Denver is considered the heart of the Chicano movement, a civil rights campaign that began in the 1960s. Though it was successful in broadening recognition of the community and its contributions to our city and state, it wasn’t until more recently that cultural institutions started to include Chicano contributions in public showcases.
“[The Chicano movement] helped to inspire…the need to preserve cultural expressions and not be completely assimilated into mainstream American society,” says Adrianna Abarca, founder and board chair of the Denver-based Latino Cultural Arts Center, an in-progress cultural campus that supports the Rocky Mountain region’s Latino creative community. “Mainstream institutions have until now been, for lack of a better word, very exclusionary, and so it’s taken a great amount of effort for us to be recognized, to receive recognition and respect as a community.”
In an effort to highlight the extensive contributions of Chicano and Mexican artists, Abarca curated Hecho en Colorado (or “Made In Colorado”) at History Colorado Center. The exhibition—which began in July and is on view until January 10, 2021—showcases more than 50 works, all of which are from the Abarca Family Collection.
The arts have always been part of Abarca’s life. The Denver native’s parents began collecting folk and fine art from Mexicans in the United States and various regions of Mexico in the 1970s, a practice Abarca has continued for the past 30 years.
Almost all of the 40 artists included in the show are from Colorado (some were born in Mexico or out of state) and are a blend of established makers like painter/muralist Carlota EspinoZa and emerging creators such as painter Karma Leigh. The art spans a half-century, with mediums on display that range from paintings to textiles to spoken word poetry.
“Any art medium you can think of is featured,” says Cori Iannaggi, manager of the Ballantine Gallery at the History Colorado Center. “You walk into that room and it’s just so rich and colorful…. It’s amazing the talent that we have here in Colorado that a lot of times, unfortunately, gets overlooked.” Hecho en Colorado is located in the ground-floor gallery, which opened in November. “The whole purpose of the gallery is to be a community-based gallery space,” Iannaggi says. “With Hecho en Colorado, we have the community themselves, people from the community, telling their own stories. We [the museum] don’t want to be the sole storyteller. We want the community to be able to tell their story because they’re the ones who know it the best.”
To hear that story directly, sign up for the hourlong “Cafecitos” program. Held on Friday mornings at 9 a.m., these small group tours (capped at 10 people) are led by Abarca. Tickets are $12 and must be purchased in advance. Guests are greeted with coffee and biscochitos, New Mexico’s state cookie. “I know most of these artists pretty well,” Abarca says. “I’ve known a lot of them for many, many years—since I was a teenager.” Among the curator’s favorite pieces is a portrait of her father, Luis, painted by Carlos Sandoval, a friend and one of Luis’ art teachers (he took up painting in his later years).
History Colorado is also hosting a series of virtual artist talks to coincide with the show. The next Voces en Arte event will be held on August 26. The digital events are free, but registration is required; they’re held every three weeks at 6 p.m. and include a live Spanish interpretation.
Tickets are $8 to $14 and must be purchased in advance online. Face coverings are required for visitors older than three; for other coronavirus-related guidelines and updates, visit the museum’s welcome page.
To experience the Latino Cultural Arts Center in person, visit Hijos del Sol, a retail shop brimming with artisan works from Latino makers. The Sun Valley shop is currently only open by appointment.