and music, which are passion points for not just the hotel but also for our teammates,” said Clio Knowles, vice president of people at Virgin Hotels Chicago, in a March 22 emailed statement.

The first project has Donda’s House students working together to produce music, fashion, photography and videography for a photoshoot hosted by Virgin Hotels Chicago, 203 N. Wabash Ave., said Kelsey Riley, administrative assistant and social media manager as well as an alumna of Donda’s House.

Riley said most students involved in the program come from underprivileged backgrounds.

Riley, who said she came from a disadvantaged background herself, added that she has seen firsthand how many city residents have not had the opportunity to get outside of their own neighborhoods. She emphasized how important it is for students to have a safe, trusted environment in which they can create art.

“Many of my friends [and] colleagues don’t even make it past downtown,” Riley said. “Exploring Chicago is something that a lot of students don’t get to do simply because of our access. Having access and exposure to a professional opportunity at Virgin Hotels Chicago is huge for a lot of our students who probably would never get the opportunity to do so.”

Kendall Delashment, a former interdisciplinary arts graduate student at Columbia in 2015 and a current mentor at Donda’s House, said it was challenging for him as a rapper to locate an appropriate, affordable space where he and fellow Chicago musicians could produce music.

Delashment said space and affordability is a problem not only for himself but for many aspiring hip-hop artists in Chicago. He said promoters at venues will charge artists anywhere from $40–$200 to perform for less than 10 minutes.

“Virgin Hotels has a little bit more of a respectable environment than other venues we’ve performed in,” Delashment said.

The collaboration provides the Virgin Hotel staff  with opportunities to do volunteer work with the local youth organization in the city of Chicago, Riley said.

Riley said students at the photo shoot will take charge but have the benefit of professional supervision. Students interested in media will be behind the camera guiding sound students who will be the models, while the students who are interested in fashion will style the models. 

“Our students in our program are aspiring to be creative directors, fashion stylists, art directors or media moguls,” Riley said. “This [event] is huge for them to see that a brand with such a global reach as Virgin Hotels Chicago is willing to provide resources and access to Donda’s House.”