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Latino art, poetry project encouraged by NEA chair

Author: Arts and Letters


A first-of-its-kind plan to blend original Latino artwork and poetry was born during the 2003 visit to Notre Dame by National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) chairman Dana Gioia.

The internationally acclaimed poet, critic and educator, who came to campus at the request of the Creative Writing Program to discuss funding opportunities for arts organizations, found himself engaged in conversation with staffers from Notre Dame’s Institute for Latino Studies (ILS). Gioia communicated a special interest by the NEA in fostering artistic conversations, especially through projects that spur meaningful exchange between disciplines, and two years later the results are in place.

Poetas y Pintores: Artists Conversing with Verse, merges the contemporary work of 12 visual artists with 12 poets. Sponsored by the NEA and initiated by the ILS and the Center for Women’s InterCultural Leadership (CWIL) at Saint Mary’s College, the inaugural traveling exhibit is on display through March 3 in the Moreau Art Galleries at Saint Mary’s. Subsequent shows are scheduled for New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

“After our meetingwith Mr. Gioia, we added the visual arts to what was originally a proposalabout Latino poetry,” said featured poet Francisco Aragn, co-coordinator of the project and director of Letras Latinas, the literary component of the ILS. “I then enlisted the help of poet MaraMelndez, assistantprofessor of English at Saint Mary’s. She gathered input andsupport from her colleagues, and an agreement was forged between the ILS and CWIL.”

The exhibition features original artwork by 12 artists, including Maria Tomasula, the Michael P. Grace Professor of Arts andLetters at Notre Dame, and Saint Mary’s alumna Regina Daz. Each visual artist was sent a book of poetry and asked to read the work of one contemporary Latino poet, then produce a corresponding original work of art.

Among the featured writers are two ofLatino literature’s most distinguished figures, Puerto Rican poetVictor Herndez Cruz and Chicana poet Lorna Dee Cervantes. In addition to Tomasula and Diaz, other artists who read and were inspired by the poets’ works are FernandoSalicrup of New York and Rene Arceo from Chicago. West Coastrepresentatives include artist Malaquias Montoya and poet FranciscoX. Alarcn.

Also featured in the exhibit is the art of Notre Dame alumna Brookes Ebetsch, who curates exhibitions for Galera Amrica @ ND for the ILS and teaches a class titled “Aesthetics of Latino Cultural Expression.” Poet Orlando Ricardo Menes is an assistant professor of English in Notre Dame’s Creative Writing Program.

The Institute for Latino Studies was established in 1999 to promoteunderstanding and appreciation of the Latino experience in the UnitedStates through research, education and outreach. Its areas of studyinclude Latino spirituality, art, literature, history, politics andsocioeconomic conditions.

Established in 2000, the Center for Women’s InterCultural Leadership strives to foster the intercultural knowledge and competencecritical to educating the next generation of women leaders.

The NEA was established by Congress in 1965 to foster, preserve and promote excellence in the arts, to bring art to all Americans, and to provide leadership in arts education.

Amid the spirit of collaboration between both institution and discipline, it is the hope of the artists and poets that the interplay of image and the written word will provide a representation of today’s U.S. Latino community.

Originally published by Shannon Chapla at on February 13, 2006.