Native Art

Transformative power of art helps preserve Latino and indigenous culture

Xico (pronounced shee-ko) Arte y Cultura is one of the oldest cultural arts programs of its kind in the country—but that doesn’t mean the Phoenix-based nonprofit is stuck in the past.

The organization, which started in 1972 as Xicoindio, keeps the spirit and history of Latino and indigenous cultures alive by supporting modern-day artists who interpret their stories through diverse artistic expression.

“It’s easy to understand different cultures through visual images,” explains Donna Valdés, executive director of Xico. “Artists have always used art as a platform to make public statements and express themselves,” she says of its transformative power to raise awareness about cultural heritage.

Xico’s first priority is to serve artists through workshops, studio space, exhibitions and professional development, and provide them exposure to the public via the artist-in-residence program, which allows them to teach classes in exchange for promoting their art, according to Valdés. In addition, emerging and established artists are able to attend workshops in Xico’s artist studio to experiment with new methods and learn from master printers to create mono silk, monoprint, etching, woodcut, linocut and mixed media pieces.

The organization sells works produced by Xico artists throughout the year, and features four to six artists at a time in exhibitions held in the public gallery space at its facility located on Buckeye Road in Phoenix.
“We also serve the community at-large, partnering with organizations like underserved schools and communities, where we introduce the arts using our Say Yes to the Press program,” says Valdés.

To help preserve the cultural arts through education, Xico also offers free or low-cost art classes to adults and youths to explore their inner artists, from painting and printmaking, to exploring native crafts such as embroidery and bead making as part of its indigenous series program.
The organization is heavily involved in the public arts community, as well, hosting interactive activities with mobile printmaking at popular art events and festivals, including a partnership with Roosevelt Row CDC to host the Shipping Container Galleries located between EyeLounge and Modified Arts during Phoenix’s First Friday downtown art walk.
In addition, Xico is developing a stronger outreach to the senior community by hosting art classes in collaboration with AARP. “Seniors are historically vital and are an important reference point to help tell a cultural arts story,” says Valdés.

Printmaking classes are especially integral to Xico’s educational lineup; the visual arts format is deeply rooted in Latino and indigenous cultures and is a significant creative tradition that links the past to the present.
Michele Saldana-Chiago, a web developer, recently took two printmaking classes at Xico and was impressed with both the professional staff and the state-of-the-art facility to nurture her creative side.

“I took a mono silk and monoprint class and it was fantastic,” she says. “The teacher-to-student ratio is small, so it’s practically one-on-one training. They help you with everything so you’re not wasting time and can produce as many prints as you can in the one-day class. Plus, the classes are free and Xico provides all the supplies: the ink, the paper, the press and the studio space, which would be pretty expensive to do otherwise.”
Saldana-Chiago describes herself as a “wannabe artist,” but the chance to work alongside other well-established artists with Hispanic ties in the classes was a major draw. “It’s really motivating and exciting to work with the best Hispanic artists in Arizona, and to absorb all the imagery, traditions and ideas of the culture,” she says.

Though Xico’s mission is to nourish a greater appreciation of Latino and indigenous history through arts education and development, the organization also plays a significant role in the community to help break down current cultural barriers that exist, according to Valdés.

“Through the cultural arts, we help create understanding and unity. Art is embedded into our social fabric and it’s important that we continue to support artists to understand the diversity in our culture,” she says. “It’s a way to pay respect and put a contemporary emphasis on the value of our culture.”


Story: Sally J. Clasen

Photos: Mark Lipczynski

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