The art world is in turmoil, not just in America, but globally where creative minds work and where markets for their art products are sold. Most artists can adapt to self-isolation and quarantine, but only a few can survive very long with the principal museums and galleries shut down. How Latino artists are faring during one of the worst economic convulsions of our lifetime is the topic of this essay.
The path for economic recovery for Latino artists will not be easy. Most artists depend on exhibitions where they can show their art. All exhibitions in major cities have been cancelled. Artists also count on museums to add their work to their collections. Nearly every museum in the local as well as in the art major centers of the world have shut down. In addition, the more established Latino artists rely on art dealers and art galleries to showcase their work, and these outlets are also shut down.
Since I write about Latinos in the arts for La Prensa Texas, I stay in weekly contact with a large number of Latino artists. This week I called six San Antonio and Los Angeles artists to check in and see how they were doing.
I was pleased to learn that all were “hunkered down.” Self isolation was a new way of life for them and several said it has made them more productive. Several of the artists I spoke with made financial ends meet in the past by teaching at art centers such as Say Si! and the Guadalupe Cultural Center in San Antonio or Self Help Graphics & Art in Los Angeles. Today those teaching jobs are on hold. Jon Hinojosa, the long time Executive Director of Say Si! , commented that all their art classes have been cancelled because of the
quarantine. More than 200 students enrolled at his campus are home awaiting the end of self-isolation. There are no virtual classes for these students. Art is learned differently, through participation and engagement, and it is difficult to teach art skills online.
Lionel and Kathy Sosa, two well established San Antonio artists, rose to fame through their participation over many years in exhibitions and gallery shows across Texas. The Sosas gained a following of art lovers who in turn commissioned them to paint portraits and other subjects. In the case of Kathy Sosa, some of her commissions come from local businesses, such as the Barrio family “Las Ventanas” restaurants near Westover Hills. Kathy currently has three commissions which will keep her busy for several months. Suffice to say she is
surviving the Covid-19 crisis.
For several other Latino artists, working at home is self isolation is more the norm than the exception. Cesar Martinez paints at his studio, a converted space behind his home north of the city. Many of his commissions are from out of town patrons, including in the past, Cheech Marin, the Chicano art collector who lives in Malibu. Many of Martinez’s images for portraits are selected from old high school yearbooks of his hometown of Laredo.
Many of the Latino artists that I know also depend upon printing services offered by collectives such as Self Help Graphics & Art in Los Angeles and Arceo Press in Chicago. Betty Avila, Executive Director of Self-Help Graphics in Los Angeles, told me that their classes have been cancelled and their presses are silent. They have many backorders and hope to resume printing by this summer.
A recent commentary published in an op-ed on Artnet and penned by Elizabeth Alexander, president of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and Sarah Arison, president of the Arison Arts Foundation noted: In dark times, artists do more than provide light; they create it and sustain it. They help us see and understand what makes us human in the face of fear and uncertainty….Rather than give antidotes or easy solutions, artists illuminate the path forward and over and through life’s most challenging moments.
We know that art will always be an integral part of a thriving community, but we do not know when the art world will return to normal times. Many Latino artists rely on monthly art sales to pay rent and buy supplies.
I am encouraged by the news that a coalition of national arts grantmakers, consisting of Academy of American Poets, Artadia, Creative Capital, Foundation for Contemporary Arts, MAP Fund, National YoungArts Foundation, and United States Artists, announced this week their launch of Artist Relief , which will provide rapid, “unrestricted $5,000 relief grants to assist artists facing dire financial emergencies due to the impact of COVID-19”. Foundations in San Antonio should consider something similar.
Copyright 2020 by Ricardo Romo. Gallery and César Martínez photos copyrighted by Barrio Dog Productions. Self-help photos copyrighted by Ricardo Romo.