What are some of the questions you ask yourself as you work?
At some point during my formative education, I remember a teacher telling me to put my writing through what they called the “who cares” test. This ultimately pushed me to elaborate my written work and explain my content beyond a reasonable doubt.
In relation to my art, I still ask a similar question. Often, the result is rethinking concepts and pushing an idea further. Admittedly, there were periods in my past where I saw consumption of my art as success or a failure. At these times, the “who cares” in my brain was self-deprecating.
Over the past year, the condescending tone of that concept was traded for a more self-aware approach.
Maybe I care to keep working on a piece because I am learning something new, creating something for a loved one, or- just maybe- I am making something simply for the sake of having fun. Life doesn’t need to be so serious and goal oriented. Nonsense still requires time to pass and some effort to be made. What a wonderfully wacky way to approach existing and creating.
Xico, Inc. Homepage (Xico Inc-Latinx & Indigenous Arte Y Cultura, n.d., p.1)
Since 1975, local Chicano and Native American artists in Phoenix, Arizona congregated to promote their respective cultures through the arts- founding what is now known as Xico, Inc. (Xicoarte, 2016). From their iconic Roosevelt Row shipping container galleries, to their workshops and traveling printing press, Xico continues to facilitate a space for learning and expression. As the organization continues to grow, Xico has an opportunity to expand their capacity to educate, inspire, and celebrate new manifestations of traditional arts and culture. The following research conducted investigates Xico’s practices as an organization, illustrating their overall sustainability, accessibility, and equity within their community.
Statement of Purpose
During my years residing in Phoenix, Arizona, I became familiar with Xico through their programs and events. My experiences in their shipping container galleries and at their in-studio maker space led me to select Xico as the focus of my research.
Purpose in the Context of Personal, Professional Goals
Art is inherently therapeutic and expressive. Some art goes beyond, allowing creatives to fight oppression and advocate for justice. My inquiries into Xico’s practices are predominately due to their emphasis of printmaking as a historically relevant form of Latinx and Indigenous protest art. Through my research, I am investigating if and how Xico educates the public about the history of their predominant art forms. From there, I narrow my focus to their ability to engage youth and promote culture, expression, and continued advocacy for social justice.
Culture- “the practices communities select to express themselves” (Graves, 2005, p. 15).
Cultural Equity- “when peoples can meet as equals, without the threat of domination, they can risk their art and culture… [it] is integral to democracy” (Graves, 2005, p. 142).
Personal Assumptions about the Xico Community
Before I began my research, I a couple assumptions about the community and what I would find from my research. My strongest assumptions were about the permanence of Xico’s current state.
As I will elaborate later in my writing, Xico is undergoing some large changes in order to expand their accessibility, visibility, and profitability. Although this news reached local papers during the fall of 2018, both myself and one of my interviewees, master printmaker Brent Bond, were both unaware of the change. I am excited to see how my research compares to the manifestations of the administration’s visions for Xico.
Additionally, I thought the hardest person to contact would be the Executive Director while the easiest would be the students. This was not the case. Executive Director Donna Valdés was extremely accessible despite her hectic schedule. Unfortunately, student voices were extremely challenging to find. Despite trying multiple times to contact returning, adult art students and teachers whose schools received Xico’s “Say Yes to the Press” mobile art program, I was not successful. Due to the limited time frame allotted for my work during the summer of 2019, this research is missing the voices of these individuals whom would provide a more robust depiction of Xico’s work within the context of its students.
Qualitative Research Methods yield the foundation of my research. Findings come from three, in-depth interviews, on-site observations, and publishings on Xico’s website and social media pages. Xico’s history and practice is contextualized again though various essays and theories about practices for equitable, healthy, thriving arts communities.
All photo documentation originates from Xico’s website and social media pages with permission from the Executive Director. These images supplement my research, providing evidence of practices, community demographics, and Xico’s built environment.
Interviews with Executive Director Donna Valdés, Artist and Community Relations Coordinator Janet Díaz, and contracted master printmaker Brent Bond provide various perspectives illustrating the work, visions, and applications within the organization. Phone calls and emails allowed me to work remotely while acquiring their voices.
With all this information in mind, the aim of this research is to identify themes within Xico’s work and provide suggestions for increased visibility and sustainability.
My exploration of artists featured in their shipping container galleries gave me a preliminary understanding of Xico’s identity. The art selected by the 501(c)(3) organization is compelling, intellectually stimulating, and promotes the voices of contemporary Latino and Native American artists. The containers are in a public, highly trafficked location and features art created by local, contemporary Latinx and Indigenous artists (Call to Artists, n.d., p. 1).
The quality of the shipping container exhibitions led me to enroll in a monoprint class in the fall of 2018. There, I discovered a collaborative studio of eight makers who varied in skill level. Participants celebrated one another’s work and shared techniques. It was a beautiful, vibrant space to learn and create. This experience was the first time I met and interacted with Janet Díaz and Brent Bond. Both were enthusiastic about their role at Xico as well as their own artwork. They were a delight to meet and a pleasure to interview for this research.
Who is Xico?
“Xico’s mission is to nourish a greater appreciation of the cultural and spiritual heritages of the Latinx and Indigenous peoples of the Americas through the Arts.”
-Xico Inc. Mission Statement
As the predominant Latinx and Indigenous arts organization in Arizona, Xico provides a platform for local artists and artisans to find their audience while developing their skills. There, artists are given a space in which they can create, experiment, and learn within a collaborative space. This 501(c)(3) organization relies on donations, grants, and it’s annual fundraising dinner to finance its programming, events, and administration (Xico Inc-Latinx & Indigenous Arte Y Cultura, n.d., p.1).
Snapshot of the Community
Community– “any group of individuals who share something, anything, in common and consider themselves to have some allegiance to each other…we are born into some… others we select” (Graves, 2005, p. 25).
Xico currently resides in Central City Village, Phoenix, Arizona. According to the 2018 Statistical Profile of the village by the Arizona Department of Health Services, the following statistics illustrate urban and suburban neighborhoods within:
65.1% Hispanic, 52.0% White, 32.4% other, 10.5% Black, 3.5% Native American, 1.6% Asian or Pacific Islander
52.2% Single Parent Families
34.5% under the age of 20
Population with income below 100% of Federal Poverty Level: 43.7%
Population with income below 200% of Federal Poverty Level: 71.7%
Children under 12 in poverty: 58.2%
Though there are clearly needs within the community due to statistically evident indicators of poverty, they do not include the vibrancy of life in Central City. Not only does the village contain theaters, college campuses, professional sports facilities and government offices for the capital city, it also harbors vibrant murals, public parks and schools, dulcerías, eloteros, and communities that are authentic in their heritage. Xico’s neighborhood is bustling with life, unapologetically Chicano, and a rightful home for their community arts organization. The community in which Xico resides would benefit greatly from the uplifting, culturally relevant, and creative environment they harbor.
Located due east of South 7th Street and East Buckeye Road in Central City, Phoenix, Arizona, Xico Inc. currently resides in a commercial space with other local business owners within Buckeye Commerce Center. Their second-floor gallery, offices, and workshop have a stunning, panoramic view of Downtown and South Phoenix. The studio is clean, organized, sleek, and is intentional with its utilization of the dynamic space. Art adorns the walls and shared supplies are provided for students upon entry.
The location of Buckeye Commerce Center yields unique features. Local Chicano and Indigenous professionals own many of the shops and businesses in the plaza. This creates a mutually supportive environment around Xico’s campus. When exiting a class, it is not uncommon to encounter one of these friendly individuals, eager to discover artwork produced within their complex. During an on-site visit, a law professional in the center mentioned his firm features student art from Xico for their clients and co-workers to appreciate.
Changes in Location and Built Environment
Executive Director Donna Valdés shared plans for Xico to move north of Downtown and into a more central location by the end of next year. She suggested this move would provide further visibility and additional space for workshops, artist residences, and other additional improvements (D. Valdéz, personal communication June, 25, 2019).
The expansion is exciting and promising for Xico, although it raises the question of what might be left behind in their previous community. According to a 2018 article in the Phoenix New Times, Executive Director Donna Valdés “also [considers] launching a Xico satellite,” after the organization moves locations. This could be an opportunity to maintain contact with their former neighborhood or to extend their influence into another community of need. Nonetheless, Valdés acknowledges these changes can only occur after reviewing the Xico vision with their artists and taking their prospectives into consideration (Trimble, 2018, p. 2).
The location of the shipping containers will also change. A brewery purchased the land at 425 East Roosevelt, pushing the containers out of their former location and into their new home on Roosevelt and Second streets (Trimble, 2019, p.1). Luckily, this location is in the heart of the First Friday foot traffic on Roosevelt Row and borders the Second Street artist market. Hopefully, the food trucks will not block or overshadow their presence, as this is where they usually park. Nonetheless, their new locations offer increased exposure and the possibility of expanded notoriety.
Administration and Board
Even without several substantial changes anticipated in the years to come, it is important to note who makes the decisions for the organization. Xico, Inc. is a Latinx and Indigenous community arts organization whose board and administration are entirely Latinx and Indigenous artists, businesspeople, entrepreneurs, lawyers, and school officials who work and live in the Greater Phoenix area.
Often in Phoenix- and throughout the United States- one can find community organizations run by people who do not reflect the community’s demographics. According to the American Center for Progress, “businesses that embrace our nation’s changing demographics reap the economic benefits of a diverse and inclusive workforce” (Burns, Barton, Kerby, 2012, p.1). The board and administration at Xico embraces this concept. Their presence is critical in ensuring Xico’s practices promote the voices and aspirations of contemporary Latinx and Indigenous artists in Phoenix.
The Xico Community
Although the physical location is important to the context of the organization within Phoenix, Xico cultivates its own community. Individuals attending Xico events and workshops come from all over the Valley and not necessarily from the immediate neighborhood they are located in. This raises questions about Xico’s accessibility, targeted audience, and what the organization can do to bridge into their surrounding neighborhoods.
When asked to describe the Xico community, master printmaker Brent Bond described classrooms of mutually supportive community members, ranging in artistic proficiency and ethnicity. “They are accessible with their camaraderie and outreach. They support each other’s art events and exhibitions.”
To better understand the Xico’s strengths and weaknesses in bridging social capital, it is important to understand the demographics of who is attending their events. There is a strong presence of cisgender, middle aged adults participating within the organization. Despite a request, statistics were not provided to elaborate upon program attendance. Personally, when attending Xico’s monoprint class, the only man in the class was the instructor. The younger women in the class were two individuals in their twenties- one joining their mother for a class and another as the instructor’s apprentice.
Attendees do not come from one neighborhood, village, or city in the Greater Phoenix area, but come from near and far to access Xico’s programming. There is clearly bonding social capital within this group, as Brent Bond stated. Bonding social capital creates solidarity and reciprocity, strengthening communities from within (Graves, 2005, p. 26). “Bridging networks, by contrast, are better for linkage to external assets and for information diffusion” (Graves, 2005, p.27). Therefore, it would be wise for Xico to begin strategizing to introspect and ask who is missing at their organization. By targeting new groups and facilitating bridging social capital, new participants will open possibilities for more social capital, financial capital, and resources.
Who is missing?
The main concern for master printmaker Brent Bond is the growth of participation in younger artists is very low and often relies on word of mouth to connect youth to Xico (B. Bond, personal communication, June 22, 2019). After fifteen years at Xico, Brent Bond has the longest duration of experience at of all interviewees. Since he began, Bond tries to connect collegiate artists with Xico in order to increase youth involvement. He shares links to the website as well as contact information for Janet Díaz, but notes this is not the most efficient means of enhancing youth participation (B. Bond, personal communication, June 22, 2019).
It is important to understand the “youth” that are connected from printmaker to community coordinator are college age students whom are legally adults. These university students often serve in limited, highly-competitive, apprenticeship positions in the Xico studio. With over one third of Central City Village’s population being under the age of twenty- and a similar percentage across the Phoenix Metro area- this is certainly an area for the organization to engage a greater portion of their population.
Xico’s Cultural Capital
Xico attempts to cultivate, accentuate, and celebrate Chicano and Indigenous arts in the Valley. Due to this, Xico supplies cultural capital to those who interact with their art events and workshops. According to the nonprofit Center for Arts and Culture, “our cultural capital has become increasingly valuable in a global, knowledge-based economy, and as a key social source as people in the United States and around the world seek to preserve their identities and understand others” (Center for Arts and Culture, 2001, p.1). As an incubator for artists, a workshop for students, and a celebratory gathering space for culturally specific art, Xico thrives in its ability to propagate cultural capital.
To best understand the organization’s vision, it is important to ask Xico’s administration who they define as their stakeholders. Executive Director Donna Valdés sees the artists at Xico as stakeholders. This includes those learning from Xico programming, artists employed to teach workshops, and artists exhibiting in a Xico sponsored space.
As an Artist and Community Relations Coordinator, Janet Díaz brings additional groups into her stakeholder definition. She begins by describing the stakeholders as “low to moderate income communities, such as Title I schools, underserved youth, emerging and established artists, seniors and veterans.” She continues, “stakeholders also include government entities and other organizations we partner with.”
With such a long list of stakeholders, it is important to understand how feedback is collected and whose voices are being taken into consideration. Díaz notes the use of surveys issued before and after programming to students, teachers, and teaching artists. Additionally, participant attendance and demographics are tracked in order to provide quantitative data ensuring Say Yes to the Press is reaching its target audience. Surveys for those attending on-site workshops are also sent after every session to collect additional data (D. Valdéz, personal communication, July 19, 2019).
When investigating Xico’s impact within its immediate and broader community, it is important to note the origins of the art forms in which they are promoting. Interviewees were excited to share their perspectives about Xico’s emphasis on printmaking. Despite not having a page on their website sharing the reason for the medium, all three interviewees had almost identical statements about the cultural importance of printmaking throughout Latinx and Indigenous history.
“Printmaking has always been a community endeavor as the shops are often communal. Printmaking provides an early form of education and protest, giving an outlet of representation to Hispanic and Indigenous artists.”
-Brent Bond, Master Printer at Xico, Inc.
(B. Bond, personal communication, June 22, 2019)
Historically speaking, printmaking gives a voice and a platform for underrepresented people and communities. Due to the medium’s ability to be mass-produced, information and opinions transcend limits of location and exposure. Concise statements paired with bold, saturated imagery allow information to spread across populations with various languages and literacy levels.
Programs Offered on Campus
Xico has a robust list of public classes and professional artist workshops. Printmaking classes include monoprints, monoskilk, and screen printing while still offering variations of other Chicano and Indigenous arts and crafts mediums such as pyrography, embroidery, and Ndee beading. In addition to these more traditional art forms, Xico is currently offering studio art classes in paper marbling and “Wine & Design” classes (Classes, n.d., p.1).
Free artist workshops and demonstrations for advanced printmakers allow artists to utilize master printers as a resource while experimenting with techniques and concepts. These professional-artist-only workshops include monosilk and monoprint as well as linocut, woodcut, etching and mixed media. In an interview with Donna Valdés, the Executive Director stated greater possibilities for professional artists in their new location. Valdés shared her vision of including a laser etcher and a 3D printer into the new maker space (D. Valdéz, personal communication, June, 25, 2019). Xico’s range of classes not only allows a greater number of skilled artists to expand upon their work, but also allows artists of similar disciplines to gain skills in a related medium.
Community Partnerships and Events
Xico partners with various organizations across the Greater Phoenix area in order to expand their community outreach. These partnerships include programming in the form of workshops, professional development, and art exhibitions for public benefit. This strategy is aims to increase visibility, acquire new participants, boost donor support, pull resources, share culture, and educate the public. By joining forces with well-known organizations in Phoenix, Xico Inc. develops greater name recognition across the Valley. These partnerships include organizations such as the Phoenix Art Museum, the Heard Museum, AARP, Roosevelt Row, and Wonderspaces..
“Xico strives to become a stronger organization through collaborative projects and healthy partnerships with outside organizations and nonprofits.”
-Janet Diaz, Artist and Community Relations at Xico, Inc.
Annual events such as the Día de los Muertos Festival as well as the Xico Dinner and Art Auction provide culturally relevant events to the Greater Phoenix community while increasing funds to Xico itself. According to Executive Director Donna Valdés, the Annual Dinner and Art Auction brings in about two thirds of all revenue for Xico’s yearly expenses. The rest, she notes, come from donors, grants, and purchased art (D. Valdéz personal communication, June, 25, 2019).
The Annual Dinner and Art Auction is a celebration of Xico’s work where the public can purchase tickets to attend the event. Along with food and entertainment, guests have opportunities to bid on works of art created at Xico. As part of Xico’s fundraising efforts, one third of all art created at in their maker space is collected and put up for auction at this event. This practice allows Xico to pay for expenses such as supplies, utilities, instructors’ wages, and the administration’s salaries.
Galleries and Exhibitions
Xico has regularly scheduled gallery events every month. In addition to their First and Third Friday exhibitions at their shipping container galleries, Xico also has seasonal shows at their studio space on Buckeye Road. These events facilitate continuous community awareness by supporting local Chicanx and Indigenous artists. Xico financially benefits from their space as well, taking in 40% of funds from each artwork sold in their space.
Youth Involvement and Investment
Although most workshops and programs are geared towards adults, Xico provides several events and programs for youth off campus. Their ability to engage and listen to the voices of local youth will determine their ability to grow their social, cultural, and financial capital for years to come.
Importance of Incorporating Youth
Youth involvement is an integral piece of any arts and cultural institution. By providing programming and events targeting children and young adults, all parties involved reap the benefits. Engaging, educational programming allows organizations to gain interest and investment from younger generations. Endowing our young community members with rigorous, creative, and culturally relevant opportunities enhances the qualities of our future leaders.
Collaborative, creative workspaces like print studios cultivate creative teamwork skills. In the case of Xico, the context of their chosen mediums bridges generations, ethnic groups, and social classes. Such a relationship yields greater opportunities for social and cultural capital exchange. When this happens, people and their communities are elevated and celebrated. Such a relationship benefits youth development and instills tools that build stronger communities for the generations ahead.
“If we are to prioritize multiculturalism and and diversity as the future of our communities and the art that emerges from them, the cultural survival of many populations will become our collective responsibility.”
-Ian Garrett, Americans for the Arts
(Garrett, 2015, p. 125)
Community Partnerships with Youth Involvement
Youth events sponsored by Xico can be found across Southern, Western, and Central Phoenix. Xico’s mobile art program serves nearly one thousand students annually (J. Díaz, personal communication, July 17, 2019).
Working with Arizona State University Students
Brent Bond acknowledged Xico’s history of connecting ASU printmaking students with apprenticeships at Xico. He rightfully believes much more can be done. Executive Director Donna Valdés is making plans for these students by intentionally creating a space for these collegiate artists once Xico moves locations. “Looking to relocate means looking into program evaluation,” she states. “We have plans to create many maker spaces, including a lithography space for ASU graduates to enhance printmaking and entrepreneurial development.”
Say Yes to the Press
“Say Yes to the Press was created to provide youth who reside in underdeveloped communities with access to quality arts education,” explains Janet Díaz. The mobile printing press can be transported into any classroom, allowing a wider range of local youth to have exposure to the art form. Often, Say Yes to the Press partners with local community organizations for four to twelve weeks- although Xico provides a couple schools with year-round programming (J. Díaz, personal communication, July 17, 2019). The workshops sponsored by Xico include use of the printing presses in addition to workshops with recyclable and sustainable art practices. After student art is exhibited at a local community center, Xico donates supplies for students to keep (D. Valdéz, personal communication, June, 25, 2019).
“Printmaking is an artistic discipline that is not offered through any other mobile engagement program in Arizona. Furthermore, printmaking is only offered at the college level. Annually, Say Yes to the Press provides arts instruction to a minimum of one thousand youth at various organizations and schools throughout the Valley, including some rural areas. Youth learn different artistic mediums and are engaged in creative expression. Bringing Indigenous arts to the community promotes improved relationships and a stronger feeling of mutual respect across the diverse populations that form our community.”
-Janet Díaz, Artist and Community Relations at Xico, Inc.
Díaz expresses a firm understanding of the power of her work and the influence it has within the context of Arizona’s educational system and beyond. It is no wonder the Say Yes to the Press mobile printing press travels as much as it does. During their monthly First Friday and Third Friday Art Walk events, Roosevelt Row features Say Yes to the Press in order to increase community awareness and facilitate opportunities for donations. A partnership with the Heard Museum allows Xico to bring Say Yes to the Press to museum events such as Día de los Niños and Free Arts Day throughout the year.
Xico currently collaborates with the Carl Hayden Community Center, using their mobile art program to provide monthly programming throughout the school year in addition to their summer arts instruction. Xico works with the Playback iTheater Collaborative in order to engage youth in the Eastlake Edison area through acting, music, and mural painting. These various opportunities give students an additional platform to express their artistic visions for their communities (J. Díaz, personal communication, July 17, 2019).
Ideas for Improvement: Youth
Tom Borrup’s community development guide, The Creative Community Builder’s Handbook: How to Transform Communities Using Local Assets, Art, and Culture, engaging youth “ensure[s] an economically and socially healthy future for your community.” Borrup continues, listing the benefits of this focus include an increased social consciousness, work ethic and responsibility for youth. Incorporating youth also activates greater numbers of adults. Youth investment appears as the single most important tool to strengthen Xico’s work within the context of the medium’s history, to empower youth development, and to increase the sustainability of their organization.
The following are suggestions for youth engagement aiming to create an equitable, vibrant, and healthy community through Xico’s work:
Develop a more formal means of accessing rising talent at Arizona State University.
As the fourth largest university with one of the top masters of fine arts programs in the country, Arizona State University is teeming with potential for organizations like Xico. A partnership could be created with ASU to implement a formal apprenticeship program with the support of the ASU MFA faculty. With legitimization of Xico’s apprenticeship program, Xico can support rising artists while staffing new programs and increasing their name recognition at the university.
This apprenticeship could also occur with students attending Arizona State for art education. These young professionals could aid the Say Yes to the Press program while learning ways to bring culturally relevant art into their own classrooms. Xico, in return, receives more assistance in their youth workshops- improving the student to staff ratio, makes connections with other community arts professionals, and can inquire ways to improve workshops.
Another way Xico could utilize ASU students would be by creating a scholarship targeting Latinx and Indigenous students studying Nonprofit Leadership Studies or Community Advocacy and Social Policy. In doing so, Xico could gain new perspectives on financing operations and sustaining growth. Entry essays and interviews alone will provide Xico with fresh ideas and greater exposure while making connections with young Latinx and Indigenous working professionals.
Utilize space at Xico’s new location for a selected, youth-only printshop.
I believe this to be the single most powerful change Xico could make to improve their organization’s sustainability in an overstimulated world. The education and investment of Phoenix youth willow Xico to increase their engagement with the community. By emphasizing printmaking in its context as a means of advocating for social justice should be a priority, as it provides context for Xico’s work and empowers those creating to have a greater voice. Organizations like the Animating Democracy program by Americans for the Arts as well as the Lawrence Youth Council at Elevated Thought are prime examples of organizations providing free opportunities which incorporate intensive arts immersion with social justice education for youth. Americans for the Arts has toolkits for organizations to implement and measure “civic engagement and social impact through the arts” (Social Change, 2015, p. 1). With nearly one third of the immediate population surrounding Xico being under the age of 20, there are certainly young adults and many communities that would benefit greatly from youth programming like these.
Educational youth programming will also allow Xico to apply for more grants available from various arts commissions and the City of Phoenix. Engaging youth will provide another compelling reason for future and current donors to contribute to Xico’s work.
Xico can be selective about this space. Students can apply with written statements or pictures of their work for Xico review. Similar to Elevated Thought, students can then be interviewed, introduced to expectations, and contacted if they are the right fit for the program.
Furthermore, in-house programming for teens increases parent accessibility. The issue of childcare can limit parents, especially those in lower-income communities. Teens and young adults- respecting Donna Valdés’ vision of targeting students in sixth grade and above- could take modified classes at Xico while their parents take more advanced workshops in a different classroom (D. Valdéz, personal communication, July 19, 2019). Families can learn and grow at Xico, bridging social and cultural capital across generations for more families across Phoenix.
Ideas for Improvement: Finances
At new location, create a gallery and artist market
Tom Borrup’s The Creative Community Builder’s Handbook, the second strategy listed in his “Economic Development Strategies” is to “Stimulate Trade through Cultural Tourism.” Phoenix is undeniably prime location for cultural tourism. Bloomberg estimates over two hundred people move to Phoenix daily. As stated by the Visit Phoenix, a local, non profit tourism organization, twenty two million tourists come to the city every year.
“Cultural tourism or cultural heritage tourism
Travel based upon interaction with both the human-built and natural environment as a means to learn about and experience the arts, heritage, and special character of a place.”
-Definition by Tom Borrup
This is a massive resource for Xico. Borrup’s research states in 2002, 81% of U.S. adult tourists incorporated “historic/cultural sites and activities as part of their travel.” He continues, “travelers visiting historic or cultural sites spend significantly more money.”
These benefits expand beyond the monetary. Equally important are the benefits to the community. These include encouraging residents to celebrate their culture, empowers residents to collaborate with leaders and funders for a mutual cause, building a unified identity within the community, facilitates collaborative networks, attracting investment, and reviving traditional techniques within the contemporary era (Borrup, T., 2006, p. 33).
A Latinx and Indigenous artist market at Xico will catalyze these advances by showcasing works from artists in residence, local artisans, as well as amateur and student art. Now, instead of having one, major fund raising event, Xico can employ trade through cultural tourism in order to accelerate benefits on behalf of the community.
According to the Chicago Center for Arts Policy, there is “substantial evidence that the informal arts are an important reservoir of social capital, significant for life-long-learning, building civic engagement, and strengthening communities” (27 in CD Ch3). Xico allows for professional, working artists to expand their abilities and strengthen their skills while teaching adults and youth about the medium in the context of Latinx and Indigenous culture. Although there is a strong presence of middle aged adults of various backgrounds in their classes, Xico has an opportunity expand its outreach to further engage in Phoenix’s youth. With a stronger emphasis on elucidating the historical and political context of their main art form, youth from across Phoenix- especially in Latinx and Indigenous areas of need- will gain a new means of expression with a culturally relevant framework. By strengthening partnerships with Arizona State University and incorporating youth workshops and an artist market at their new campus, Xico will reinforce their brand and gain investment from new generations for decades to come.
Attended a free Monoprint workshop held by Xico Inc. at their campus on Baseline Rd. in South Phoenix, AZ. The workshop was held on a first-come-first serve basis with online registration. All supplies, instruction, and facilities were covered. The instructor was a contracted printmaker named Brent Bond.
June 19, 2019
4:30 PM-5:00 PM (EST)
Interview with Executive Director Donna Valdés. Questions were sent for her review on June 14, 2019.
June 22, 2019
5:45 PM- 6:15 PM (EST)
Interview with contracted printmaker/instructor Brent Bond.
June 30, 2019
Writing and reviewing questionnaire:
*Questionnaire received on date listed
Questions emailed to Artist and Community Relations Manager, Janet Diaz. Janet’s additional role as the resident printmaker made it a challenge for her to complete the questionnaire issued to her. Some questions are still unanswered due to her busy schedule.
June 16 – July 4, 2019
Website and Social Media: Referenced during research for questionnaires, interviews, and quotes for assignments
Nestled in a renovated textile mill off the sun-soaked sidewalk of Union Street in Lawrence, Massachusetts, resides a youth arts organization bursting at the seams with vibrancy. Elevated Thought is a 501(c)(3) organization empowering and developing youth through art and social justice initiatives. Although other organizations might preach the importance of the youth voice, Elevated Thought models how to put the concept into practice through multiple aspects of their work.
Composition of the Elevated Thought Community: A Microcosm of Lawrence
Elevated Thought prides itself on being a grassroots organization. In a little over a decade, the milestones of success achieved by Elevated Thought prove art creates consciousness and investment in social issues.
When prompted with questions about education and community, the students of Elevated Thought in Lawrence, Massachusetts choose to create. Expressing themselves through music, visual arts, poetry, and mixed-media, these young adults utilize inquiry and personal context to confront issues locally, regionally, and- at times- nationally.
As of this year, over twenty five core students, ages fourteen to twenty, attend this creative space year-round. However, when taking into account Elevated Thought’s workshops in Greater Lawrence and Boston, this number jumps to well over four hundred. For the sake of painting a clear, consistent understanding of Elevated Thought’s work, this article’s primary focus will be with its base within the city of Lawrence.
Elevated Thought primarily serves youth from Latinx communities. This is no coincidence. Lawrence has a long history of immigrant communities dating back to the wave of European migration of the mid-nineteenth century, much of which was due to its geographic location and prevalence of textile industry. In the mid twentieth century, Lawrence transformed into a city with a robust population of Hispanic immigrants from the Caribbean and various Latin American countries. 2018 estimates from the United States Census state 79.1% of the current residents of Lawrence identify as Hispanic or Latino.
Lawrence’s population of over 76,000 people faces systemic challenges in the midst of its authentic and colorful history. Failing schools, high poverty, crime, unemployment, teen pregnancy, and addiction when paired with an ineffective and tumultuous local government, overshadow the vibrant cultures and individuals living within the city. It is with local investment and critical consciousness that Elevated Thought allows youth to be at the forefront of problem-solving in their community.
Today at Elevated Thought, the children served, the staff, administration, and board are predominately Latinx and people of color residing in the area. They are not only from the city, but representative of their city. In a world where women and minorities have to fight for equitable opportunities to become decision makers within their communities and fields, Elevated Thought employs their voices at the center of their work.
This trend continues into the administration, where a large composition of their team is made up of former students who went through Elevated Thought programming. There is greater unity in vision and purpose, as these professionals not only have a first-person prospective of their work with local youth, but they also are members of the community they are serving.
The employees status as former Elevated Thought students proves there is investment in the organization from its constituents- the community and students they serve. This is a good sign for projecting sustainability of the program.
Upon meeting these individuals, it is clear Elevated Thought gave them tools to invest in their artistic talent and leadership skills. Art created by students and the team is ubiquitous. The team shares their work when they provide new prompts to students. Artwork hangs on the walls. Murals adorn the streets. Their work is polished visually and contextually. It is exciting to see their creativity is not stifled by their work at the organization; it is supplemented by it.
What is most exciting about students becoming staff and administrators is that it shows community buy-in to the mission and practice of Elevated Thought. When youth come of age to enter the work force, they need to invest in careers where they can see themselves becoming increasingly self-sufficient and successful. For those who are privileged enough to do so, this often means moving to a different, larger city. These recent graduates are not only investing in Elevated Thought for their community, they are investing in Elevated Thought for their careers.
Addressing a transition in students accessing opportunities at Elevated Thought
Elevated Thought’s Founding Executive Director, Marquis Victor did not hesitate to share some of his concerns for future inclusion. He noted a rapid shift from mostly women to a predominately male presence in the program.
“Historically, women and queer youth have had a strong presence in Elevated Thought. Women and queer youth built what Elevated Thought is today,” explains Program Director Amaryllis Lopez. She took a moment to elaborate on her experience.
“As a young girl, ET was definitely one of the few spaces where I felt confident, heard, and respected. I never felt unsafe or ignored while in programming. I had opportunities to work on my skills, experiment freely, and given leadership opportunities.”
Elevated Thought is already taking action to restore an inclusive space. Discussions began earlier this year and the voices of the women and queer students are in the foreground of discussion. It is exciting to see when a problem arrises, those affected are automatically given a platform to express their viewpoint and offer primary solutions.
A Sense of Place: the Value of Location, Structure, and Design
There is something magical about the transparency of Elevated Thought’s physical layout. Although Marquis Victor explains they are quickly outgrowing the space, the current structure is certainly communal in every sense of the word.
Many nonprofits struggle with feeling like they need to aesthetically look like a nonprofit. This “nonprofit culture of poverty” often delegitimizes the work conducted within the organization. This is not the case at Elevated Thought.
The staff and administration shared their humble beginnings in search of a space to do their work. They first transitioned out of a school and into their own establishment in the basement of their current building. After growing their work and winning new grants, the organization moved onto the ground level of the converted textile mill.
Their current location comes with far more benefits. The windows on the first floor provide much needed natural light for those working, which allows the organization to save on energy while enhancing the quality of life of those in the space. Their new location also makes Elevated Thought visible as a functioning part of the city from those passing by. Art as well as students working can be seen from the street. Those unfamiliar with the organization might feel more inclined to stop by during an event, as the space appears more accessible and transparent. Furthermore, their new location is something to be proud of. There sense of increased value when design and visibility is put into consideration. Many design and architecture principals are based on this concept. Although some of these factors were possibly subconscious considerations, the benefits are apparent throughout the Elevated Thought workspace.
Entering the Space
As mentioned before, Elevated Thought is located in a converted textile mill off of the Merrimack River. The door is embellished with a colorful design on its exterior walls. The vestibule is adorned with art from the organization’s students and collaborators. Turning around, as if to exit the space, visitors are given one final prompt asking “What is education?” Those returning are welcome to use their space for further rumination.
Art is omnipresent. Rotating murals adorn the interior surfaces, art hangs on a curated wall, and there are opportunities for collaboration and artistic discovery throughout the space.
The gallery wall is adorned with local high school art from seniors in the program. By the end of the month, the curated wall will feature women, femme, and queer artists for the Lawrence Pride Festival.
An additional benefit of this gallery space is that 80% of all proceeds go back to the artist when they sell their art at Elevated Thought. This is a far better rate than most nonprofit galleries will provide. Marquis Victor justifies Elevated Thought’s 20%, as it will go back into purchasing supplies for other young artists to use.
In the front of the room, art supplies are organized and out in the open for students to access. They are in low shelving, allowing equal access to the materials. Most of the materials provided are professional grade, allowing students to truly understand and master their mediums.
The space is like a living room, with creaking hardwood floors, rustic touches, and plenty of seating- but it is the people in that space who make Elevated Thought feel like home. Amongst all the art, the first thing one will see when entering the main space is the staff, working diligently adjacent to the door. You are greeted by friendly faces, hard at work to provide opportunities for those entering from across the room. Although the essence of humanity adorns the walls, it is human interaction that greets you. Marquis Victor made this one of his guiding principals, embedded into the philosophy of Elevated Thought. Family culture is pivotal in his work, as it allows honesty, openness, care, consideration, and expectations of quality for students and staff alike.
Creating a Welcoming, Supportive, Safe Space
Marquis Victor elaborated on how he approaches creating an empowering space for community to express and have impact. Before the creation of his organization or expansion of their work, it is important one assesses the needs of the community by speaking to those who are living and working in it. This includes embedding oneself into the community and thoroughly experiencing life there.
Understanding Power Dynamics within a Community
Learning about the political landscape within and overseeing each community is imperative to recognizing the greater context of the area. In the case of Lawrence, Marquis Victor provides an example related to funding for drug abuse. “Money is coming in from outside the city to address the drug epidemic,” he states. “It is important to understand where the money is coming from, because they are the ones making decisions for the city.” This money could determine economic development in Lawrence, funding for educational programing, housing, medical care, policing, and other civil services that could drastically impact community members’ quality of life.
Other times, there are forces within the city, such as religious organizations and other service groups. Discerning the ideologies and missions of these entities is imperative to functioning and sustaining as a community organization.
Rather than working solely against these entities, Victor stresses the need for partnership and collective efforts. By understanding the strengths of these programs and forces, partnership can maximize one’s efforts for community advocacy. This includes supporting them where there are common goals while simultaneously holding these entities accountable when their actions are hurting the community.
Elevated Thought touches base with these groups in various ways. They distribute surveys to students and the broader community in order to better understand who they are serving, what their concerns are, and their opinions about possible solutions. Elevated Thought “meets the community where they are,” which often includes doing workshops with community centers and attending local functions. Elevated Thought also sponsors community events centered around collaboration, celebration, and beautification. Each of these efforts allows Elevated Thought to expand awareness of the work they are doing, invite community participation, and to employ consistent active listening into the work they do.
Marquis Victor expands upon the definition of active listening, stating the most important aspect of it is to put the community’s concerns into action. This proves Elevated Thought values the community’s expertise on their own obstacles. It creates a true sense of a united front in collaborating against systemic issues.
Creating a Culture of Inclusivity within Elevated Thought
A student’s first day at Elevated Thought is imperative to the culture of inclusivity and dedication fostered within the organization. A member of the Elevated Thought staff has an informal conversation with each student. This one-on-one time allows for staff to explain their mission, show the student the campus, and establish expectations. During this time, the staff member will also review the student’s application. This document highlights the student’s interests, allowing the Elevated Thought team time to find resources and connect each student with someone who is involved in their area of interest.
This introductory period also gives the staff an understanding of the student’s fit within the program. When asked to elaborate, Marquis Victor said new students are given a prompt to see if they can connect with it or possibly create. “The first prompt is usually very telling,” admits Victor, “We support them by reminding them our expectations. They can strategize and brainstorm rather than creating a masterpiece.” If a student is shut down or confrontational, they will often elect not to return or- in rare cases- be asked not to return. Ultimately, the decision to be productive, respectful, and welcoming comes down to each individual who applies for Elevated Thought.
Young People at Work
Everything begins with high expectations for students at Elevated Thought. Their time in the workspace is not just for arts and crafts, but, rather, for building their professional capacity so they can be self-sufficient, confident, productive members of society.
Professional Skill Development
In addition to refining students’ artistic techniques, Elevated Thought allows students to take full ownership of their ideas as they put them into work. In order to do so, many students require additional skills to refine their professional presentation. This includes, but is not limited to, expectations for being on time, attendance, time management, and communication. Elevated Thought provides informal mentorship and strong expectations to reinforce these attributes. Putting ideas into action allows students to apply these skills and learn from experience- both through success and failure.
Giving students the ability to test their ideas and practices in real-world settings provides an irreplaceable opportunity to learn from society itself. If one does not meet expectations working in their profession, there are consequences. Sometimes this means losing a deal with someone who wanted to commission work, getting demoted, or losing some of your reputation. Similarly, there are similar consequences at Elevated Thought as well. This sometimes means the organization will need to cut back on the work given the individual lacking responsibility. Students can then grow from these experiences and make adjustments before beginning their adult careers.
Lawrence Youth Council
In addition to their artistic work, the Lawrence Youth Council provides a rare platform for civic engagement, local advocacy, and leadership.
“The Lawrence Youth Council (LYC) was created under the City of Lawrence Mayor’s Health Task Force (MHTF) with awareness-raising and activism as some of its core elements, carried out through the lens of social justice and health equity, in line with the MHTF. LYC members are charged with representing youth in the city of Lawrence, creating opportunities to give youth a voice, advocating for issues important to youth, and organizing and developing youth-related projects, programs, events, and activities. Through a contract with the city, Elevated Thought has coordinated the LYC for almost four years.” – Elevated Thought homepage for the Lawrence Youth Council
Students at Lawrence Youth Council are using their experiences to take ownership of their communities and facilitate change. With the LYC, students have a space and legitimacy to voice their perspectives on today’s issues and suggest how to address them. With the LYC, students from Lawrence have a voice in local government.
In 2017, students in the Lawrence Youth Council were invited to the United States Department of Education in Washington D.C. to display art and speak their concerns. At the capital, students shared personal stories along with the findings of surveys conducted through Elevated Thought to make their case for school improvement. They also took their moment at the capital to present the Youth Bill of Rights in order to proliferate school improvements across the country.
This Youth Bill of Rights, translated in both English and Spanish, states the following inherent rights for students:
Student needs come first. Youth voices are the basis for all school decisions that affect them.
Students are liberated through their creations. Schools will use a curriculum promoting cultural heritage and true critical thinking through creativity and imagination.
Students’ vision is developed with and through their communities. School leaders provide consistent accountability, equity, and transparency to all members of the community. Students also have more opportunities to find out what they like and what they’re good at during the school day through increased mentorships, place-based learning, and student-led learning.
Students’ healthy growth is ensured. Schools provide nutritional menu options and healthy eating initiatives, along with resources and information to foster healthy student growth on all levels- physical, mental, and emotional.
Elevated Thought is getting right what many organizations struggle with. In my personal experience, there is often a disjointed relationship between non-profit organizations and their community, as well as from the administration to their constituents. It is impossible for an organization to be community oriented without actively listening to the community itself. Elevated Thought, in nearly every way, immerses itself into community. It is a breath of fresh air.
After meeting his staff on campus, I can see how Elevated Thought produces a welcoming, supportive creative space. I would be so proud to see my students grow up to be like the people working there. They were kind, honest, confident, and were excited to share their community with us. Although we were there to learn about their work, all of the staff took time to ask us questions, listen to our perspectives, and share their own. In truth, all of these factors is what education looks like to me.
On a more structural level, I was excited to hear Marquis’ plans for an expanded campus. As an educator and an artist, I truly believe he is taking design seriously in a way that will create spaces conducive to various learning approaches. I eagerly await the day when Elevated Thought opens up an independent campus in their image.
Marquis Victor was also very forthcoming about his blend of public grants, foundations, and donors fueling the organization he directs. I look forward to seeing more transparency about funding on Elevated Thought’s website, as I believe this will allow further community trust. Additionally, a break down of funding acquisitions will give future donors and investors a better outlook of the financial sustainability of their 501(c)(3), making them more willing to invest.
Elevated Thought provides students with healthy outlets to address and catalyze change for their futures. Artistic expression and dialogue in a safe, inclusive space allows students to explore their unique identities in a productive manner. Confidence and community investment grow with their activism both in their art and in local government. In all, Elevated Thought is a celebration of individuality and culture with an investment in equitable access to a robust education and social justice.