On April 26th I visited Latino Arts, Inc., an arts-based organization on the south side of Milwaukee that focuses on arts programming grounded in Latinx cultures. Latino Arts is located in the same building as the United Community Center (UCC), though the programming is separate from the UCC’s. However, in the same building is the Bruce-Guadalupe Community School—a bilingual school that mainly works with the large latinx population on the south side of Milwaukee—which partakes in programming with Latino Arts, Inc. Also in the UCC building is the restaurant Café el Sol. Thus, the placement of this specific organization in this important community center speaks to the prominence that many community members hope to give arts-based programming.
Within the Latino Arts, Inc. portion of the building is a Gallery that, according to their website, “is Milwaukee’s only gallery that is dedicated to showcasing the work of Hispanic and Latin American artists, ranging from indigenous craftspeople to contemporary masters of the avant garde.” The Gallery is also open every weekday from 9:00am to 8:00pm and costs only $1, which is a suggested donation. As such, community access is clearly quite central to their operating procedures. And while the space of the gallery is not very large, the curators manage to use that space quite effectively to showcase a fair few pieces.
When I visited the gallery, the exhibit on display was titled “Expansive Threads.” This exhibit was curated by Edra Soto and focused on the integration of fiber arts into artistic practice. The exhibit also, notably, only featured the work of Latina artists. While I couldn’t take any photos of the pieces (more on that below), I was able to take a picture of the opening placard that described the exhibit itself. There the exhibit is described: “Through materials or concepts, the formal models denoted as fiber arts are being challenged by incorporating nontraditional materials, forms of display or discourses. Similar to fiber arts, this group of artists creates work that emphasizes the aesthetic and conceptual value of the work over its utility.”
As such, this display, including work from 11 Latina artists, pushes viewers to question the binary attitudes set up by Western, American culture, especially those between traditional and nontraditional (or, relatedly, contemporary) and aesthetic and utility. These artists encourage audience members to think about these issues beyond a Western frame of reference to think about the art as mixing traditional and contemporary and existing beyond the realm of the capitalist, market-driven economy.
While visiting the Gallery, I was quickly rushed in and out, which is one of the reasons for my lack of photographs. On the day I visited, some students from the Bruce-Guadalupe Community School, who were working with Latino Arts, were preparing for an evening music performance in the auditorium space which is connected to the Gallery. Thus, while they were happy to have me visit the Gallery space, my timing wasn’t ideal. And, if we’re being honest, I loved just being in the hustle of the center for that moment. Being in the Gallery at that moment helped me to see the importance of that entire Community Center on the Latinx population in the area. It is in that center that families can eat (I even saw some families having breakfast in the restaurant) while also engaging with arts-based programming focusing on Latinx artistic practices. I was quite excited to see these students, most of whom seemed to be carrying violins with them, preparing for a community performance in a space that housed such varying forms of artwork. In my brief moments there, I got a small taste of the important work, accentuated by the bustling atmosphere, that all of the different organizations do at the UCC building and the ways that Latino Arts weaves their programming throughout.