Re-found art

Appeal to Sac State officials helps save teetering barrio art class

Arturo Fernandez, Carmen Morrison, Cristina Mora, Adria Conley

Arturo Fernandez, Carmen Morrison, Cristina Mora, Adria Conley

SN&R Photo By Larry Dalton

It’s Thursday night at the Washington Neighborhood Center, and Marissa Rosales and 14 other women between the ages of 30 and 60 are snipping away at magazines, folding construction paper and finishing up the night’s project.

Even after a long day at work, Rosales has made her way every week for the past six years to the center’s barrio art class.

“I like it very much,” she said in Spanish during their introductions. “I’m happy to be with everyone here.”

For “Las Señoras,” as they’re called, the art class is more than just about making crafts. It’s the chance to come and connect with others, share stories and pass on Latino traditions.

Maritza Garcia, a Sacramento State art major, is receiving school credit for interning at the center. But it’s not the credit that keeps her coming back to the center. For students like Garcia, the class gives them an opportunity to help local children and adults through different barrio art classes. And while they help teach, they pick up a few things about their own cultures as well.

“A lot of the younger generation doesn’t get this talking to grandmothers, getting exposed to customs firsthand,” Garcia said. “Coming here, students get work and improve their Spanish.”

While “Las Señoras” and the children’s barrio art classes have become staples of the Washington Neighborhood Center, it hasn’t been easy to keep the program going. The classes represent the last of the original four community programs that have been run out of the center for decades. Like the other programs, barrio art class was poised to disappear.

The classes had been Sac State art department electives that liberal-studies students were required to take, according to Christina Mora, former Washington Neighborhood Center board president. She says the classes were moved to the art department, but university officials decided to end what’s listed as Art 148 in their catalog altogether. The reason wasn’t lack of interest; it was the death of barrio arts instructor of 20 years, Ricardo Favela, last summer.

The loss of Favela and the class were devastating blows to the Washington Neighborhood Center, which relies on the student support and $500 per semester in financial support that comes through CSUS to continue the barrio art program.

Sacramento artist and poet Jose Montoya, who recalls a variety of community programs at Washington Neighborhood Center that sprung out of the Latino movement era of the 1970s, says, “The last thing we have barely holding on was the barrio art program. It uses a lot of the cultura to help the college student not to forget where they came from.”

The community was not going to allow barrio art to disappear without a fight. On a cold January night, they held a public meeting with CSUS art department chairman Dan Frye and invited Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission representatives, Sac State students, college instructors and community members to talk about barrio art and what its loss would mean to them.

“A lot of people spoke,” said Mora. “They were really passionate about what they did when they came here as a college student.” According to Mora, barrio art students, speaking in Spanish, told Frye, “If you take this away, I can’t do anything.” The intensity of the scene and passion of the supporters seemingly made an impact on Frye, she said. (Frye chose not to comment for this story.)

“When he came here, he had a stance,” Mora said. “And I’m not sure at what point, but he had a change in his stance and it was like he said, ‘Oh, I see it now.’”

Since the meeting, Frye has reopened the class as an independent-study course. And Montoya says the discussions opened the way to talk with Sac State officials about further expanding Chicano art programs.

“There’s a lot of potential for CSU to create programs in anthropology, in the arts, in education, and will they? I hope. And we’ll be helping,” he said.

He deemed it a matter of necessity.

“To lose this part would have really affected us,” said Montoya. “We didn’t know if the people who came came to support the people here, to support the barrio art class, to support the center, because for me, it’s all the same. We can’t do one without the other, and we’ve proven for 55 years we’re here, and we’re here to stay.”