Articles by Colleen Powers

  • Article

    How the Macon Arts Alliance is leading through community transformation

    February 10, 2016 by Colleen Powers

    Macon Arts Alliance Gallery. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Fritz.

    This article is cross posted from Creative Exchange, the national program of Springboard for the Arts. It is part of a series of features on the members of the Leading Organizations pilot program, featuring organizations across the country working with artists in new and innovative ways. Learn more about all the organizations here.

    Macon, Ga. is a city poised to transform. Sitting right in the middle of the state, Macon has been a transportation hub since before the Civil War. The town now boasts dozens of homes and neighborhoods on the National Register of Historic Places — the phrase “good bones” comes up frequently in writing about the city’s physical assets — but though it once was a prosperous center of the textile industry, it has suffered from urban decay for several decades.

    “Macon has sort of the same issues as any post-industrial city of our size in America — issues of blight, issues of disinvestment in the neighborhoods that surround the urban core,” says Jonathan Harwell-Dye.

    Harwell-Dye is director of creative placemaking at the Macon Arts Alliance, whose mission is to support and promote the arts and culture industry of Central Georgia. The Alliance was named the designated arts agency of the newly consolidated Macon-Bibb County in 2014, but the organization been around since 1984. It serves more than 60 arts organizations, plus the fine arts programs of five universities in the area.

    “We’ve always been viewed as the unified voice of the arts community,” says Harwell-Dye. Despite that long-time role, the past few years have seen the Arts Alliance re-examining what its purpose should be. It used to re-grant state and local government funds to artists and organizations, says Harwell-Dye, but “all of the funding dried up about six years ago.” The loss has left the Alliance looking for new ways to serve the region.

    Macon Arts Alliance Mill Hill. Photo by Jonathan Harwell-Dye.

    One way it’s adapting is by exploring how the Arts Alliance can support revitalization and growth in the community, and seek out partnerships to help drive economic development.

  • Article

    San Jose’s MACLA engages a multicultural community

    April 5, 2016 by Colleen Powers

    San Jose’s MACLA engages a multicultural community

    Above: Multicultural Crayons, 2010, by Pilar Aguero Esparza.  This article is cross-posted from Creative Exchange, the national program of Springboard for the Arts.

    In early 2016, San Jose’s Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana (MACLA) opened the exhibition “Custom Lives: Rasquache Renaissance.” The show exhibited colorful, cartoon-like sculptures of lowrider cars, shiny rims and mirrors displayed in patterns on the wall, and lowrider bicycles. The term “rasquache” has been used in Mexico in a derogatory way, meaning “discarded,” but it also refers to a Mexican-American aesthetic that is resourceful, eclectic, and personalized. “Custom Lives” was a celebration of that inventive customization.

    “It’s looking at how lowrider cars are a form of creative expression that is just as valuable an art form as, say, a painting in a museum,” says Anjee Helstrup-Alvarez, MACLA’s Executive Director. “We’re trying to celebrate all forms of creative expression, both the vernacular as well as what we think of as art already.”

    The show is just one example of how MACLA has explored Latin American identity and expression since it opened in 1989. The organization’s mission is to showcase and advance Latino and Chicano arts and culture in San Jose and the Bay Area. That includes working with artists who explore issues around immigration and the “hyphenated identity” of being between two cultures.

    DMC Youth. Photo by David Sanchez.

    This March, for example, MACLA hosted “ ’57 Chevy,” a one-man play written by Cris Franco and performed by Ric Salinas. The play takes place entirely in the backseat of the Chevy of the title, a symbol of the narrator’s family’s upward mobility as they move to the U.S. and then from South Central L.A. to the wealthier, whiter San Fernando Valley. “It’s the Latino Wonder Years,” says Helstrup-Alvarez.

    MACLA wanted to be sure to invite audiences to “‘57 Chevy” who would relate to the play, but who might not regularly go to the theater. They partnered with six local lowrider car clubs to organize a car show at MACLA leading up to the play, and worked with a designer to create a custom car air freshener as a promotional handout.