Maria Garza dreams of groups of mariachis playing music in Homestead. Ariana Hernandez-Reguant wants popular art in the streets of Hialeah. Neri Torres’ wish is to spread the magic of Afro-Cuban dance throughout Miami.
These Hispanic women are among six finalists in a contest run by the Knight Foundation to promote art in South Florida communities.
The contestants compete for a $20,000 award and their project must be chosen by the public through a text messaging voting system. Voters have until Monday at midnight to text in their selection. The award ceremony will take place in two weeks in Miami Beach.
“We want the public in South Florida to have the opportunity to choose the project they like the most,” said Dennis Scholl, vice-president of the arts at the Knight Foundation. “There are many types of art projects running from Fort Lauderdale all the way to the Keys, dozens of artistic expressions reflecting the imagination and talent that exist in our communities.”
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The other three contest finalists include projects headed by Peter Symons, a curator who wants to exhibit larger-than-life artworks in Fort Lauderdale; Michael Gieda, executive director of the Key West Art & Historical Society Museum, who hopes to take museum exhibitions into classrooms in the Keys; and Oliver Sanchez, another artist who wishes to expand the hours of operation of Swampspace, his art gallery located in the Design District.
School for Mariachis
When she turned 14 years old, Mexican native Garza dropped out of school to work with her parents in Homestead’s agricultural fields. No one at school asked where she had gone. Four decades later, Garza works with the children of immigrant farm hands and inspires them to graduate from high school and go to college.
“Our surroundings show us economic poverty, but cultural riches,” said Garza, who returned to high school when she was 21 years old and went on to graduate from the university. “Our culture is capable of making us feel proud of where we come from and that’s why we want to promote our traditions and open a school for mariachis in Homestead.”
After announcing her participation in the Knight Foundation’s contest, Garza, who is the president of the Mexican-American Council, received support for her initiative from Homestead’s municipality.
At the council’s headquarters, Delayla Gasca, who at the young age of 4 already wears her charro outfit, belts out rancheras. Her mother Juanita Olvera Garza said the singing helps reduce her daughter’s speech impediment.
“Many other children could benefit if the school for Mariachis is made a reality,” Garza said. “Now, we’re seeking support from the Mexican Consulate to bring a teacher to Homestead for at least three years and we’re dreaming of winning the Knight contest.”
On Monday, Garza and the parents of several children associated with the council have organized a meeting at a local taqueria to promote a massive public vote for their project, #6.
Art in Hialeah
Taking art to the streets in the form of murals and the showing of open-air movie projections to promote local artists in Hialeah is part of Ariana Hernandez-Reguant’s dream.
“Many local artists have expressed the same frustration: there aren’t many spaces to create art in Hialeah, few meeting places or nighttime hang outs for the city’s youth,” said Hernandez-Reguant, originally from Spain.
Her effort is backed by many local artists including Cuban Ernesto Oroza, a researcher who began investigating pop culture in Cuba two decades ago and migrated to South Florida in 2007.
“Hialeah is largely populated by Cubans and now I’ve been able to extrapolate my studies to this new context,” said Oroza. “It’s exciting being able to document the way that businesses are promoted in Hialeah, the decoration of public gardens and private homes, the crafting of souvenirs…that’s why we’re trying to map all the art produced in the city.”
Hernandez-Reguant’s plight has garnered attention from Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez, who has expressed his support of Hialeah’s Contemporary Culture Project. Councilman Paul “Pablito” Hernandez has been pushing the ordinance forward as far back as last December and is responsible for creating Hialeah’s Art District, an area which is fundamentally industrial.
The project has also obtained the public’s support and backing from businessmen such as Ernesto Tarre, owner of Los Tres Conejitos bakery in West Hialeah.
“All that’s cultural is welcome in Hialeah,” said Tarre, who added that he’d give two free guava pastelitos to anyone who voted #2 in the contest.
Since she was 16 years old Cuban Neri Torres has organized the Afro-Cuban Dance Festival in Miami. The festival exhibits dance and percussion performances at academic conferences focusing on Latin American and Caribbean diaspora.
If her project wins the contest, Torres said she’ll use the award to expand the festival and create “Between Heaven and Earth”, a choreography based on the influence people who came to Miami during “El Mariel” exodus had on American culture.
“The Mariel exodus didn’t only represent a face of violence that's often depicted here [in the U.S.], it also meant a full-fledged rhythmic influence of Afro-Cuban music,” said Torres. “But it’s also true that for Cubans, that exodus meant a tear in family relationships.”
Torres publicly asked for votes for her project and told people to text #3.
Oliver Sanchez is an established artist in Miami. Several years ago, he turned his Design District art studio into an open space welcoming young local talent.
In Swampspace at 3940 North Miami Ave., Sanchez has become a mentor for South Florida’s emerging artists.
“We want to propel the idea that there’s a space dedicated to artistic values and not focused on economic gains,” said Sanchez in a promotional video for the contest. “Every year we have a group of interns and artists who come here with ideas which require funding…winning this award would help us turn those grandiose ideas into feasible realities.”
To support this project, vote for #5.
Art on a large scale
In the last four years, Symons and his wife Leah Brown have curated exhibitions of non-conventional art.
In the project’s art gallery FATvillage, an 8,000 square foot gallery with high ceilings, Brown and Symons exhibit giant-sized sculptures, 10 feet high paintings on wooden planks and installation pieces formed by dozens of television screens with varying video images playing on a loop.
About 2,000 people attend FATvillage during an art walk held the last Saturday of the month, in the space located on 523 N.W. First Ave. in Fort Lauderdale.
“We’ve noticed that the community is thirsty for a more captivating artistic experience,” said Symons. “This type of space encourages artists to create pieces that are more interactive, large artworks that wouldn’t fit in a conventional gallery.”
Symons and Brown dream with opening the gallery on a daily basis and giving more artists the opportunity to exhibit their works. Symons encourages people to vote #1 and support his project.
A Museum in the classroom
Gieda, of the Key West Art & Historical Society Museum, wants students in Monroe County schools to experience art inside their classrooms.
“We’re focusing on teaching students about the cultural heritage found in the Keys through art exhibitions,” said Geida. “We want them to feel proud of their history and of the diversity of the place they live in.”
Winning the Knight Foundation’s award would allow Gieda to create lesson plans to accompany the traveling exhibitions.
One of the exhibitions the Society wants to present at schools is an art collection belonging to Mario Sanchez.
The Key West native was a folkloric artist who documented the lives of people who worked in the area through his painting and sculptures. His colorful paintings show the Hispanic community living in the Keys that Sanchez, who died at 96 years old in 2005, was interested in depicting.
Gieda asked the public to vote #4 for his proposition.
To vote, text the word VOTE to 22333 as well as the number of your choice, without spaces.
Follow Enrique Flor and Brenda Medina on Twitter @kikeflor @BrendaMedinar