Two days after Oaxaca, MX I jumped on another flight - this time to Chicago. It was my first time in the "Windy City, and it was especially meaningful to be there at the invitation of the National Museum of Mexican Art (NMMA). I felt proud and accomplished knowing that I would represent the LCAC at a national conference.
I was picked up at the airport by my good friend “Piloto”. As an accomplished sculptor, Alfonso Nieves Ruiz turns discarded items into a gripping portrait of humanities vices and aspirations. These items, combined with clay, grounds us back within mother earth, reminding us that water shapes life. Piloto is exceptionally thoughtful, humble and incredibly talented.
Part of a tour of the city, included the neighborhood known as La Villita, comimos en un restaurante llamado La Justicia. From there we went to the West Side, to North Lawndale and the University of Chicago campus. The segregation and wealth-gap was a stark reminder of just how many broken social systems continue to challenge our country. Finally, we went north to Winnetka and Evanston, which are among the wealthiest parts of the city and nation. There, we visited the Bahá’í House of Worship, one of the most stunning examples of interfaith solidarity I have seen.
I ended my first day in Chicago with a visit to a restaurant that Chef Piloto is launching called Zentli (Maya for corn). It will serve as an incubator for artists and social entrepreneurs. I am honored to know such a dedicated and hard worker as I explore ways to expand the reach of the LCAC in other regions of the country.
The next morning I woke up early from the excitement of visiting the National Museum of Mexican Art. Over the last year I had been mentored by the President and Founder, Carlos Tortolero. I was introduced to him by a program officer at the Ford Foundation. Three other Mexicano and Latino emerging cultural institutions in cities across the Midwest and I would meet in person for the first time due to the pandemic. The emerging “Mexican Cultural Arts Alliance”, as we are known, includes new centers in Fresno, CA, Atlanta, GA, Salt Lake City, UT, and Chiapas, MX. We are learning collaboratively about what it takes to establish a cultural center as we develop programming together and pursue joint funding opportunities.
I was impressed by the amount of public art throughout the city of Chicago. My driver shared how much change he had experienced in his lifetime as a local. He is African American but was raised with the Mexicanos from Durango. It reminded me of my dad as he recounted his favorite songs and dishes. We discussed the importance of solidarity among different communities and envisioned the potential of our collective power.
I arrived at the NMMA a couple minutes early to walk around and familiarize myself with the museum. I was transported back to Oaxaca with the abuelitas getting in their early walks, speaking Spanish, and greeting each other. As soon as I walked through the doors, I felt at home. Of all my travels to cultural arts institutions around the world, from Madrid to New York City, I had never felt anything like this. For over 30 years, the NMMA has been committed to accessibility, education and social justice. The level of excellence and community support they have attained is inspiring. Several Diego Rivera pieces are regularly on display, and tickets to their events sell out in days. They were recently recognized as a “National Treasure” by the Ford Foundation. Next time you find yourself in Chicago, you HAVE to visit the museum!
I am very honored and appreciative to be part of the Mexican Cultural Arts Alliance. Over the course of the conference the NMMA Team was gracious and welcoming. I can lean into a network of experienced leaders in the arts, at various levels, for guidance and support at a moment's notice. Our mentor Carlos Tortolero describes, “The Mexican Cultural Arts Alliance brings together eight arts organizations with the goal of promoting Mexican art. With so much anti-Mexican rhetoric happening, it is important to showcase the beauty and richness of Mexican culture.” At the LCAC, we could not agree more. We are committed to having one foot firmly rooted in Latin America and another in Mexican culture, from our Mariachi Festival, to our Day of the Dead program, and our evolving relationship with GDlab.
My colleague, Aaron Johnson-Ortiz, who is the Director of Arts & Cultural Engagement at Comunidades Latinas Unidas En Servicio (CLUES) in St. Paul, Minnesota, shares “As the Director of an emerging Latino cultural arts initiative, and as the curator of my state’s only Latino-centered and community-owned art gallery, being a part of the Alliance has been an invaluable source of mentorship, support, and camaraderie for me. Together, we will uplift Mexican and Chicano emerging artists, highlight folk arts and artisan traditions, and build up our community through cultural togetherness.”
Among the most fulfilling aspects of the Alliance and my role is the relationship building. I had the opportunity to meet Juan Chawuk, an artist who is also joining the group with his collective, Portales del Arte en Chiapas. He is attuned to the creative forces of the universe in a truly unique way by integrating various disciplines into his murals where biology and quantum mechanics coexist alongside jaguars and indigenous cosmologies.
Over in Indianapolis, Eduardo Luna, from Arte Mexicano en Indiana highlights the importance of “sharing resources and knowledge to keep growing as individual organizations, and also to inspire the next generation of arts administrators with Mexican heritages.” With this group that includes Fanny, Ruth y Veronica joining from Utah, California and Georgia, I have no doubt that our best accomplishments are yet to come. We will collaboratively transform the cultural arts landscape by building bridges among our many cities.
Stay tuned and enjoy the ride Mi Gente!