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Muralismo Minnesotano: Celebrating 40 Years of CLUES and 100 Years of the Muralist Movement

 This is a guest article from Aaron Johnson-Ortiz, Director of Arts & Cultural Engagement at CLUES

In 2021, as we negotiate what we can and cannot do in this ever-changing COVID environment, CLUES is slowly and cautiously reopening its doors to our community.  This September, as we re-enter Hispanic Heritage Month, we have much to celebrate and cherish, including our very own 40-year anniversary.  Join us in celebration of this anniversary at this year’s Fiesta Latina – on Saturday, September 18 – which will be held in our parking lot with social distancing and other safety measures.

Two years ago, at Fiesta Latina in 2019, CLUES unveiled our new cultural and community center on the East Side of St Paul – doubling the space of our original building – and inviting our community into our new art gallery, art classroom, elder center, childcare space, conference hall, and classrooms.

Along with our community, we were elated to share this new space – a safe space of, by, and for Minnesota’s Latino, Latina, and Latinx communities.  This elation was short-lived, however, as we closed our doors to the public only 7 months later, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But even as we closed our doors, we continued to work hard to meet the ever-increasing needs of our community.  CLUES began offering free groceries on a weekly basis, handing out rental-assistance checks, and, when the time came, providing vaccines.

In my department, CLUES’ Arts & Cultural Engagement division, we gathered our artists and cultural workers and, together, we did what we do best – we created beauty, we honored our community, we represented our struggles, and we inspired our communities to come together to effect change.

During this time, our artist teams have created dozens of community-focused art projects, focusing on large-scale public art.  Knowing that many indoor galleries closed, we brought the art to the streets, to public gathering spaces, and to the virtual world.

Our new exhibit, Muralismo Minnesotano, opening at Fiesta Latina, presents this work to the public, some of it for the very first time.  Personally, I can’t think of a better way to celebrate 40 years of Minnesota’s largest Latino-led and Latino-focused organization – through art, we tell our stories, we lift our voices, and we celebrate our culture!

But that’s not it – there’s more…

2021 also coincides as the centennial of the muralism movement, and with our new exhibit we honor our artistic and cultural ancestors in Latin America, even as we build a new generation of Latino, Latina, and Latinx artist-leaders in Minnesota.

Our exhibit, Muralismo Minnesotano, emphasizes and insists on the Latino origins of muralism as a artistic and social movement, a fact that is too often erased or forgotten by other muralism projects in Minnesota and around the country.  With this exhibit, we represent the multiplicity of our diversity, creating movement-based public art for us, by us, and of us

Today, the terms “mural” and “muralism” are too often conflated with any kind of wall art.  That is not what muralism is.  Muralism is a political, social, and cultural art movement that emerged in Mexico in the 1920s, in the aftermath of Mexican Revolution of 1910-20, and which has since spread throughout Latin America, Latino communities in the US, and other communities around the world who have learned – directly or indirectly – from this history.  Wherever muralism has taken root, it’s done so alongside social, cultural, and revolutionary movements.  Hence, muralism – from the Spanish “muro” – is a social, political, cultural, and artistic movement, not simply the act of painting on walls.

100 years ago (in 1921), José Vasconcelos was appointed as Mexico’s Secretary of Public Education under the newly established post-revolutionary government.  Realizing that Mexico’s population was majority illiterate, Vasconcelos proposed an educational program using large-scale public art, to educate the people about the history of Mexico and the Mexican Revolution through painting.  With that pedagogical goal in mind, the Mexican government began commissioning dozens of murals in civic buildings.  It was under this sociopolitical movement that Mexican muralists worked and became recognized, in particular “Los Tres Grandes” – Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros.

Muralism as an artistic movement has since spread throughout Latin America, the US, and the world, connecting artists and cultural workers to social movements wherever it goes.  At the same time, however, the words “mural” and “muralism” are being increasingly co-opted by advertisers and decorators, who are using the term to whitewash what is essentially just billboard art or apolitical outdoor decoration.  It is therefore important to insist on the social emphasis of muralism as an art movement, and to center the historical and cultural origins of muralism within Mexican, Latin American, and Latino communities.

With this insistence, I do not mean to say that only Mexican or Latino peoples create muralism.  Wall-painting and other public art traditions have emerged throughout history in communities around the world.  It does mean, however, that our community and our history must be emphasized when talking about the past, present, and future of muralism as a social and artistic movement.  Thus, Muralismo Minnesotano pushes back against the erasure of this history in Minnesota, as we share our community’s visions, histories, and hopes with the broader public.

Our exhibit also re-emphasizes that high-quality public art must always also be community-engaged art.  While these projects were led by talented master muralists, thousands of hands and voices contributed to their creation – apprentices, community participants, children, adults, and grandmothers.

And just as our community helped envision and create this art, we reinvite the community to Fiesta Latina (and to other upcoming events listed at the end of this blog) to see the fruits of our community’s labor.  Together, we will celebrate CLUES’ 40-year anniversary and a century of muralism as an artistic and social movement.

As this art form is by nature large-scale, this exhibit exceeds the confines of our art gallery, and spills into our atrium, the exterior of our building, our classrooms, and our community garden.  We will also share some of this work on Lake Street in Minneapolis during the months of October and November.  And, of course, we will be inviting the community at Fiesta Latina and all our public events to actively participate in public art creation – contributing your hands, your hearts, and your talents to ongoing community-created public art projects.

Here is a sneak peak of some of the amazing and unique mural and public art creations on display:

  • Claudia Valentino and Daniela Bianchini are unveiling “Tejiendo Futuros”, a mosaic tile mural created along with community members in 2019 and 2020. The artists led over a dozen community workshops – with children, elders, adult English Language students, muralism apprentices, etc – and with those groups assembled a two-story tall mosaic mural of an Indigenous back-strap loom weaver practicing her craft.  The image represents both the literal practice of backstrap loom weaving, as well as the more metaphorical concept of how traditions ground us in our roots and extend out into the whole community (the loom is tied to a tree, and the branches sprawl across the wall, tying the weaver to the threads of the loom, the loom to the sprawling tree, and the branches of the tree to the universe).
  • Juan Chawuk, an Indigenous Maya Tojolabal visiting muralist from Chiapas, Mexico, will be unveiling his brand-new piece, “Al Ritmo de la Migración del Universo”, an 8-panel mural painting representing the holistic work of CLUES in community health, arts and culture, youth education, elder care, etc. A giant tree, and the background image of the cosmos shows our deep connections to our history, to our future, to each other, and to the cosmos.
  • Flor Soto, a papier-mâché and piñata artisan and immigrant from Mazatlán, Mexico, worked with CLUES staff to adapt her traditional paper flower-making technique to large-scale public art. At the beginning of the pandemic, she created a sign with the word “Esperanza” (Spanish for “hope”, and the title of her piece), to offer consolation and inspiration to our community at a time when we were unable to gather or meet in person.  Originally designed to last only a few months (we had no idea back then how long the pandemic would last), Flor has since created a second version of the same sign, using materials and techniques that should last a decade or more outdoors.
  • Gustavo Boada, a master puppeteer and immigrant from Peru, is also adapting his papier-mâché expertise to muralism. Gustavo created “De Colores”, a high-relief mural representing the diversity of Latino community members, especially the children, and our mixed ancestry and community – Indigenous, European, Black, etc. “De Colores” is Spanish for “of colors” and it references a common children’s song (also called “De Colores”) while emphasizing that our community is not only “of color” but of a multiplicity of colors.
  • We will also be exhibiting several collective murals, including many created through our Latino Muralism Apprenticeship Program. This program was a first-of-its-kind CLUES initiative that trained 20 emerging Latino artists in the techniques, history, and logistics of mural painting.  We are proud to say that many of our apprentices have gone on to become recognized muralists, and we will exhibit some of their early collaborative work in our gallery.

Like the muralists of the 1920s in Mexico, CLUES-affiliated public artists and muralists center our community and our history, inform the public about our culture, and fuse this ongoing artistic movement with demands for social justice, community health, education, and inclusiveness.

In September and October, we will celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month at Fiesta Latina and with our muralism exhibit in CLUES’ Latino Art Gallery in St Paul.  In October and November, we will remember our ancestors, record our history, and honor our dead during our Day of the Dead public art celebrations on Lake Street in Minneapolis.  From September 2021 through March 2022 we will exhibit our murals in our gallery and host arts conversations and events to celebrate our heritage.

Please join us in celebration of 40 years of Minnesota’s largest Latino-focused organization through locally-created and community-engaged public art that builds upon and honors a century of muralism as an aesthetic, social, and cultural movement.

EVENTS:

  • Saturday, September 18, 2021, 12-4pm

    Event: Fiesta Latina. CLUES, 797 E 7th St, St Paul, MN 55116.  Join us in celebrating the richness of Minnesota Latinos at our annual celebration. A free, family-friendly community festival celebrating Latino culture through Arts, Health and Wellness, Fitness, Food, and Entertainment.

  • Every Thursday evening 5-8pm through October 28, 2021

    Art Workshops: Revitalizando Lake Street, CLUES Minneapolis, 777 E Lake St.  A series of family-friendly arts creation workshops focusing on Day of the Dead themed art, and supporting the revitalization of Lake Street in Minneapolis, and the preservation of Latino businesses, residents, and cultural arts along the corridor.

  • Sep 18, 2021 – Mar 18, 2022

    Art Exhibit: Muralismo Minnesotano, CLUES Art Gallery (and atrium, second floor classrooms, exterior wall, and community garden), 797 E 7th St, St Paul, MN 55116.  Regular gallery hours: 8:30am-5pm weekdays.  Closed holidays.   (Hours subject to change based on public health guidelines).

  • October 9, 2021, 2021, 9:30-11:30am

    Virtual Forum: The Art and Traditions of Días de MuertosMore information and registration here.  During this cultural education forum, scholars and artists will broaden your awareness and understanding of Días de Muertos (Days of the Dead).  Collaboration with the Minnesota Humanities Center.

  • Saturday, October 16, 2021, 12-3pm

    Event: La Cultura Cura, CLUES Minneapolis, 777 E Lake St.  A family-friendly event guided by our motto “La Cultura Cura” (culture heals) focusing on the connection between arts and culture on the one hand and community and public health on the other.  Come join us for free healthy groceries, vaccines, and art activities. RSVP here.

  • October 16 – November 19, 2021

    Street Gallery: Dias de Muertos on Lake Street, installation of community-created public art along the East Lake Cultural Corridor, participation in a variety of Day of the Dead-themed art installations and events, including at CLUES Minneapolis, Midtown Global Market, Mercado Central, La Alborada, La Mexicana, and other Latino-owned small businesses and locations.  Check our blog and Facebook page in early October for all the dates and locations.

  • Saturday, October 23, 2021, 9:30-11:30am

    Immersive Learning Experience: Días de Muertos on Lake Street.  More information and registration here.  Engage your senses through art, storytelling, and food as you build on your cultural understanding and awareness of Minnesota’s Latino, Latina, and Latinx communities during this immersive and interactive place-based experience along Lake Street in Minneapolis.  Collaboration with Minnesota Humanities Center.

  • Saturday, October 30, 2021, noon-8pm

    Street Festival: Dia de Muertos – Celebration of Life on Lake Street.  Day of the Dead parade on Lake St (2-4pm), followed by a street festival by Lake and Cedar.  Collaboration with CAMINO, Lake St Latino Business Association, and the City of Minneapolis.  For more information, please email arte@clues.org.

  • Sunday, October 31, 2021, noon-10pm

    Street Festival: El Grito de los Ancestros.  Community procession beginning at Powderhorn Park, and leading toward the festival at Chicago Ave and Lake St.  Collaboration with Festival de las Calaveras and BareBones Theater.  For more info, visit the Festival de las Calaveras webpage or BareBones Theater.

  • Thursday, January 27, 2022, 5-7pm

    Virtual Forum: Murales y Muralismo, online public forum, presentation, and panel discussion on the history of muralism as a sociocultural, political, and artistic movement, its origins, and its current practice.  RSVP here.

  • Thursday, February 24, 2022, 5-7pm

    Virtual Gallery Tour: Muralismo Minnesotano, online gallery tour of our art exhibit, and dialogue with muralists.  RSVP here.

  • Thursday, March 17, 2022, 5-9pm

    Closing Reception: Muralismo Minnesotano, (COVID-permitting) in-person closing reception, conversation with artists, and food.  RSVP here.

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Saturday-Sunday: Closed 
Email: info@clues.org

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