As a master grant-maker, fundraiser and managerial wizard, Tanya Mote does the tough jobs that allow creativity to fly unfettered at Denver’s Su Teatro, where artistic director Tony Garcia works to simultaneously preserve and reinvent the region’s Chicano culture. Mote’s extensive résumé suggests she could go much higher as a fundraiser, but her heart remains with the concerns of la gente and Su Teatro, where she’s helped a local treasure continue to grow over the past two decades. What does life look like on the front lines of Denver’s most tenacious cultural scene? Find out from Mote herself, via the 100CC questionnaire.
Westword: If you could collaborate with anyone in history, who would it be, and why?
Tanya Mote: I am fascinated with the birth of country music, and I would love to collaborate with Woody Guthrie, Hank Williams or Mother Maybelle Carter. Of course, I do not write, play or sing music…but I think it is really important that we engage people on the ground about the things that are important to them. The entire arts-and-culture field is obsessed right now with making art — especially the art we associate with elites — more accessible to ordinary people. But we regular folks have always made art and told stories that stemmed organically from our own experience. That’s my jam, and I think I could learn a ton about making art that reflects the real experiences of people and draws communities in from these individuals.
Who in the world is interesting to you right now, and why?
It’s not so much an individual who is interesting to me right now, but the progressive communities organizing around hubs like the Allied Media Conference in Detroit and the Grassroots Institute for Fundraising Training (with staff in Oakland, Denver and El Paso). I have always been passionate about grassroots fundraising, but I probably should not admit that after twenty years, I am still learning to be a good fundraiser. Fundraising is intrinsic to movement-building, and it is intellectually challenging, dynamic and practical. Grassroots fundraising has allowed me to meet and to work with movement-builders everywhere, working on mass incarceration, cultural issues, racial justice et al.; to think about using money to leverage social change in innovative ways; and to appreciate the immensity of the progressive work that is happening in this country. It just gets more interesting, as these hubs are allowing me to have more sophisticated conversations and giving me access to more tools that integrate fundraising and movement building.
What's one art trend you want to see die this year?
Creative place-making is a huge trend right now that integrates the arts, urban planning and economic development. But unfortunately, creative place-making, at least in our city (and others that are booming right now), doesn’t have as much traction as mass redevelopment and the gentrification and displacement that go along with it. As we all know so well, redevelopment is wiping out all of the authentic and original nooks and crannies that support the creative lives of our diverse and beautiful public. Our city is becoming a lot slicker but a lot less real…and we don’t seem to have many good ideas for dealing with the problems of people who are directly affected by eviction and displacement. Some observers have reframed the language of creative place-making as “creative place-keeping” — because that is what actually needs to happen.
What's your day job?
Associate director at Su Teatro Cultural and Performing Arts Center.
A mystery patron offers you unlimited funds for life. What will you do with it?
Well, not to be boring, but first, I think we would seriously evaluate the capacity of Su Teatro and reinforce the areas that need some love. Then we would examine the most exciting and mission-appropriate ways to maximize Su Teatro as a community-serving institution. We would also set up a bunch of reserve funds (including funds for building maintenance, working capital and an innovation fund, devoted solely to artistic risk-taking) and invest some money to ensure an ongoing legacy. I think we would also set up myriad grants for artists that would allow them to develop their own work and capacities, hire more artists, make more work and reinvest in our community on a mega-scale.
Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
Definitely love it. I have always lived here, and I identify as a Westerner. I think I have all of the textures of our land and our culture in my blood, even though my parents came here from other places. I can imagine living other places, but I am really in tune with the way the sky looks here, the way the light changes with the seasons, and all of our natural landscapes.
Besides that, I am so proud to be a part of an organization that is integral to Denver’s civil-rights history. I am so impressed not only with the history of Denver’s Chicano community, but with its ever-evolving presence. We are lucky to know so many creative, resilient and tough-minded thinkers and doers. My boss, Tony Garcia, is amazing in his persistence, perseverance, cultural pride and creativity, but he is not an aberration, and he does not stand alone; he is the product of a local community that raised him and claims him. Don’t count local Chicanos of any generation out in this election cycle or of politics any time in the future. They built this city and this region, and they are determined to uphold its civil-rights legacy.
What's the one thing that Denver (or Colorado) could do to help the arts?
We have to catch up with the national conversation on arts equity. Grantmakers in the Arts, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, the National Performance Network, Americans for the Arts and so many others are having groundbreaking conversations about racial equity and social justice. We have to be able to have more honest and progressive conversations about systemic barriers and the ways we can address them. We are too smart to lag behind, and we are getting caught up in our own contradictions.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
Man, there are too many to name. Tony Garcia is my favorite, of course. All the people in my neighborhood influence me and improve my life on a daily basis: The SOURCE Theater Company (Arnold King, Hugo Sayles and Jimmy Walker); our neighbors at CHAC, Museo de las Americas and Café Cultura; Daniel Salazar, Malik Robinson and Cleo Parker Robinson, visual artists Carlos Frésquez and Tony Diego. I really admire the work ethic, commitment and aesthetic sensibility of the poets Suzi Q. Smith, Bobby LeFebre and Jozer Guerrero. Ken Arkind, Jeff Campbell, Barbara Test and the late Lenny Chernilla broke the trail for so many poets. Sheila Sears and Margaret Hunt at Colorado Creative Industries are nurturing art, artists and creative communities statewide and are on the front lines of arts advocacy. They are doing so much to bolster the creative identity of the state.
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
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Lots of great stuff. We are getting deep into two special projects: SanArte – The Art That Heals, an effort to preserve and celebrate the west side as an important Chicano barrio, and Chicano Roots Rehab, a transformative reactivation of rescued songs and stories. These projects are happening in addition to our theater season, festivals and the Cultural Arts Education Institute. We are a part of the inaugural cohort of LANE – Leveraging a Network for Equity — which is a partnership between the National Performance Network, the Nonprofit Finance Fund and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The opportunity is a comprehensive change process that will allow Su Teatro to sustain for the next 44 years! I have a lot of extracurricular projects that keep me grounded and happy. I just became a boardmember for Working Narratives, an organization that uses storytelling — in the form of performance, radio, video or other media — for organizing. They are working nationwide, and I am so excited for yet another opportunity to work with great people on important issues.
Who do you think will get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
Amanda Flores is a talented and sensitive artist working with youth at RedLine and PlatteForum. I think she is making a real difference in the lives of her students. The things she is learning about working in community and with community members are going to be really important as Denver continues to evolve and change.
Next up at Su Teatro: The 20th Annual Chicano Music Festival and Auction, July 27 through 31, including the 2016 induction of Daniel Valdez, Maxine Medina Delgado, Phil Trujillo and Mitch Garcia and the Five Diamonds, featuring Albert and Elviña Arias, into the Chicano Music Hall of Fame. Learn more about the event, Su Teatro and Tanya Mote online.