Time and time again we see artists taking matters into their hands and finding alternative ways to give voice to their work through conceptual interventions. The artists at the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program in San Antonio, Texas did just that. During their time in the program, a few of the artists spent time together outside of the scheduled meetings to get to know each other better. Amid conversations, some of the mentors came up with the idea of curating an exhibition, Admitted USA Round One, San Antonio, TX, that centered around immigration. Artists wanted to present the need for orientation, inclusion, and resource sharing for immigrant artists working to extend their careers in our community.
But let’s back it up for a minute. Two years ago NYFA received a 2-year grant from Ford Foundation to support the expansion of the program to Detroit, MI; Newark, NJ; Oakland, CA; and lucky San Antonio, TX. NYFA’s Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program is the only known program of its kind in the United States. The program pairs immigrant artists working in all disciplines with artist mentors who provide one-on-one support for their mentee, guiding them to achieve specific goals and providing them with broader access to their city’s cultural world through an exchange of ideas, resources, and experiences.
Hayfer Brea, an immigrant artist from Venezuela who was a mentee in 2018, shares “This experience was very beneficial for me, because I got to know some of the most important institutions, foundations, centers and spaces of contemporary art in the city, its organizers and some of the protagonists in the cultural scene. In addition to the different programs, open calls, subsidies and supports that each of these institutions offers. And of course, the privilege of establishing great and, I hope, lasting friendships with teachers and contemporary artists of the city.” He adds that “the participating organizations (Blue Star Contemporary, Artpace, and SAYsi) shared various resources and opportunities that other institutions and organizations offer, such as NALAC, City of San Antonio, Intercultural Leadership Institute, Alternate ROOTS Artistic Assistance, Artist Foundation of San Antonio, and PublicArtist.org.”
Through access to other artists, arts professionals, and organizations, the program offers immigrant artists the opportunity to focus on their creative practice and gain support and exposure for their work while upholding their distinct cultural identities. “My experience in the program has been a fortuitous one. My mentor, Luis Valderas, and I share a lot of things in common, we both went to the same high school, we both explore artistic themes of the US-Mexico border and we both live in the same neighborhood. All of these things allowed the relationship with my mentor to turn into a lifelong friendship” said Jose Balli, an immigrant artist from Mexico who was a mentee in 2018. “My artistic practice has evolved to incorporate more conceptual ideas and different mediums while maintaining my voice and distinctive style. I can also attribute a stronger sense in task management, although still a struggle I feel more confident in short and long term goal setting,” he added. In Emergency Blanket of Hope, Balli “was shaken by the images of immigrant children and families in cages trying to stay warm with Mylar blankets. This peace is my attempt to decontextualize the Mylar blanket and turn it into a message of hope in times of complete despair.”
The program aims to foster a community by providing opportunities to connect with other immigrant artists through group meetings, peer learning, and informal gatherings. Ashley Mireles, an artist from the United States who was a mentor in both 2018 and 2019, shared “I’ve definitely created some new connections from both cohorts, 2018 and 2019. There have been opportunities to reconnect with some of the participants through other art programming in San Antonio. It’s been really comforting seeing the familiar faces outside of the mentorship program and knowing that the people I’m working with share similar goals to build the community.”
Each cycle has proven to be an invaluable experience for mentees and mentors alike, and artists often remain connected well beyond the program. “One of my favorite things was meeting my mentor, Jennifer Ling Datchuck. I completed the program over a year ago and she continues to be a mentor and a role model. I cannot say enough of how much I have learned from Jennifer directly and indirectly since meeting her during the mentorship program. She is incredible,” shared Barbara Miñarro, an immigrant artist from Mexico who was a mentee in 2018. Her participation in the NYFA Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program has impacted her artistic approach and development. “I was reminded of how important and vital community is in the arts. This program has inspired me to work on community-based projects in the future,” shares Miñarro.
In the last two years, the NYFA Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program has impacted over 60 artists from the greater San Antonio area. Creating friendships and collaborations that have extended beyond the program, artists from the cohort have turned their conversations and collaborations into creative engines and initiatives. “Several artist mentors recognized an opportunity to showcase this profoundly diverse group of artists in the inaugural open call for the city’s Centro de Artes, a space dedicated to telling the story of the immigrant experience in the United States.” Kim Bishop, an artist from the United States who was a mentor in both 2018 and 2019, shared that she wrote the exhibition proposal and oversaw logistics, installation, artist panel, and catalog release, Guillermina Zabala organized the accompanying performances and Film Night in July, and both Richard Armendariz and Luis Valderas served as the curators and helped with installation. This committee of artists took matters into their own hands and created a true representation of the community and its narratives.
There are not a lot of large cities that offer a place for local artists to share their voices and experiences. San Antonio understands the visual arts and the need for a local artist to have a space to exhibit and support artistic passions. San Antonio prides itself in having a diverse and inclusive art scene and as such it attracts many artists, performers, and musicians to live in this city. The NYFA Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program Admitted USA Round One, San Antonio, TX group exhibition informs ideas, thoughts, opportunities, and provides representations and questions via the benefits of a more idiosyncratic approach rather than one conventionally seen to be dominated by historians or conventional curatorial staff.
NYFA Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program Admitted USA Round One, San Antonio, TX group exhibition features the work of Lorena Angulo, Richard Armendariz, Jose Balli, Marisela Barrera, Gregg Barrios, Kim Bishop, Hayfer Brea Rodriguez, Francisco Cortes, Sarah Fisch, Anel Flores, Ernesto Ibanez, Julya Jara, Maria Linan, Sergio Mata, Bárbara Miñarro, Ashley Mireles, Merle Mory, Anastassia Rabajille, Andrea V. Rivas, Jessica Ruiz, Luis Valderas, Jorge Villarreal, Anne Wallace, Naomi Wanjiku, Guillermina Zabala, and Claudia Elisa Zapata. Participating organizations include Blue Star Contemporary, Artpace, and SAYsi. The exhibition opens with a reception on Thursday, June 27th (6-9PM) and will have a Film & Performance Night on Thursday, July 11th (6-9PM) and Artist Panel Discussion and Catalog Release on Wednesday, August 7th (6-9PM). We hope to see you there!