Tuesday, 29 August 2017 15:12

BorderWallNapping arlenemejorado1Border Wall Napping (2017), Tijuana, Mexico. Arlene Mejorado with mentorship from Adriana Monsalve


Real Talk: Q&A with NFA Grantees  

Advice from William Caballero, Cristina Molina, Adriana Yvette Monsalve and Adriana Alexander


As the deadline for the next cycle of the NALAC Fund for the Arts approaches next month, we checked in with four past grantees from across the country to hear more about their experience as NFA grant winners, and to get their take on what’s next for them and the Latinx arts field at large. They shared tips for this years’ applicants, and their own struggles and successes.


William Caballero (NFA ‘16, Newark, NJ) is a filmmaker, composer, and multimedia storyteller. His work has screened at 100+ film festivals, including the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. His short film “Victor and Isolina” is under consideration for an Academy Award nomination, and his latest web-series STORYBORED USA, supported by his NFA Award, is set to debut in October 2017.


Cristina Molina (NFA ‘15, New Orleans, LA) is a visual artist who creates video installations that include still imagery and sculptural forms. NALAC supported work Crystal Radio-Private Symphonies is an audio visual installation that transmits intimate, experimental soundscapes directly into audience member's heads via the consumption of a crystalline lollipop.


Adriana Yvette Monsalve & Arlene Mejorado (NFA ‘16, Laredo & San Antonio, TX) Adriana is a storyteller and visual communicator that produces in-depth stories on identity. As part of the NALAC Master Artist Grant (now Mentorship Artist Grant), she supported the growth of emerging Latinx artist Arlene Mejorado, a photographer and videographer specializing in creative documentary projects and visual story making.


Adriana Alexander (NFA ’16, Santa Ana, CA) With the Workshop for Community Arts, Adriana brings together Santa Ana writers, artists and residents in order to produce a series of community-written and community-published children’s books.


What were you able to accomplish with your NFA grant?

William Caballero: I have been allowed the creative freedom to truly push the boundaries of what my art can do. I tell big stories using small figures, and have created projects that feature 3D printed miniatures of my Puerto Rican grandparents.  


Cristina Molina: With the NFA grant I was able to show my work Crystal Radio: Private Symphonies to a larger audience than I ever imagined; I produced my work for Luna Fete a light festival in New Orleans, which brings in up to 30,000 visitors a year!


Adriana Monsalve: The NFA grant allowed for us to walk on a journey that honored both the creative process and the art of storytelling. The visual work we are presenting demonstrates a new level of confidence that emerged from mutual support by the artists and the support of the NALAC community.


Adriana Alexander: Workshop for Community Arts (WCA) has conducted in-depth residencies and mentorships with 50 immigrant youth and adults in our community, mentored 15 community authors, published 9 bilingual children’s books, and distributed over 700 free cartonera books


What opportunities did you have access to as a NALAC grantee, which you may not have had otherwise?

WC: The biggest opportunity that came with being a NALAC grantee was that I was able to focus on my film work, without having to worry about funding. Having the peace of mind to know that my costs were covered through the grant helped me pay my creative team, pay for supplies, submit my projects to top tier festivals, and have enough money left over to pay rent.


CM: I had the opportunity to showcase my work to a wide scope of people at Luna Fete. I would have never been able to take advantage of having such exposure without the help of the NFA grant.


AM: Above all, the NALAC grant gave us time, a priceless resource. There was time to focus, to explore, to fail, to welcome inspiration, to learn, to try again, and to build fruitful relationship.


AA: Most of our NALAC funds went to printing and artistic supplies – which was critical in that allowed us to then use grant money from other funders to properly compensate the artists we worked with, as well as the community authors we worked with. Being able to pay [the students] was really important to us, to express the value of their stories and the value of their work beyond stereotypes of immigrant labor.


What kinds of challenges did you face and overcome when implementing your project?

WC: I think the biggest problem I face when I create any project is that I can be my own worst enemy. I have to control the side of me that is scared to have my work critiqued in front of the masses. In addition, as a Puerto Rican American who was raised in the United States and who speaks limited Spanish, I sometimes feel like I'm maybe not "Latino" enough to tell Latino stories. The more artwork I create, the better and more authentic my voice becomes. I am as "Latino" as I'll ever be (whatever that means), and my voice matters.


CM: Originally my project was designed for a quiet gallery setting. It was challenging to think of ways to design the project for the general public because I had less control of certain parameters. In the end, I was able to find a solution that maintained the intimacy, while still having the bombast required for showing artwork in public. I was thrilled with the feedback I was getting from everyone who experienced the piece, which was all very positive.


AM: [One] obstacle was owning this opportunity as the privilege that it is. With much responsibility comes great honor, challenge and growth.  We have had to be committed to the project and to each other 100% of the time, in order for this to become the necessary and important space that creativity can freely and safely blossom in.  


Where do you see the future of Latinx art?

WC: My wife got me a DNA testing kit for Christmas last year, and when the results came back, I saw just how diverse my roots are. I am simultaneously European, African, Native American, Jewish, and Arab. All Latinx people share in this huge melting pot of humanity. I think the future of Latinx art involves the breaking down of stereotypes (both external and self-imposed) and the embracing of ALL sides of the Latinx experience.


AM: We expect to see an activation of nuanced forms of expression; an intersection of our legacies with experimentation. Artists today are driven to pluralize narratives and disrupt fixed identities or binaries.


AA: It would be great to see some more Chicanx Futurism out there – artists and writers exercising revolutionary, evolutionary imaginations and serving as a reminder for us that, behind our daily lives, we might harbor radical black and brown futurist imaginations.


How does your art serve as an advocacy tool?

WC: My art represents my role as a man who is both American and Puerto Rican, and yet, sometimes feels disconnected from both. I use my art to explore my roots to the people I love, and to highlight other people of color who have overcome tremendous obstacles. At a time when our current political administration wants to paint all Latinos as being indicative of a 'one size fits all' approach, my work shows just how bold our colors are, and how beautiful our voices can be, when we are allowed to sing at our most pure and honest.


AM: Our work is a vehicle to look deeper, to engage with our own reality and with the lived experience of our neighbor. There is a model here for how to have a conversation with yourself as well as others. Explore what makes you uncomfortable as well as what brings you comfort.  


AA: One [way] is that, in the way you work, reflect how you want the world to be. If you want to see equity, practice equity. If you want artists to be paid for their work, pay the artists you collaborate with. If you want to center and celebrate community voices, then create work that listens to, responds to, is rooted in those communities. Etc. Everyday action is also advocacy.


What advice do you have for 2017 applicants?

WC: Create your own art in your own voice. Don't be afraid to try. Don't be afraid to fail.


CM: I encourage 2017 applicants to be as descriptive as possible in the writing portion of the application. The jury knows nothing about your plan, so it's up to you to convince them that your project is important, achievable, and of your ability to follow through. Make sure your budget seems reasonable and be sure to include an artist stipend. It's not sustainable if you don't pay yourself for your own work!


AM: You must stay true to your vision and honor the work you are passionate about.  You mustn't hide from your truth, you must chase it vigorously. There are many forms with which to do this.  Do not be bound to one, do not feel pressured to any. Discover your own and move towards it slowly at first, and then like a rush of glory. You will find it. Follow it, catch it, and let it go again. For this is how imagination grows. This is the push and pull, the nepantla, the essence of creating.  


AA: Make a good plan – one which embodies all your idealism – and then be prepared to follow the project.



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