Supporting immigrant artists and building a network of support

Posted by Alicia Ehni, Nov 20, 2019

Alicia Ehni

New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), founded in 1971, empowers artists at critical stages of their creative lives. One of the ways NYFA serves our mission is through our Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program (IAP) that has served more than 460 mentees since 2007. A large part of the success of this program is the fostering of communities and networks that enables participants and consultants to connect and collaborate to create more opportunities for artists to showcase their work and push their practice to new levels.

A clear example of this is a recent NYFA/New York Live Arts (NYLA) collaboration initiated by Yanira Castro—a Puerto Rican, Bessie Award-winning artist based in Brooklyn, who in 2009 formed the interdisciplinary group a canary torsi—and Martita Abril, a performer, choreographer, teaching artist, IAP mentee, and now mentor of the IAP Program. Originally from Tijuana, México, she has worked with numerous dance artists and companies throughout México, the U.S., and Ecuador including Dance Constructions by Simone Forti at the Museum of Modern Art.

This summer NYLA presented, in partnership with IAP, Wild, Wild Earth, a group exhibition co-curated by Yanira Castro, Martita Abril, and Dain DeltaDawn that included IAP alumni. A group showcase, In | Between, followed, where alumni of the IAP gathered to share ideas on NYLA stage. With the goal of reflecting on the multiplicity of their experiences, identities, practices, and politics, these artists also speak to what holds them in common: the experience of displacement and disorientation, and the work of communicating/finding/forming community. We recently interviewed Abril and Castro about this work.

NYFA: Can you tell us how you met and about your collaborations?

Martita Abril: We met at Dance New Amsterdam in 2013, when I arrived from México. Since then, Yanira continued to mentor me and we have worked together on several projects. We are currently collaborating on a NYLA/IAP partnership that will be involving other immigrant artists from IAP.

Martita Abril. Photo by Ian Douglas.

Yanira Castro: Back in the days of Dance New Amsterdam (DNA), I was invited to teach in their Choreographic Investigation Course that was open to artists in DNA’s Visa Program. The program was described as an intensive, a way of working at your practice without going to university. It was a one-semester course. Martita was one of the students in the program. Her use of ordinary materials (tape, a plastic bag) paired with simple actions made the moment fragile, political, and powerful. She invited me to be her formal mentor through that program and ever since we have been in conversation. It has been one of those relationships that feels like NYC family.

Most recently, I asked Martita what she thought artists in the IAP program would most benefit from. She talked passionately about having opportunities to show work to support their visas. I am working with New York Live Arts on my next project, so I asked them if they would be interested in partnering to support the IAP Artists, to provide the space. The response has been very positive, and I am thrilled to be working with Martita on this.

Abril and Castro (pictured in the dark) working on "Court/Garden." Photo by Maria Baranova.

NYFA: You both have links with NYFA. Martita, could you talk about the relationships you built during IAP; and Yanira, about the impact of receiving a NYFA Fellowship?

MA: I had the opportunity to meet many incredible immigrant artists as a mentee and as a mentor in the program. NYFA made me feel at home and helped create a supportive network in a new landscape. IAP made a big impact in my life here in NYC and I want to give back and help as many artists I can to find opportunities.

YC: Receiving the NYFA Fellowship felt like an acknowledgment of a body of work. It is not often in the making of work that there is recognition. Often you are working in your corner. The Fellowship was one of those rare moments when I felt a part of a history or continuum, recognized as a choreographer. I felt full of gratitude.

NYFA: Any piece of advice for artists and immigrant artists on how to network and create opportunities in NYC?

YC: Go to everything you can. See as much as you can. Find ways to be in conversation with other artists whose work you are interested in. It is as important to see work everywhere as to attend classes, as going to talks, conversations, studies. Let yourself be surprised as often as possible.

Yanira Castro's "Court/Garden." Photo by Maria Baranova.

MA: As an immigrant artist I was really curious about how things were done here in NYC, so I went out and got involved in all the projects that were interesting to me. When I could, I volunteered to help with administrative or production tasks at multiple companies and projects. I was fortunate to find artists I respected and who were willing to teach and guide me. It was important for me to find fellow artists who were creating provocative and exploratory art that were aligned with my own artistic values. I found it was critical to be comfortable with myself and my own style, and to embrace and engage my fellow immigrant artists, like the community embraced me.

To learn more about NYFA’s Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program, tune in to our Arts and Immigration webinar on ArtsU Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019 at 2:00 pm ET. Register now to attend live or for on-demand access later.

Learn more about Martita Abril and Yanira Castro on their websites. This blog originally was published in the Con Edison Immigrant Artist Newsletter. The full interview can be found on NYFA Current.