In September 2009, Mayor Cicilline stood alongside leaders of the Latino community in South Providence to unveil the Creative Capital's newest display of public art and to launch a unified showcase of artistic events as part of the national observation of Hispanic Heritage Month.
The public art piece, located on the Ontario Street side of Compare Foods Supermarket on Broad Street, is a stunning 140' by 22' mural designed and painted by master muralist, Agustín Patiño. Patiño has painted public art murals in cities throughout Ecuador, Chile, and the United States. This mural entitled La Plaza del Arte y Las Culturas is his first mural in Providence. His wife, Elena Calderon-Patiño, works for the RISD Museum and is one of the members of the planning committee that has produced the first Providence Latino CommUNITY Celebration.
City News paid a visit to the Patiño Art Studio to brush up on some local Latino history and art.
How is Providence reflected in the La Plaza del Arte y Las Culturas mural?
Agustín: It's simple. It's a place of art. For me as a contemporary artist, Providence and New England, represent universities like RISD and Harvard and also some really outstanding museums.
The mural also depicts the metropolis. Providence for me represents a metropolis of the east coast and obviously, New York, Washington, and Boston too. I'm also trying to bring to light some important ecological preservation issues of our time by incorporating the Amazon River in this mural. I had a dream four years ago when my wife Elenita and I were living in the Amazon in Ecuador. I had this beautiful dream that I painted this huge waterfall. I saw in that moment the painting you see now on Broad Street.
Why is this mural important to The Creative Capital?
Agustín: A mural like this is very important to a neighborhood like South Providence and a place like Broad Street because it adds to the amazing energy that is already there. In every city all over the world, the heart of the city is this kind of street. This kind of public art, and I say this humbly, has the ability to change people's perception of the neighborhood. It can help curb violence, reduce trash, and beautify the place. In the months that I've spent painting the mural, we have not had any problems with tagging and I think that's because the neighbors and the kids have taken ownership of this mural. They're taking care of it. It's part of them.
What goes into painting a mural this size (140' x 22')? Tell us about the process.
Agustín: It took me about two and half years to finish the wall. It's very difficult. When you are in front of it day after day, minute-by-minute, it becomes a part of you - very profoundly human and technically very complex. Pablo Alvarez, who is an art teacher at the Met School, has been studying and making these kinds of murals with his students for many years. It's part of the students' process in art. Well he called me and asked if I wanted to design something for this wall. When I saw the wall, he didn't even have to ask me twice, I said, 'That's my wall!' That night I sketched and designed the idea for it.
Elena: The mural was started with an educational grant. Pablo Alvarez was instrumental in providing the educational components like teaching mural workshop techniques to his students at the MET School. Agustín designed and painted it and the MET students helped out.
Who or what inspires you artistically?
Agustín: Everyone - my little girls, my dear wife, my son Pablito, and you now are part of my diary of life. Everyone I encounter on a daily basis inspires me. I have friends from a lot of countries that ask the same existential and psychological questions, 'Who am I? Where am I from?' Based on those questions, I made this mural.
Elena, you are a part of the planning committee for the first Providence Latino CommUNITY Celebration. What is the value in putting together a unified celebration amongst the different Latino groups?
Elena: There were so many different events going on for Hispanic Heritage Month. We, the planning committee (Jose Torrealba of the Providence Latin American Film Festival, Marta Martinez of the Hispanic Heritage Committee/Rhode Island, and Betty Bernal of Centro Cultural Andino) wanted to unify all of these groups. We reached out to all the Latino communities that we could and we also reached out to other communities, organizations, and nonprofits (like CityArts!, Community MusicWorks, AS220 Broad Street Studio, New Urban Arts) that serve and help the Latino community on a daily basis. In the end, we brought together over 20 organizations for this event.
In your opinion, why is it important to a city like Providence to acknowledge and celebrate Hispanic/Latino heritage and culture?
Elena: I've always thought that this was important, not only for the obvious reason that there's a huge a number of Latinos in Providence but also it's important because we needed an event where we can all get together and celebrate and say, 'We're proud of being Latin American! We're proud of being Latino!' We're anticipating an even bigger year next year and we really couldn't have done this without the Mayor's support, Lynne McCormack and the Department of Art, Culture, and Tourism.
What do you want the public to come away with when they attend the events you had planned for the month?
Elena: What's interesting about Latin America is that you can't stereotype it. We encompass the Caribbean nations, Central America, Mexico, and South America. We want people to come away and realize, 'wow, there's a lot to see and there's more than meets the eye.' We want people to start thinking about Latin America in a positive way. Most of the things you hear on the radio or see on television are always some negative portrayal of us. We're educated people with a lot of culture, rich heritage, and a long history. There are churches in downtown Quito in Ecuador that are 500 years old! Kids growing up now need that cultural and heritage anchor that will allow them to say, 'hey, we're proud of being American and we're also proud of our families' rich Latin history.'
Catch Agustín on October 15th at the Edward Mitchell Bannister Gallery at Rhode Island College. He gives an Artist Talk at 5:00 p.m. For a complete list of the Providence Latino CommUNITY Celebration events, visit www.hispanicheritageri.org.
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