Latino art showcase in AZ art walk

Busy art walk showcasing Latino art
by Jahna Berry - The Arizona Republic Apr. 3, 2009

Latino artists are increasing their profile on First Fridays.

When the Valley's marquee monthly art walk returns today, it will include several spaces showcasing Latino artists. The events range from an Arizona State University exhibit to start-up galleries that focus on Latino art.

First Friday, the monthly self-guided tour of downtown Phoenix art galleries and spaces, is important to local artists because it brings thousands of visitors, and it exposes artists to throngs of people who may not have otherwise seen their work.

Today's events come as an arts group pushes to create a Latino museum and cultural center in downtown.

Advocates for Latin@ Arts & Culture want to raise $200,000 to open a small cultural center this year, but eventually plan to build a $10 million facility downtown.

Hispanic artists are becoming more visible on First Fridays, said Nydia Cortez, who opened Lo Nuestro Gallery in June.

"It's a small but growing scene," Cortez said. The gallery at 736 W. Fillmore St. embraces art from a wide sweep of Latin American countries, including Cuba.

Today, Lo Nuestro Gallery will feature the work of Phoenix painter, filmmaker and playwright José Antonio Ocegueda. Ocegueda's work is inspired by Mexico movie legends such as Emilio "El Indio" Fernández and art created by Mexico's indigenous Huichol people.

Many galleries showcase artists from diverse cultural backgrounds, but there's a demand for themed exhibits, said Carmela Ramirez, who manages the Phoenix Center for the Arts.

The center's January African-American Vibes of the City event and Arte Latino en la Ciudad, which will be held in May, can draw 450 people on opening night. Often, other exhibits attract much smaller opening-night crowds, she said.

Arizona State University's downtown campus plans to tap into that interest with an immigration-themed First Friday display at the University Center at 411 N. Central Ave.

Maricopa County Latinos spend an estimated $118 million on arts and culture annually, according to a study published last year.

But the flagging economy has left its mark on all artists, said muralist Martín Moreno, the resident artist at Cuervo Studio & Gallery at 1505 E. Thomas Road.

Artwork isn't selling well right now, said Moreno, who also teaches art at Las Artes de Maricopa, a GED program for students 16 to 18 years old. However, workshops and First Friday events are well attended, the artist said.

"We seem to be getting more attention," Moreno said.

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