Thursday, December 26, 2019

Ed Goldman: Vida De Oro puts focus on opening doors for Latino artists, artists-to-be and community

By Ed Goldman – Contributing columnist
Aug 12, 2019, 11:30am EDT

Mina Perez, the founder and executive director of nonprofit arts group The Via de Oro Foundation, doesn’t let a little thing stop her, like currently lacking an office in which to hold a meeting. Accordingly, when I meet with her last week, she drives up in a van that contains not only Adrian — her husband of 36 years and “partner-in-everything,” as he says with a grin — but also a folding table and chairs, tablecloth, bottles of water, a bag of chocolate chip cookies and a new box of crayons “just for you.” She says it with a maternal smile that makes me feel like I’m 7 years old again.

The couple sets up our alfresco conference room in a shady spot behind the old Wonder Bread/Hostess plant on Arden Way, which was bought by U-Haul several years ago and converted into storage facilities. “U-Haul is building our new offices,” Adrian Perez says. The DIY hauling and storage firm “likes being involved in local communities,” he adds.

Vida de Oro, which Mina Perez says can be translated as "golden life" or "golden path," has been otherwise carving its own way through the wilderness of regional arts nonprofits since its founding 11 years ago. “My goal was to remove stereotypes and stigmas often associated with Latino arts,” she says. The premier Vida de Oro Folk Art Festival was held in 2009. “It attracted artists, artisans, poets, performers and food vendors,” she says. Five more folk festivals were held in ensuing years. “We drew an average of 1,500 visitors to each event,” she says. The festival then disappeared for a year and returned as the Sacramento Taco Festival. Its fifth iteration under its new name was held on the grounds of the U Haul campus this past June.

Adrian and Mina Perez of The Vida de Oro Foundation
Vida de Oro also made a foray into this year’s Wide Open Walls mural competition — and on Aug. 17, from 1 to 4 p.m., it will be working with the downtown Sacramento Macy's store on a back-to-school promotion, during which customers spending $75 or more will receive gift boxes assembled by the Perezes. The boxes “will have pencils, crayons, tape” and other traditional, possibly even quaint, classroom and craft supplies.

The Perezes are both retired state employees and both 63 years old. Mina Perez has been an artist all of her life. She volunteered as a library assistant in the Sacramento Public Library’s branch in Del Paso Heights, where the couple, who had made their home in North Natomas, now live, “having raised five kids who we encouraged to spread their wings,” she says with undisguised joy. At the library, Perez helped youngsters from the underserved area discover their creative side. “Teachers did that for me when I was young,” she says.

Recently, Vida de Oro took on one of its larger-scale community efforts: It was offered prom dresses for distribution to families who couldn’t afford them, by Quota International — a worldwide service organization that helps women, children and the deaf — if the Perezes would come to Chico, where a clothing store had been severely damaged by fires in April 2018, to pick them up.

“We expected, what, maybe 45 dresses,” Mina Perez says. “Instead, there were 700 waiting for us!” The couple put the dresses in storage, courtesy U-Haul, “which built four 15-foot-long racks,” she says. Last Feb. 2 — “a rainy day no one should have been out in” — grateful recipients drove “from as far away as Fresno, San Jose and Colusa, representing kids from 73 schools,” to pick out their formals. “Some of the art we do at Via de Oro is simply giving back to the community,” Adrian Perez says.

Yes, but don’t forget those crayons and cookies.

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