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A musician performs at a Con A de Arte (“A is for Art”) event at the Mint Museum. Con A de Arte is an annual event that highlights Latin American artists. This year, an Arts & Science Council grant is helping the Latin American Coalition bring the event to a wider audience.

Courtesy of The Mint Museum

Colorful murals cover walls and walkways all across Charlotte. Portraits and pottery, textile art and jewelry pepper museums and galleries. And, in the pre-pandemic world at least, dozens of theatrical productions and musical acts took to city stages.

But the work of many creatives is far less visual.

Cristina “Trinity” Vélez-Justo is a local composer who writes for film, commercials and video games. She runs a production company out of her Charlotte home, and her work has been nominated for several awards.

Con A de Arte (“A is for Art”) is an annual event aimed at supporting Latin American artists like Vélez-Justo. The event, which originated more than 15 years ago, highlights the work of five Latino artists each year and honors three others with awards.

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A Latin American dancer performs at the Mint Museum during a Con A de Arte (“A is for Art”) event. Con A de Arte, an annual event launched more than 15 years ago, highlights the work of Latinx artists in the Charlotte area. James Martin Courtesy of The Mint Museum

Spotlighting Latin artists

Con A de Arte was founded by ArtSí Charlotte, a community group that supports and provides greater visibility for Latino arts and culture in the region. The event spotlights the creative output of not only visual and performing artists, but those who are lesser-known.

This year, the Latin American Coalition received a $4,600 Cultural Vision Grant from the Arts & Science Council to collaborate with ArtSí on Con A de Arte, which went virtual in 2020 due to the pandemic.

“(For Latin Americans,) culture and our way of life blend together into one, whether it’s people creating clothing, the culinary arts —what we do is infused in our culture,” said Jose Hernandez-Paris, executive director of the coalition. “But there is a need to celebrate outside of that — literature, graphic arts, people who write music scores and books. We look at different expressions of art that cut across different cultures.”

Like Vélez-Justo, Sasha Lara, a salsa and bachata dancer and member of the NC Brazilian Arts Project, has been featured in Con A de Art.

In 2019, the event highlighted the work of artist Nico Amórtegui, whose murals can be found in the B Concourse at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, plus work by artists Arko and Owl, and the musical group Chócala.

Documentarian Cristina Cassidy and writer Tita Ramírez also have been celebrated.

Lifetime achievement awards have gone to regional Latino community leaders like longtime WDAV 89.9 Classical Public Radio program director Frank Dominguez and Rafael Osuba, founder and artistic director of the statewide El Quixote Festival NC.

In 2018, ArtSi Charlotte teamed up with LAC to reach a broader audience and make Con A de Arte one of the coalition’s five annual signature events, including the annual Latin American Festival. The coalition also uses the funding to create space for and compensate Latino artists at the annual festival.

“(We use the funds) to add something interactive for our community to engage in and promote the arts,” Hernandez-Paris said.

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Two dancers perform at a Con A de Arte event at The Mint Museum. The annual event highlights Latin American artists in Charlotte, especially those whose work is often unseen by the wider community. James Martin Courtesy of The Mint Museum

Reflecting the community

In 2019, nearly 14% of Mecklenburg’s population was comprised of residents of Hispanic or Latin American descent, according to census estimates. The ASC believes that as the Latino community grows, so should its representation in the arts community.

Liz Fitzgerald, the ASC’s grants and services program director, said that when the council looks at grant funding, it asks, “What does the community look like, and how do we support programming that’s reflective of that community?”

“That (is) a shared value between the Latin American Coalition and the ASC — how do we continue to lift up creatives at all different levels of their career, and give them opportunity to really grow?” Fitzgerald said.

Last month, the ASC issued an apology for what it said was its role in perpetuating and worsening inequities against Blacks and other minorities through funding decisions over the years. A report it issued with the apology said the agency has worked to diminish those inequities through stronger support of various diverse groups.

This year the ASC announced 24 Cultural Vision Grant recipients, individuals and groups that received a combined $136,300 for an array of cultural projects.

Other recipients ranged from The Roll Up CLT, an artist-in-residence program in Charlotte’s historic Camp Greene neighborhood, to documentaries on Charlotte’s Optimist Park and the ALLturnatives Drumline, which provides free music education, meals and other support to Charlotte-area disenfranchised youth.

‘Thirsty to engage’

Michele Shaul is director of the Center for Latino Studies at Queens University of Charlotte.

Shaul served on the ArtSí advisory committee for years, and said Con A de Arte highlights not only some of the more well-known creatives, but “gives visibility to the artists and performers that are really not seen very well by the broader community.”

She is part of a committee working to schedule this year’s Con A de Arte, which calls on past participants and advisory members for artist and award-recipient nominations. The event is intended to be virtual in June.

Since COVID, LAC and ArtSí have experimented with online events, including Con A de Arte, held virtually in September 2020.

Roughly 500 participated in the online event; typically 150 or so would attend in person. “People are really thirsty to engage with each other,” Hernandez-Paris said.

This story is part of an Observer underwriting project with the Thrive Campaign for the Arts, supporting arts journalism in Charlotte.

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