Hispanics Make Their Mark

Southern Arizona shows off Latino/Latina art with a weekend of shows and seminars

Two painted spirals unspool side by side on an alley wall in downtown Tucson.

Right now, they're bare outlines, spinning maybe 12 feet down Arizona Alley, just south of Congress Street. The spaces in between their curving black lines are waiting for artists to fill them in with color and shapes. A few enterprising artists have already taken a stab at the wall with their brushes, turning it into an incipient mural in the Chicano mode. They've painted some Aztec imagery--a pyramid, a human heart, a snake god--in a burst of bright reds, greens and yellows.

Though it's barely begun, the mural already has a name, "Tucson Colectivo." The city's Latino artists, "young and old," are invited to come down and make their mark on the wall, says Dinnerware's David Aguirre. All day Friday and Saturday, the come-as-you-are artists will be at work, Aguirre hopes, turning "Colectivo" into a semi-permanent painting celebrating Tucson's Latino arts community.

That's also the goal of this week's Creative Responders: Latino Art in Action: Re-Affirming and Transforming the Future, a downtown extravaganza of Latino art exhibitions, workshops, tours and performances running Thursday evening through Saturday.

"We're trying to bring national attention to Tucson," Aguirre says. "We want to showcase what Southern Arizona has to offer in Latino/Latina art."

The mural-painting free-for-all is just one component. Artists from Tempe have sent their prints to Arts Incubator on Congress; Tucson's own show their stuff at the Shane House Gallery; Raices Taller showcases Michael Hyatt's photographs of César Chávez, along with other work, in its Gods and Heroes show.

"Friday's the big night," Aguirre says. All the participating galleries will be open; muralists will be doing their Diego Rivera thing in Arizona Alley; and a pachanga--celebration--will roll out at the Hotel Congress' Copper Room. New Tucson resident Denise Uyehara and Jorge Porrata will perform as 7-Up at 8 p.m., and Los Angeles DJ Lengua will spin discs.

But the art will be more than just visual. Tucson's Adam Cooper-Terán and his performance-art team, Verbobala, will deliver a bilingual spoken-word/video performance at the opening reception at 6 p.m., Thursday, April 24, at the Tucson Museum of Art. And big-name writer Alberto Ríos, a poet who has written a memoir of growing up in Nogales, among many other books, will be part of a panel discussing "In Our Own Voices: 21st Century Latino Narrative" at 11:15 a.m., Saturday, at Hotel Arizona, the epicenter for the conference.

The lollapalooza is not just for Latinos.

"Everything is open to everybody," says Roberto Bedoya, executive director of the Tucson Pima Arts Council and mastermind behind the conference. It's designed for artists, art administrators and just-plain-folks. Bedoya put it together with TPAC's Reuben Roqueñi and Aguirre, under the auspices of the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture (NALAC).

"One of the things that the arts council does is offer professional development to artists," Bedoya says. "I've been here one year, and I've seen a profound need in the Hispanic artists' community--and all the artists in the community."

NALAC stages similar training workshops around the country, helping bring in nationally known experts and pairing them with local artists. The Tucson confab will follow that pattern. For instance, at a workshop at 2 p.m., Friday, Tucson painter Daniel Martin Díaz will explain how he's successfully moved his work both in galleries and in more commercial spheres. He'll be joined by an out-of-towner, Charles Rice-Gonzalez, executive director of the Bronx Academy of Art and Dance.

The nine workshops will cover a range of expected professional topics, from Díaz's marketing session to ways artists can find funding for their work, bring arts into the schools and so on.

But the panels will also deal with specifically Latino issues. A session that Bedoya will moderate at 3:30 p.m., Friday, will address "The Edge of Contemporary and Traditional."

"A whole new generation of artists is coming up, 20- and 30-somethings, who are doing work that's 'post-brown,' 'post-black,'" Bedoya says. "But they're not denying the cultural conditions that shape their work."

Panelists discussing these tricky cultural issues will include Los Angeles artist Eamon Ore Girón and Tucson's Cooper-Terán.

Instead of a keynote address at Friday's lunch, "two brilliant thinkers" on these topics will stage a conversation. Maribel Alvarez, a research prof at the UA's Southwest Center, will interview Josephine Ramirez, vice president of programming at the Music Center, in the Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County.

Aguirre, who spent part of last week putting up the art show in the new Arts Incubator space on Congress, says he's become conscious of the same issues. The prints he was hanging were made by artists in the Mesa collective Xico Inc. Acclaimed Tucson painter/printmaker Cristina Cardenas is a member, and she arranged to have the Mesa artists show their work here.

"Some Hispanic artists work in their history," Aguirre says. "Others are more forward-looking. It's another form of border."

There's also a divide between the artwork of newly arrived immigrants, the children of immigrants and third-generation artists like Aguirre, whose grandparents came from Mexico.

"You can see it in the work, how far or close artists are to their heritage. Looking forward, looking back, I wanted that discussion."

Even planning for the big event has helped bridge the gap a bit. Aguirre's a longtime leader in the Tucson arts community, but as he prepared for the shows, particularly the Tucson show at Shane House, he met local Latino artists whose work he'd never seen before.

"I only knew the big names," he says. "I'm beginning to meet the Hispanic community. And they're starting to find out about us."

TPAC reeled in enough grant money and donations that the ticket price for the whole conference is just $10. That ganga includes all the sessions over two days--and even the Friday lunch.

"For your $10, we feed you!" Bedoya exclaims.