Sometimes natural talent isn’t enough to make an artist successful. Many artists have the talent but lack the proper business know how and marketing. They aren’t able to make a living from their craft; hence the name, starving artist. Mexic-Arte, an Austin treasure since 1983, was built to promote Latino art in the state of Texas and beyond. With varied exhibitions, Mexic-Arte features artists from not only Texas but also the Southwest United States and Latin America. The museum has also become well known for its dedication to community outreach and educational programs like Screen It!, a community outreach program for local high school students.
Established artists are not the only focus of Mexic-Arte Museum. The museum has also been looking to provide not only the techniques and skills to foster young artists, but also the business skills to market their works; not something all young artists have the opportunity to learn. According to Alex Freeman, former Education Director with Mexic Arte, it’s a plan that the museum has been developing over the last year and was implemented with the first Screen It! Summer Workshop this year.
He mentioned, “Over the last year we’ve been developing the Screen It! project. For many years, we’ve focused on things related to our collection like paintings, sculpture, prints, clay work and paper mache. The decision was made a few years ago to focus on one aspect – the screen prints that we house. We have a permanent collection from the Serie Project. The Serie Project is a non-profit run by Sam Coronado – one of the founding directors of Mexic-Arte. The project brings in mostly Latino artists to create a collection of a screen print edition of 50 prints. Of the 50 prints, he gives the artists 25 and he keeps 25 to sell. Of these 25, he gives one to Mexic-Arte to add to the permanent collection. So, every year for the last 19 years, we’ve received one print to add to the collection.”
So, with the decision to focus on screen printing, the next obstacle was to create a screen printing program that focuses on using computer technology and entrepreneurial skills for the community’s youth. It started very small as an afterschool program with just a few students. It then turned into after school classes with Travis and Akins High Schools. In the first year they worked with about 45 students.
Last September, however, the Institute of Museum and Library Services awarded a grant to serve 400 teens in this program. So, starting with just the basics, a curriculum was built and educators were brought in to teach. So over the 2011 winter and following spring, they worked to serve about 300 students. But, as Alex stated, “One thing I learned from working at different museums was outreach programs weren’t usually tied to workforce development. Also, there wasn’t much follow up programs with their services.”
So, after approaching the Webber Family Foundation, they applied and were awarded a grant to provide a 100 hour summer camp roughly 20 hour per week – thus turning the museum into a print shop. So, out of the participating schools, 10 students were chosen to participate in the first Screen It! Summer Workshop. Over the course of the workshops, not only did the students work in the museum/print shop by refining their skills on the computer or working on their designs, they got hands on applications with field trips to local screen printing studios and screen-print focused retails shops; a chance to see the real world applications of the art.
With a couple of design challenges for local companies the students were allowed to focus their energies for a client. Their favorite part however, was their own personal projects. With free reign to create their own design and screen print from start to finish, the creativity ran wild with designs they were all proud of.
Not only did the students take away a new knowledge of screen print techniques, the real life business knowledge inspired some to think about how their creativity can be used to create their own businesses. One student, Leann Carmona Villanueva, a portrait and cartoon character artist, enjoyed the screen-printing process and has thoughts of a profession in the field. It’s even influenced her college plans, “The exposure to the business side of screen-printing influenced my future plans for my own artwork in an enormous way. The whole business side of the Summer Workshop made me decide to try to get a business management degree so I can get more knowledge on how to be professional and smarter with how to manage my own artwork. Because the workshop taught me there are so many different ways to go about your art in business sense.”
The products they created from the project are on sale now in the museum store. Proceeds from the student’s works are actually “paying it forward” for the next round of students, keeping the program going. Be sure to visit Mexic-Arte to see these works and purchase bags and t-shirts with these unique designs. Support Austin’s youth as well as Austin’s museums.
Be sure to mark your calendar – Mexic-Arte Museum will be participating in the next Austin Museum Day on Sept. 23 with free exhibitions and live screen-printing.