Sharing Cultures Through Art

by | Aug 28, 2023 | Blog

By: Stacey Von Busch & Iliana Herrera-Flores

Beginning in mid-April of this year, ADRC of Brown County opened its doors to a collaborative effort centered around the arts. Joined by local organizations, Casa ALBA Melanie and SAGE, elders from the Hispanic community were invited to create a variety of art pieces for four weeks.

I considered drafting this article in third-person, but I wanted you to read what it was like from artists who were directly there. This program was over a year in the making, from planning whom we would invite, to what kinds of art projects we would offer, and how we would do our best to eliminate any language barriers. Then it was shortly into 2023 that it suddenly felt like we were there.

SAGE offers area non-profits the opportunity to work collaboratively through the program we call “Creatively Engaged Community.” Through it, artists are trained as creative mentors, focusing on two questions for participants:

“What is it you want to say?”
“How do you want to say it?”

Art, first and foremost, should be fulfilling. Participating should feel good or be fun one way or the other. But art also has the ability to share stories, stories of culture, stories for historical context, and simply stories of everyday living. Though Creatively Engaged Community is a program fluid enough to really cater to whatever organization it’s being planned for, in general, all SAGE does is arrive with an artist and art supplies, ready to help invite that creative inner child to return.

Iliana Herrera-Flores shared with me some of her interactions with the elders. Because she was able to communicate easily, her experiences were much more personal with the attendees. What follows are her stories from her experiences.

Iliana: Being part of the ADRC CASA SAGE ARTE collaboration taught me how art can be used as a tool for storytelling, culture sharing, passing down knowledge, as well as a tool for connecting generations who leave their art behind for us. Many of our group began their projects inspired by their history and home. Cultural arts occur whenever creative people decide to artistically enhance what is around them.

This showed itself to me when I spoke to Alicia, she was at the sewing station. After a while, I noticed she was a little bit down. I asked what was going on, was she having difficulties? She said no, she didn’t want to do anything, that’s all. After a bit more talking to her, I found out that needlework had been her life’s work. It was not by choice, but it had gotten her financially through life. Due to growing up and working as an embroidering professional, it made this artwork more of a chore than a joy. It was bittersweet to see that her life’s work that was so beautiful was now something that no longer brought joy. From then on, we tried the other stations with some hesitancy, but after a while with Alicia, it was not just about the art project but about the culture she came from and what it had taught her and us.

Another experience that stood out to me was Blacina. She was not sure how, but she knew she wanted palm trees somehow. So, we went to work after chatting with her for a bit. I discovered that the country where she came from was full of palm trees. She was creating a physical representation of her memories from home. I learned that coconuts have different colors depending on their ripeness. I glued a few of the palm leaves to the tree for her; however, it was a little skewed, and she said that’s not the way the leaves go. Some of the others at the clay station mentioned that nature is not perfect, and we joked that this tree had gone through a storm. This to me was an excellent representation of how it can be a tool for isolation and loneliness. The others around her showed support and provided some help as well as different perspectives.

Ana was a participant who came for one or two sessions. The reason this participant was close to my heart was because she is my mom. She says she’s not good at drawing. However, she went and she tried. Not only did she draw, she also painted, something she usually doesn’t get to do. On top of that, she drew this tree that is not realistic; however, it is so reminiscent of the Naif art I saw in La Palma, Chalatenango El Salvador. Without acknowledging perspective, depth, and size, but keeping the color and vibrant lines, that tree tells a history.

Claudia began right away with clay. There was no hesitancy there. She knew she wanted to make three turtles, each a different size. This is how many artisans sell our clay or “barro” art, in sets. I had seen them in Mexico and El Salvador, sets of clay animals, foods, moons, and suns all over the place.

We were very lucky to have so much support from volunteers like Dan and Stephanie. This reminds me that another way this connects generations was that I saw Stephanie teaching some of the group new techniques and mediums.

Seeing as how cultural art is artistically enhancing what is around us, this group not only created art, but also enhanced our community by sharing their creations and knowledge with us. More importantly, we gave them the opportunity to reminisce and have a physical representation of their homes, memories, hopes, and elaborate on something they may already know.

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