CaminArte connects Boyle Heights community

By Augustine Ugalde

The radiant sights and sounds of the bustling CaminArte celebration are sweet music to Nico Avina’s ears as his vision for Boyle Heights gets closer to reality. Avina, along with a collective of like-minded artists, brought the event to the Mariachi Plaza this summer as an outlet for budding Boyle Heights artists to display and sell their artwork locally.

“People talk about the rebirth of Boyle Heights, but all we are is a continuation of artists and muralists that have been here all along,” said Avina. He speaks fondly of pioneering local artists from the past like muralist Judy Baca and Ruben Guevara of Ruben and the Jets fame from the early ‘70s.

“We wanted to bring something more to Boyle Heights.  We wanted to bring something that was not foreign to the community,” said Avina. Many of the artists and performing bands are from Boyle Heights or have some sort of connection with the community, and most are very appreciative of the opportunity CaminArte provides. Some are there to share their artwork with other people and each other, while some just like being around other artists, sharing ideas and appreciating their art.

Then there are some who are there for pure survival purposes. “This is very important to me for just earning a living,” said Tanya Melendez, Highland Park resident who has family and friends in Boyle Heights. “This provides me with an opportunity for self-sustainability and I love this community.  I have family and friends here.  I’m so happy to have this place to show my artwork,” said Melendez.

Melendez specializes in jewelry that is inspired by different styles and cultures. “I’m Puerto Rican, but my artwork is inspired by indigenous Native American and West African art along with some Spanish and Puerto Rican flavor,” said Melendez.

Her use of color stands out among her peers. “I want to use bright, positive colors.  Colors can have an effect on people’s moods.  Growing up in oppressed neighborhoods has made me want to use bright colors in my art,” said Melendez. Melendez’s appreciative attitude permeates throughout the plaza, as one artist after another commented on how great it was to have this type of event to display their creativity.

Boyle Heights High School student Ernesto de la Paz is also thankful for the opportunity CaminArte provides. De la Paz displays his art on a table in the center of the plaza along with his mother Maria and best friend Edgar Avila from Oscar de la Hoya High School.

One of his favorite pieces is what he calls “The Blob.” “I like ‘The Blob’ because everyone’s interpretation of a blob is different from everyone else’s,”said De La Paz. “It’s indescribable.”

One of the unique features of De la Paz’s stand is a large, four-foot blank drawing board that he set up so that kids could express themselves artistically, right there at the plaza. This celebration of art shares the plaza with live bands and poetry readers, along with food vendors and the public, all of who seem to enjoy the open-air atmosphere and community with one another. This is exactly what Avina envisioned when he created CaminArte: a place where people could come and express themselves artistically.

“We’re growing.  We are getting more and more participation from local artists.  I envision a Boyle Heights where people can just walk down the block and go from one place to another,” said Avina. The community is definitely changing and a big part of that is the Metro Gold Line that has a stop at the Mariachi Plaza. Some residents have commented that a process of gentrification will follow the Gold Line and some of that can already be seen just across the street from the plaza.

“I like Ruben Guevara’s take on gentrification.  He calls it “gente-trification,” said Avina. This term uses the Spanish word gente, which means people in English as a way to amplify the need for the residents of Boyle Heights to not allow the community to be taken over by greedy developers.

“This is why we have to be active all the time.  We can’t wait for the politicians to tell us what is good for Boyle Heights. We have to move ahead with knowledge.  We have to be informed,” said Avina.

The CaminArte name is a Spanish slang term that joins camino and arte together. Camino means road in English and Avina says that art can be the road to building a stronger Boyle Heights.

“We are all with encapsulated energies. This energy comes from everything around us.  We have a need to express this through phrases, music and on canvas,” said Avina.

CaminArte draws artists and vendors from as far away as Orange County. Priscila Hernandez and Louis Flores came from Santa Ana for a chance to display their artwork here.

“There’s no place like this in Orange County,” said Hernandez.  “There is an art walk once a month in Santa Ana, but it’s not the same,” said Flores. Their artwork is organic in nature, something that Hernandez is very proud of. “Our artwork is good for people, the economy and the earth.  We use stones, clay and seeds to create our work,” said Hernandez.

The event was born from the farmers market according to Tonie Juarez, The Boyle Heights Certified Farmers Market manager. The original idea for bringing artists into the area was to stage an art walk, as many other communities do, but Juarez wanted something different.

“We were thinking about doing it down First Street, but after talking it over with Avina and other artists, we decided on this,” said Juarez. The CaminArte event falls on the second Friday of each month.  It offers free entertainment, food and art for sale and is open from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m.

There is much more coming to the plaza and to the immediate vicinity in the near future though, according to Juarez. On Oct. 28, 29 and 30, the market will host a carnival and a simultaneous Harvest Festival, complete with a pumpkin patch for the kids. On Nov. 4, 5 and 6, the plaza will host a Dia de los Muertos event that will feature legendary artist Ofelia Espinoza, the Queen of the Altars. For more information on coming events, visit Facebook and look for The Boyle Heights Farmers Market.

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