2021 Leaders for a New Chicago Names Silk Road’s Malik Gillani

The Field Foundation of Illinois, in partnership with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, announced today the 2021 Leaders for a New Chicago cohort. The leadership awards, created in 2019, are part of Field’s ongoing investment in racial justice visionaries and organizations addressing systemic issues in Chicago’s historically underserved communities. The MacArthur Foundation committed $2.1 million to support the awards to recognize and support a diverse group of leaders from communities directly impacted by Chicago’s history of structural racism, discrimination, and disinvestment.

The ten leaders, whose work aligns with Field’s grantmaking areas of Justice, Media & Storytelling, and Art, represent a diversity of religion, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, age and expertise, and individuals from different geographies and income levels. Some are CEOs and executive directors, some are creators and co-founders, some are activists and organizers, and some are part of collective, shared leadership models.

“We continue to be inspired by these powerful visionaries,” said Field Foundation Leadership Investment Program Officer Hilesh Patel. “The Leaders for a New Chicago Award continues to find where power lives inside our communities, and provides the support and funding these folks need to dream bigger so they can continue to create change.”

Said MacArthur Senior Program Officer Geoffrey Banks: “We are proud to play a part in elevating the voices of individuals who are leaders in their communities and professional fields and to provide them with unrestricted support to keep pursuing their goals and personal growth as they change the landscape of our city.”

Malik Gillani


In his role as co-executive artistic director of Silk Road Cultural Center, Malik Gillani counters negative images and stereotypes of Middle Eastern and Muslim peoples with representation grounded in authentic, multi-faceted, human experiences. Founded in 2002 along with his husband and work partner Jamil Khoury, Silk Road Cultural Center is a community-centered theater, artmaking and arts service organization rooted in Asian, Middle Eastern, and Muslim experiences that began as an intentional and creative response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Malik has worked tirelessly to build an inclusive arts ecology in Chicago, providing theater artists and professionals from Silk Road backgrounds with opportunities for career growth. Every year, hundreds of Chicago actors, directors, designers, and other theater professionals work with Silk Road Cultural Center and 70 percent are from ALAANA communities. Prior to the pandemic, he conceived of and developed Silk Road Cultural Center’s model for creating online video plays which are now being accessed across the globe.

These video plays now form a foundation of Silk Road Cultural Center’s media projects, and the experience with developing video plays was instrumental in easing the transition to virtual programming during the pandemic. In September of 2019, Malik suffered a severe heart attack and stroke that initially left him unable to use the right side of his body or to speak. As an artist and arts leader living with stroke-induced aphasia and apraxia of speech, he continues to use the arts as a means for sparking conversations through the power of storytelling.Malik is uniquely positioned as a Muslim, Queer, Person of Color, and as an immigrant in a position of leadership. His presence in the performing arts sector is vital to a field that struggles to decenter whiteness within storytelling and performance. Through Silk Road Cultural Center, Malik has long challenged the misperceptions and inequities reinforced in traditional theater practices and institutional theater models. He weaves management, negotiating, fundraising, community organizing, and alliance-building into keeping the organization a stable and growing entity.

Source: Asian American Theatre Revue

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