Cori Lewis

Where are you from?

I’m from Traverse City, Michigan. We moved there from the suburbs of Chicago when I was 11. Michigan is so beautiful and I miss my family! Growing up though, I just wanted to escape to a larger city.

What brought you to Chicago?

I moved to Chicago only after living in my parents’ basement (literally!) and working remotely in Northern Michigan for several months after college. After many nights feeling hopeless about my job search and direction after art school, I remember reaching a point where I basically threw up my hands and said “God, you’re going to have to make it happen for me, because clearly it hasn’t been going so well in my own hands. What is your plan? What next?”

A few days later, I got a call from a job posting I’d given up on hearing back about, and in a whirlwind of a month I’d gotten a dream job, found an apartment and moved to Chicago. I feel like that always happens, that I reach a breaking point and then there’s something amazing right around the corner. Definitely a moment of synchronicity in my life.

What do you find challenging about living here?

I’m confronted daily with the brokenness here—segregated neighborhoods, homelessness, wealth disparities, etc. Definitely still in a stage of learning and waking up to these things, and it’s shocking how much there still is to wake up to after four years. I see a lot of hope in the midst of it all though. There are plenty of folks who care deeply about Chicago and are fully invested in participating in its renewal. So I’m constantly flipping back and forth between feeling really exhausted and beaten down by the realities of city life, but then I’ll get a smile from a stranger and I’m filled with hope again!

Why do you love it?

There’s a palpable energy of all these people living and working and playing and fighting and loving in close proximity to one another. That’s community. But the gestalt-ness of it, that the sum is greater than its parts. I love how the city changes so much with the seasons. The camaraderie of suffering through harsh seasons and coming out the other side so grateful for a change of scenery. Chicagoans really know how to enjoy these transitions. The beautiful clashing of different cultures and lifestyles, the lake in all its glory, the  performing arts community and great food and midwest friendliness and grit and determination.

Why do you stay?

I’m learning the value of rootedness. Of committing to a place. The city really opens up to you when you slow down and really notice all the little details in your neighborhood.

How has community affected your time here?

When I moved to the city, I was fiercely independent and pretty lonely. Then I encountered a community unlike anything I’d ever experienced at Missio Dei. People really knew and were investing in each other’s lives. It sounds so simple, but in practice can feel so radically counter-cultural. Since then I’ve been relearning the value of living life in community, and now I’m even hosting and leading a weekly gathering in my apartment! Looking back it’s pretty amazing to see the people that have come into my life in a few short years. I think that’s called a blessing.

Can you speak into the creativity found in the Chicago community? How does it inspire you?

I get to be creative for a living and design for one of the largest nonprofit arts organizations in the city, which is really rad. The people I work with are extremely talented and hardworking, but what really stands out is their kindness and generosity. Through hard, mostly thankless work they sacrifice their time and comfort to bring access to art to a wider audience.

I see creativity in everyday life too, all over the city. I see it in carefully tended gardens, in murals and graffiti, in subway performers…these unexpected moments of beauty in the chaos of city life inspires me to be more present and open to creativity where I didn’t see it before. I believe we are are all creative by nature, and seeing all the ways that manifests in daily life gives me hope.

I’ve been going through this book study called The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, and it’s all about unblocking and tapping into your creative potential. Tapping into your inner artist. I wish everyone could read this book. I’ve grown so much this summer already and I’m gaining confidence in my identity as a creative person. Opening myself up to what’s next. It’s uncomfortable, but since when was any worthwhile growth comfortable, right?

When do you feel most empowered and comfortable in your own skin?

When I’m standing tall.

When I’m breathing deep. When I’m using my gifts to solve problems and tell stories. When I’m surrounded by people who love me unconditionally.

Has living in the city affected your style and the way you approach what you purchase / invest in. If so, how?

City life for me means walking and taking public transit everywhere and buying only as much as I can carry. I have to be intentional about what I buy, which means I weed out some of the bad stuff. On the flip side it’s so easy to slip into the convenience of fast food and fast fashion. Lately I’ve been trying to support more small, locally owned businesses in my neighborhood! Also living in a small apartment with a roommate forces you to reckon with how much stuff you own, so I have to regularly ask myself if the stuff I accumulate really brings me joy.

How has Chicago affected your worldview, if at all?

I find that my worldview expands in proportion to how uncomfortable I get. I think it’s very possible to stay within your personal bubble in the city, but I think it’s so important to find ways to push outside your own bounds. Every time I put in the work to make myself a little uncomfortable, I gain tenfold perspective and empathy, which is so important right now in our fractured world.