Salinas’ @risK art gallery reinvents the possibilities for marginalized artists.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Settled behind the Salinas Amtrak train station and barricaded from most residents by high chain-link fences, Chinatown has long maintained a reputation to match its geography on the “wrong” side of the tracks.
Ongoing efforts continue to change that, though, including the Soul on Soledad program, which aspires to gentrify Chinatown and integrate it with the rest of Salinas. Just over a year ago, the @risK art gallery opened as an extension of “Soul on Soledad” in partnership with Dorothy’s Kitchen and the Franciscan Workers. Once an abandoned building, the gallery has solidified its place as a haven for art and education, empowering groups that rarely experience that opportunity.
On Friday, Sept. 19, the @risK gallery is holding an exhibit of inmate artwork, Release the Art, to promote discussions about incarceration. An open mic featuring poetry read by former inmates and their family members will complement the exhibit.
The objective of Release the Art, says @risK volunteer and Release the Art coordinator Margarita Caracheo, is to promote awareness and understanding about the nation’s criminal system.
“It is about proving that there is humanity in criminals. They express their individuality and the freedom within [themselves] through art.”
“[California] spends more money on prisons than it does on education,” she says. “If there were more programs that allowed artistic outlets, maybe there wouldn’t be so many inmates.”
She looks forward to the day when the artists are at liberty to attend their own exhibits, and further develop their artistic abilities. More immediately, Caracheo observes, “[Salinas] is infested with gangs. We need to think about who these people are and encourage the talents they have.”
To that end there are other programs, including everything from meditation sessions to an art class for underserved kids led by impressive guest artists and @risK volunteers.
Last week, in a small room crowded with a dozen teens, the words “Fate, consciousness, knowledge, and style,” appeared on an easel while a nationally celebrated artist led a discussion.
“What do these words mean?” asked realist painter David Ligare.
The kids reflected in silence until one young man, Shawn Gibson, chimed in, “These are words that empower art.”
The @risK gallery invites local teens in each Thursday to share their art and listen to speakers like Ligare. On this day, the conversation moves from realism to graffiti. “Graffiti can be more than vandalism,” contributed Gibson. “It’s the power of words.”
He pointed out a mural of graffiti art on the side of the @risK building. “This is from the Urban Arts Program,” says Gibson. Last summer, he and other volunteers gave kids who would otherwise be vandalizing property a template on which to “play with spray paint.”
“The mural used to say ‘Creation, Not Destruction,’” he said. And then it was vandalized. He invited the kids to address how it felt to have something they created destroyed.
On Oct. 3, @risK will host We Rock Culture, an urban art exhibit.
But the gallery, which relies upon private donors, is itself at risk. Their lease is up in March.
Caracheo believes that as @risK’s mission is made clearer to public, it will receive more support. The gallery, always open to visitors, is a perennial participant in the First Friday Art Walk in Oldtown Salinas. Still, cultivating a steady stream of visitors is a challenge. “It’s a struggle to get people out here to look at the gallery,” she says. “Let’s be real. This is Chinatown.”
But, she retains hope. “If we make enough noise,” she says, “we will keep the space.”