By Michelle Lin
On an August Friday evening, a collective of emerging Immigrant, Refugee, and diasporic artists of color gathered for the first time at the ARTogether Center to kick off a 3-day weekend intensive centered on healing and deepening our artistic practices. All of us—the participating artists and the workshop facilitators, working artists of color ourselves—opened the space by inviting in our ancestors and guiding lights. We each shared a meaningful object representative of something key in our creative practices, and we placed them on a collective altar at the Center which stayed present throughout the rest of the program’s events. In doing so, we grounded ourselves in where we have been, the stories we want to hold true to, and dreamt of where we would like to grow toward next.
“As an immigrant and 1st generation refugee artist, the Mentorship Hub was an enriching experience because it gave me the opportunity to connect with other artists who share some of my identities. Learning about everyone’s artistic journey inspired me, and it was so empowering to cultivate a nurturing community of refugee/immigrant artists in a space that felt safe and accepting. Hearing from the workshop facilitators about all of the amazing projects they’ve worked on was a source of motivation for me and allowed me to visualize my future self thriving in the art world.” –Arina Sarwari-Stadnyk, Visual Artist and Writer
The 2023 Artist Mentorship Hub cohort comprised of six emerging artists, half of whom were immigrants or refugees, the other half 2nd-generation children of immigrants or refugees, and all of them with different lived experiences across identities, age, and culture. All of them had varied artistic practices as well: Arina Sarwari-Stadnyk, a linocut print artist and writer uplifting queer and refugee ancestry, Dalar Alahverdi, a painter and teacher exploring 3-dimensional perspective, Jy Jimmie Flora Gabiola, a poet and photographer experimenting with natural fiber and mixed mediums, Valerie Win Liu, illustrator and designer centering color and joy, Romina Zabihian, a painter considering social justice and collective unity, and Ipeleng Kgositsile, a storyteller and entertainer utilizing humor to heal the wounds of exile.
Guided by incredible workshop facilitators and artists Sabina Kariat, Kimberley Acebo Arteche, and Raeshma Razvi, the group participated in a series of workshops ranging from project management in community collaborations, to healing money trauma and grant-writing from a place of abundance. All creative and professional development activities were grounded within the context of immigrant, refugee, BIPOC lived experiences, and the obstacles we face in a society fraught with pressures of productivity, racial capitalism and colonialism, competitiveness and scarcity mindsets, inaccessibility and isolation.
“As a first-generation immigrant, the Mentorship Hub played a crucial role in my learning journey. Not only did this program taught me valuable skills, it reassured me that being an immigrant doesn’t hinder my career progress. I gained a deeper understanding of community and projects rooted in communities. I established meaningful connections and friendships that fostered a strong sense of belonging. I can sense the strong support that ARTogether provides, and their sincerity and dedication are very apparent. I hold sincere gratitude for this invaluable opportunity, and it’s safe to say that ARTogether feels like home to me.” –Dalar Alahverdi, Visual Artist
“Perpetual exile artists such as myself are not the kind of people, or artists, who want seats, or folding chairs, at the table. We want the means to create and build our own tables. Thanks to the Mentorship Hub I now have specific tools to powerfully build and create my own table.” –Ipeleng Kgositsile, Writer and Entertainer
The impact of the weekend’s events is a testament to what happens when the lived experiences and wisdom of immigrant, refugee, BIPOC, and queer artists are brought to the forefront of “professional development.” Not as an additional factor to consider, nor a necessary checkbox to fill, but something that is so inextricably woven into arts and cultural work that they can not even be separated from the beginning.
The Artist Mentorship Hub strives to provide guiding tools and frameworks that are applicable to their careers as diasporic artists, curriculum and praxis that considers the barriers, wounds, and gaps that may otherwise be unaddressed in white dominant spaces. Powerful art happens when diasporic artists have the resources they need to cultivate spaces in which honest stories and difficult questions can be shared, when they can experiment freely and dream big, when their life, wellness, past and present selves, are fully acknowledged in their professional creative practices.
When we see artistic development as a holistic process, we take into account our need for intentional relationships and peer support across cultures and histories, we begin to break down internalized barriers created by white supremacy, comparison and doubt, tokenism and competitiveness. We step into our creative power as artists and visionaries, begin to organize as a community, share resources, collaborate on our tasks, learn to ask for help, more strongly advocate for our collective needs as cultural workers. We start to build our own table, one in which everyone is invited, and everyone is fed. As Kimberley Acebo Arteche shared during our closing circle, each and every one of us as artists is highly talented and capable of success, “and you need to bring your folks with you.”
A walking morph featuring the transformative dreams drawn by all participating artists, animated by Sabina Kariat.
What’s next? This is only the beginning. This month in September, the 2023 cohort will be reconvening at the Center for follow-up workshops with Rhiannon Evans McFadyen and more, guided by the cohort’s expressed needs, and members will begin collaborating for an exhibition to premiere in early 2024.
This winter, ARTogether will be piloting a 1-day literary arts focused program for immigrant, refugee, and 2nd-gen poets and writers. Be sure to stay in loop as we share more about this in the near future, as well as open applications again for our 2nd cohort of emerging artists for the Hub next year.
If you’re an immigrant, refugee, 2nd gen, BIPOC artist yourself seeking community and peer support, we invite you to join us at the ARTogether Center (1200 Harrison St., Oakland) on Tuesdays from 10 AM – 6 PM for our co-working hours. Healing and collectivism begins with us, and we intend to continue to be a space where we can be thought partners, collaborators, fellow artists who cheer each other on.