Angel Cruz models the hoodie he made and screened with his signature design. (Submitted photo)

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Part 1 of a Series

Evanston Township High School seniors Angel Cruz, Noam Hasak-Lowy, and Indira Abraham are making the best of the Pandemic’s “new normal.” They have stayed plugged into the high school’s remote learning, have goals for the future, have pursued their creative passions, and are grateful for their mentors and peer support along the way.

Music, graphic design, fashion design: Angel Cruz likes and is good at creating!

Since fifth grade, Angel Cruz has found friends, adult support, and his muse at Youth and Opportunity United (Y.O.U). 

“It’s  a special place ,” said Angel.  “I’ve liked and found the programs engaging, and I’ve always felt really comfortable with the people there.”  Sometimes the programs have introduced him to new things; sometimes they were like superchargers for interests he already had.  And during this year of the Pandemic, Y.O.U. has been a touchstone.

“Music is a safe place for me, something I understand and can really relate to,” he said, “and since it is so important to me, I sometimes wondered why I hadn’t tried to actually make music, “ he said.  Angel’s thinking about it became a leap of faith and signing on for a month-long music workshop at Y.O.U.  

It was fall of 2019, a few months before COVID-19 was a household word, but what he experienced and learned has stayed with him.  Musicians came to workshop sessions, instruments and production equipment were available, and Angel found himself putting lyrics and beats and instrumental sounds together – and producing music. 

The Gibbs-Morrison Cultural Center, just a few doors away from Y.O.U. on Church Street, had a well-equipped recording studio that Angel could reserve for two-hour time slots as he experimented and developed new skills. Using the recording studio again and continuing his foray into music is on Angel’s wish list for when the high school and Y.O.U. offer in-person learning and programs again. 

A couple of months before the COVID outbreak, Angel discovered another interest and emerging talent. In January of 2020 he registered for another month-long Y.O.U. workshop, this one on fashion design. 

“Tuesdays and Thursdays after school were divided between planning and making. Tuesdays were preparation days – learning about fashion and planning what I wanted to make. Then Thursdays were sewing days.” 

He had not even known how to use a sewing machine, but people skilled in sewing from the Evanston Library’s Maker program provided machines, guidance, and enough support for Angel’s fashion projects to take off. 

He impressed himself by making a hoodie, a piece of clothing “that looked pretty good and that I actually liked wearing,” he said.  Other items followed, including T-shirts and a denim jacket on which he screened designs.

“I didn’t have any experience printing when I started out, but I watched videos and managed to teach myself. When I wore my silkscreened pieces, people commented and seemed to like them. A couple of people really liked my graphic designs, and I ended up designing screens for a few people who wanted to try their hands at printing,” Angel said. 

When the virus situation worsened, Y.O.U.’s summer program became digital, a weekly Zoom session where the high school participants could share the progress of their work and get feedback. Angel missed the face-to-face workshops but liked the opportunity to share his work and get input from others.

While at ETHS, Angel has discovered a passion and possible career path. Three years of graphic arts classes at the high school have influenced his decision to major in graphic arts when he starts college in fall. He credits his growth as a designer to his art teacher’s guidance, especially the focused assignments and emphasis on graphics as a strong communication tool.

“Mr. Simos, my graphics arts teacher for three years, has assigned projects that were well thought-out and had a purpose. One project I remember was when we students were challenged to design a flag for Cook County,“ said Angel.  The winning flag design would replace the existing county flag and be flown in all the official Cook County buildings. Angel was inspired thinking that a student’s work could be the iconic symbol of the county. 

“Another part of the class that brought me to where I am now has been the critiques we did. At several points during each project, we’d show our progress to the whole class.  Each of our classmates were encouraged to give constructive criticism,“ he said. 

Angel understands that one powerful way that he has grown as an artist has been to listen to different perspectives and weigh them carefully in the context of what he wants his work to express. He keeps giving his muse room to grow.