It’s an age-old question-does art have the power to effect change? The organizers of Pl¡ticas en espa±ol, or “Conversations in Spanish,” at the Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum (CAF) certainly think so. Debuting on August 25, Pl¡ticas en espa±ol is a free series of six lectures on topics that directly affect the local Latino community, presented in both Spanish and English by internationally renowned artists and scholars. The series will feature major names in Latino art such as Long Beach’s Museum of Latin American Art Director Gregorio Luke, internationally acclaimed muralist Judith Baca, and members of the politically radical Chicano rock group Quetzal. Topics to be addressed include Mexican muralism, the Mexican-American border, censorship, the artistic process, Latino film, and modern Chicano rock music.
CAF Executive Director Miki Garcia said the presentations-which will occur on different afternoons in August, October, December, February, March, and May-seek to serve a wide range of interests, issues, and tastes. “It runs the gamut from pretty beautiful visuals to the really interesting Los Angeles Chicano political scene to contemporary rock, and for all of them, [event organizer] Gerardo [Ayala] will be doing an introduction and moderating,” Garcia said. “The presentations will be about 40-45 minutes, and there will be about 20 minutes of dialogue with the audience.”
According to Garcia, Pl¡ticas en espa±ol is CAF’s answer to the recent spate of gang-related violence affecting the local Latino community. She said the forum is designed to bring parents and children together and provide an opportunity for dialogues about the community within the context of art and artistic expression. “Since I’ve been here, I’ve noticed that there isn’t a lot of arts programming for the Latino audiences, specifically in terms of theme and the subject matter of their people,” Garcia said. “We looked at the rise in gang violence right now, and those kinds of things happening in our community, and we realized a lot of the efforts to curb that are targeted at the teens and the kids : I thought so much of that inspiration comes from homes, and we wanted to provide a place where parents could come and families could come.”
The program is entirely free, thanks to a grant from the Fund for Santa Barbara. Individual events in the series will feature everything from PowerPoint presentations to live demonstrations of the artistic process, all designed to provide local adolescents with positive role models and a sense of cultural pride. “What we’re doing here is we’re providing real examples of our contributions, Latino contributions [to the arts], so we create a real sense of empowerment and pride among our people,” Garcia said. “Those are the kinds of things that really do curb violence, when you have a sense of pride in your culture.”
Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department spokesperson Sgt. Erik Raney agreed that the gang problem is growing in Santa Barbara County, and adolescents are the main demographic involved in local gangs. However, he said that he is not sure what kind of impact the series will have on those Santa Barbara adolescents who are most likely to be involved in gang-related activities. While Raney said he is not personally familiar with Pl¡ticas en espa±ol, he believes that in general, cultural programming is just a small part of the solution to gang violence in Santa Barbara. “The only way to effectively deal with the gang problem is to use a three-pronged approach, and those three prongs are enforcement, education, and prevention,” Raney said. “A small component of the education and prevention is giving people alternatives to joining gangs, which is what this sounds like. But that’s not the be-all and end-all. You can’t prevent gangs by giving students after-school programs and youth programs. It’s a lot bigger than just that.”
Santa Barbara artist and series participant Rafael Perea de la Cabada, who is slated to lecture in December along with his fellow Santa Barbara artist Manuel Unzueta, said the series is not as much about finding solutions to issues like gang violence as it is about facilitating a dialogue about them. “It’s a lot about presenting questions, and that itself is relevant,” Perea de la Cabada said. “An artist is really an agent of change. You are presenting questions, and not necessarily solutions, but you are bringing to light things that have to be seen and talked about. Anything that creates dialogue in the community is important, and I think the arts are an important way to do it.”
Garcia said the series is a unique way to create such dialogues within the community, since its creators, producers, and contributors are all Latinos themselves. She said that she and Ayala are both Chicanos, and that the other contributors are from a wide variety of Latino backgrounds. “It’s very much for Latinos by Latinos,” Garcia said. “It’s not open just to Latinos, of course : but we are really partnering with El Mexicano and Tinta Latina and Radio Bronco and really going through the outlets in the community that people read.”
UCSB film and media studies Professor Cristina Venegas, who will be presenting at the May installment of the series, said her talk for Pl¡ticas en espa±ol will address issues that extend beyond the borders of Santa Barbara County as well. “My hope is that it expands the dialogue about the role of art-making in our world, how it helps us to understand not only ourselves but the way we inhabit the world,” Venegas said. “As our lives become more digital and global, art practices also expand and engage with social exchanges, creating complex practices. The topic of my talk will deal with audiovisual media, from cinema to television, the Internet, and cell phones.”
Garcia said that if the series is successful, it will be continued and possibly expanded next year. She said she sees the series becoming a regular part of the Forum’s programming. “We are the Contemporary Arts Forum, and in the sense of the word forum, this is the kind of thing that can really bring the community together through art,” Garcia said.
The first lecture in the Pl¡ticas en espa±ol series will be Modern Mexican Painters: Jose Clemente Orozco, David lfaro Siqueiros, Diego Rivera, and Frida Kahlo, presented by Gregorio Luke, director of the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach. Contemporary Arts Forum, 653 Paseo Nuevo, Saturday, August 25, 4-6 p.m. A complete schedule of the speakers and the specific times and dates of the series is available at sbcaf.org or by calling 966-5373.