Most artists have a hard time finding their footing in the art world and turning their passion into a profession, but immigrant and refugee artists in the United States encounter extra obstacles. That’s why arts-education nonprofit PlatteForum has partnered with the New York Foundation for the Arts to bring its Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program to Denver.
“It’s a program that supports immigrant artists by offering them a personal mentor and gives them access to resources, entrepreneurial training, marketing — all the things you need to be successful,” says artist Esther Hernandez, PlatteForum’s creative programming manager.
Her organization is currently recruiting eighteen mentors and eighteen mentees to share knowledge and skills. The program will last several months and culminate in an art exhibition; applications will be accepted through January 19.
“NYFA started this in 2007 in New York City, and it was an awareness that while immigrant artists face similar challenges to all artists, there are other layers they have to face, whether it’s discrimination of some kind or feeling disoriented about how things work in this country compared to the country they were from, or compared to the country their families were from,” says Felicity Hogan, director of learning at the New York Foundation for the Arts.
“There are a lot of things that are very specific to immigrant artists that prevent them from achieving their goals of artistic success,” Hogan adds. “Someone can be quite known in their country of origin and come to a city and realize, 'All the approaches I succeeded at in my home country don’t translate over here.' Or they’re not connected to the folks who are making things happen.”
When the program started in New York, it included ten mentee/mentor pairs. Over the years and under the direction of a team at NYFA made up entirely of immigrants, it expanded the number of artists it serves. Starting in 2017, the program was exported to cities including Detroit, Oakland and San Antonio; 2021 will be the first year the program is offered in Denver.
Eriko Tsogo, a cross-disciplinary artist who came to the United States from Mongolia in 1999, has contracted with PlatteForum to facilitate the project, which was originally scheduled to launch in spring 2020 but was stalled by the pandemic. She's looking forward to the workshops, which may be held online or in person, depending on the state of the pandemic.
“I stand in a unique position,” Tsogo explains. “I’m a practicing artist. I came to the U.S. in 1999 from Mongolia. I understand the struggles of what it means to be an artist and to have a practice and support yourself from your practice.”
Members of all immigrant and refugee communities are welcome to participate, and while having some track record as an artist is necessary, fluency in English is not a requirement.
“Obviously, every city has its own immigrant needs in terms of artist communities,” explains Tsogo. “Speaking from my own experience, Denver is going through a huge gentrification dip. With that, there’s an incoming influx of a lot of people, and I think immigrant artists do struggle not only through the language barrier, but [with] 'How do you continue your practice and get into the art community? How do you stay visible? How do you show your work?' I feel like that bridge is missing.”
Update: The deadline has been extended. Apply to the Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program online through January 19 at 11:59 p.m.
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