CWF_MAR12

The Creative Work Fund supports artists collaborating with nonprofit organizations to create new works, and ArtPlace funding will make possible four grants—to be awarded in June—that focus on collaboration and creative placemaking. In the meantime, Frances Phillips of Creative Work Fund is bringing us stories of previously supported Creative Work Fund projects that focused on place and community building.

Frances Phillips:

Last August, visual artist Victor Cartagena completed a multi-layered collaboration to present A Body Parted, Shrapnel of Present Time. He worked with Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana (MACLA) in San Jose, MACLA’s neighbors, and an ensemble of multidisciplinary artists, creating a digital mural, installation, and performances about identity and immigration.

I asked Victor specifically about how he involved recent immigrants from MACLA’s neighborhood. He reported that his partnership with MACLA was, “Amazing… they are part of my art community family.” MACLA was the site of Cartagena’s very first show in the United States and it has continued to present and believe in him.

Because MACLA is steeped in San Jose’s Latino community and because Victor, as an immigrant from El Salvador, is personally connected to the subject, he thought it would be easy to involve MACLA’s immigrant neighbors—most of whom are from Latin America and Vietnam. He mused, “You always forget that as an artist you are willing to open up. You assume others are willing to do so too.”

Victor began the project with a community meeting at MACLA that drew disappointing numbers, but the date was not ideal. They followed it with another gathering at nearby subsidized housing, and did no better. Everyone involved was surprised because of MACLA’s stellar reputation. Little by little a few people came.

He laughed, “You know how we all hurry past someone who is collecting signatures on a petition? That’s how they behaved around me.” Even more painful, “After they talked to me, they seemed to have feelings of remorse.” Cartagena came to realize that immigration raises life and death issues for many families. When he went home and read through the interviews, he noticed they said, “We were afraid,” (miedo) over and over again. Only Latino immigrants stepped forward. Fear was even greater among the Vietnamese.

His plan for the digital mural had been to use passport photographs and draw maps over the faces, tracing stories of how different participants traveled to San Jose. The maps would be anonymous, but clearly, nobody would lend photographs. His solution? Cartagena smiled broadly, “My mother said I could use her passport photos. She came here long ago and legally.”

Can art change urban places for their most vulnerable community members? Victor believes his project made modest inroads: “It was one more step.” MACLA’s folklorico dance and food events seem to succeed. Maybe the challenging conversation about immigrant identity can happen with the next generation. One day, three middle school boys viewing the mural stopped Victor with pride. They said, “We know what you’re talking about. Our parents came through that.”

PHOTO: Mural by Victor Cartagena in MACLA’s neighborhood, San Jose, California.

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