Student aims to portray her Hispanic heritage in a mural for an anti-racism art project in Grand Rapids
GRAND RAPIDS, MI — By signing on as a muralist for an anti-racism project, artist and student Wanda Aguilar hopes to bring her community and culture together by validating the experiences of her Hispanic neighbors.
The Diatribe, a Grand Rapids-based arts and culture nonprofit, launched Project 49507 which it describes “as an artist- and youth-led community celebration that commissions seven local black and brown artists to paint murals on a large scale on prominent buildings in predominantly black and brown neighborhoods.” in zip code 49507.
In addition to bringing vibrancy to neighborhoods, students participating in the project learn and raise awareness about issues such as gentrification and redlining that disproportionately affect minorities.
Related: Anti-racism project to bring large murals to the southeast side of Grand Rapids
Aguilar, who is graduating from Ferris State University Kendall College of Art and Design later this year, said she heard about the nonprofit last year through an email from the ‘school. She said two of her teachers recommended her to The Diatribe.
Founded approximately eight years ago, The Diatribe’s mission is to use the performing arts to empower young people to share their stories, raise awareness of social issues and create change within their communities.
“I was totally in for it because it’s an amazing opportunity,” said Aguilar, 23. “I want to be part of creating change, and I think assembling the mural is one way to do that as an artist.”
A DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipient, Aguilar says she seeks to shape her art to authentically represent immigration issues and generational trauma.
She said The Diatribe awarded her the Farmers Insurance building, located at 2435 Eastern Avenue SE, which was due for completion by the end of July 2022.
Project 49507 will take place over three years and, in addition to the murals, the initiative includes a youth education program and listening sessions with community stakeholders to help shape the murals.
Aguilar said she can’t begin preparing her design until the community listening sessions hosted by The Diatribe are complete.
“Right now, there are listening sessions that the community can participate in through links,” Aguilar said of finding out what kinds of murals people want to see in their neighborhoods. “The Diatribe sends the link to the artists to distribute so that anyone interested in joining can join.”
She said the listening sessions started in April. 11 and continue for the next few weeks.
After Aguilar began her career as an artist in her senior year of high school, she said she was rejected the first time she applied to Kendall College of Art and Design in 2017.
She said the rejection turned out to be a “blessing in disguise”, prompting her to focus on her art portfolio from a different angle. She said it had to be a very diversified portfolio focused on a single medium.
“I was tired of someone telling me I can’t do it,” Aguilar said. “Part of me was like, I can do this. That it’s a learning experience, and I’m going to take that learning experience and make it a motivation to tell myself that I can do better. I wanted to reach my limits and learn.
Aguilar’s growth as an artist, such as in oil painting and storyboarding, secured him a place among the seven muralists in the art project.
Marcel “Fable” Price, executive director of The Diatribe, said the group wanted to “use art as a catalyst to change the narrative” on the southeast and southwest sides of Grand Rapids with large-scale murals and youth programs.
The former Grand Rapids Poet Laureate said many of the stories people hear about downtown neighborhoods aren’t positive, but rather rooted in the trauma residents face.
Related: Arts and culture group plans new Grand Rapids headquarters to bolster neighborhood
ZIP Code 49507 is in downtown Grand Rapids and is home to the highest concentration of black residents in the city, along with Hispanics and other minorities. The area is part of the city’s third ward, which has historically had the lowest amount of public and private investment among the city’s three wards.
“I hope the story we can bring and the light we can shed on these businesses in our neighborhoods will hopefully inspire even more diverse entrepreneurs to come and start businesses in our neighborhood,” Price said in the post. non-profit video on the 49507. Project.
For more information on the anti-racism art project taking place in the Garfield Park neighborhood, visit The Diatribe website here.
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