#92: Jessie de la Cruz
Jessie de la Cruz is a schooled archivist, and she plies that rarest of trades professionally at the Clyfford Still Museum, where she keeps the institution’s vast archives, library and digital collection shipshape. But now, her dedication as an archivist — and an arts activist — has led de la Cruz and collaborator Sigri Strand to form a new venture called Arthyve, a formal documentation of Denver’s arts community through personal time capsules that she hopes to eventually house in a brick-and-mortar space. To launch the archive, de la Cruz and Strand are inviting local artists to learn more about what archives do and to participate in creating one at an August 18 event at the McNichols Building (more info on this below); in preparation, de la Cruz offers an inside view via the 100CC questionnaire.
Jessie de la Cruz at work in the Clyfford Still archive.
Photo by Chris Schneider.
Westword: What (or who) is your creative muse?
Jessie de la Cruz: What isn’t? Really, there is very little in this world that does not inspire me. The things, people, art and music that fuel my creative energy are constantly changing. I love discovering new images and films, poring over books and listening to new music. I’m constantly hungry for more. I am even inspired by the ugly sides of life (such as our local and national political climate right now), and I use that to regenerate and carry out new ideas, as anger can be a great catalyst. However, before I do any creative work, it starts with a bowl of Quaker Oats!
I kid, I kid. It usually starts with a playlist or a good ol’ album, as there is very little I can do without a soundtrack guiding me. This is how I daydream and shape scenes relating to my creative practice — jumping from track to track throughout a day. Today, for example, I’m writing this in between the noise of my toddler’s cartoons, some quiet, listening to the Lijadu Sisters and looking at artworks by Jeffrey Gibson and Claire Zeisler.
Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?
I am finding it really hard to edit myself here, as I immediately want to start building out the environment and setting the tone. In this hypothetical dream world, I would like to collaborate with Sandy Skoglund and Nick Cave (the artist, not the musician) to construct an immersive environment. I would then hire the Flaming Lips as entertainment, and in a blast of sparkling confetti magic, Alexander McQueen and his creations would enter the room. Then enter the fountainhead of creative genius, David freakin’ Bowie, and last but not least, the revolutionary leader Boudica, as all good parties need a fierce leader. All of this, of course, with my partner in crime Sigri Strand, because a party ain't a party without your bestie by your side.
Sigri Strand (left) and Jessie de la Cruz (right) in 2017.
Photo by Evan Cotgageorge
What’s the best thing about the local creative community in your field — and the worst?
Our city is not at a loss for talent, and I am amazed at the current energy and ambition of our local creative community. That’s not to say Denver never had this kind of talent before. It just wasn't buzzing with the same intensity as it is now. I attribute a lot of that productive energy to the stress of our rapidly growing city and the culture of survival being created here, which breaks my heart in many ways. Rather than continue down this path, I think the city, developers and city planners need to take stock of the existing residents and neighborhoods and actively work to cultivate a balanced ecosystem across our city by embedding cultural planning into all new zoning and development. Lastly, residents and local businesses should actively adopt a “buy, support and hire local artists” manifesto, putting more funds directly into the hands of our city’s artists.
Are trends worth following? What’s one trend in your discipline that you love and one that you hate?
As archivists, we are trained to observe and look for patterns, as these patterns give you insight into the creator’s thinking and process. Trends are in essence a series of social patterns that when observed can give us a lot of insight into people and culture. So do trends have value? I believe they do, as they provide an entry point into a time and place. A current trend in archives and soon, I hope, a mainstay, is that archives are starting to be more front and center in contemporary arts and culture. However, I still feel like there is much more work to do in regard to archive advocacy and information literacy. I cringe when people ask me what are primary resources? What are archives? It's a strange thing to work in a field that serves the public, yet the public doesn't know it exists. We have much work to do here.
You’ve come this far in life. What’s still on your bucket list?
So many things and so little time: To name a few...
-Take my kid to see the world.
-Go on a motorcycle adventure with my husband.
-Go on a vacation with my mother.
-Play music again.
-Get back to creating art for myself.
-Create soundtracks for films.
-Grow Arthyve into something tangible and sustainable.
-Do more, see more, laugh more.
Howl New Year's Eve 2015.
Photo by Christopher Kuehl.
What’s your best or favorite accomplishment as a creative?
I would have to say the last and final Howl production at Syntax in 2015 was the culmination of everything I had attempted to create in the past. Howl was an ongoing performance and visual-art event that I produced and designed for New Year’s Eve. Each year the Howl team converged around a central idea and then collectively, we created something new, unexpected and completely immersive. The last Howl was a perfect blend — the music was amazing, the art was transcendent and the people/guests were engaged every step of the way. The production was so great that I ended the project right then and there, as there would be no way to re-create that kind of experience. It was time to develop new and creative things. Here comes Arthyve!
Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
I love this city and have no desire to leave it. There are so many things about it that I want to actively fight for and change, and many of those things keep me here, as I want to be a contributor. I also have strong family ties to activism in this city and feel a responsibility to continue in the footsteps of my family, who were part of the founding board for the Crusade for Justice and who protested alongside Corky Gonzalez.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
There are so many, but in this moment, I would have to pick Lauri Lynxxe Murphy, who continues to be such a creative force in this city. I love how there is no line between activism and art with Lauri — it's just who she is. She is an artist's artist, a person who gets things done and who is not afraid to stand up and be heard. Aside from her artivism, Lauri has a huge and complex form of language that she can translate across various media like a second skin, resulting in a familiar yet unexpected work. How do you keep doing this, Lauri?
Jessie de la Cruz and artist residents at RedLine.
Photo by Sigri Strand.
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
We have a full plate in the coming year, including Arthyve’s inaugural event, Archives for Artists, at the McNichols Civic Center Building on August 18, and the launch of our crowd-sourced memory bank of artists’ time capsules. I am also looking forward to our public program in the fall at McNichols, a collaboration with the Society of Rocky Mountain Archivists, Arthyve, Denver Arts & Venues and various archives across the state, titled Archives as Muse. This public program will feature new work and on-stage conversations with Colorado artists Esther Hernandez, Nathan Hall, Sarah Fukami, Elyssa Lewis, George Perez, Sarah Walsh, John Lake and Sarah Gjertson. Also on the agenda is a fundraising campaign, a surrealist dinner-party gala, artist-studio archiving workshops and developing youth programming. We have just been awarded an Imagine 2020 Grant from Denver Arts & Venues, and I feel this is just the beginning.
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Who do you think will get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
If Arthyve is successful, droves of known and unknown Denver and Colorado creatives will get equal exposure. In a perfect world, artists who would have never been discovered will be seen, heard and have their legacy live on after they’re no longer with us — not just in a box on a shelf in secure, climate-controlled storage, but through exhibits, workshops and programming. I hope this project gives us greater insight into our local arts community as a whole, perhaps identifying as the collective, diverse and creative force that we are.
Learn more about Arthyve and the art of archiving at Archives for Artists, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, August 18, at the McNichols Building. Registration is $12 online at Eventbrite. Join Jessie de la Cruz and the Society of Rocky Mountain Archivists for Archives as Muse, 6 p.m. October 26, also at the McNichols Building. Visit Arthyve online to learn more about the project.