Dinner Without An Agenda with Miguel Luciano

Sometimes it is hard for an artist to sit back and reflect on their work and what it is influenced by when they are creating.

Dinner Without Agenda made me stop and really think if I am in any way pressured by institutions to create my own art. My answer is no, because I am not represented by any gallery. I am an independent artist who works from my own inner necessity to create.

I wear many hats in my professional life. I am an Artist, Illustrator, Graphic Designer, Educator and Community Activist. I teach art which gives me regular income. I have my own freelance company where I use graphic design, illustration and visual art which enables me to generate extra income and to continue creating. I also volunteer with several organizations to bring art to the community. My objective is to infuse culture, creativity and empower underserved minorities. Sometimes I get to sleep.

Would I like to be a full time artist, locked in a studio 24/7?  I am not sure. Being independent from galleries and instructions give me the freedom of creating what I want which is to participate in shows and curate others. Sometimes it is a struggle but I get to work with many other artists and collaboration is key.

During this event I was familiar with a couple of people sitting at the table but many were complete strangers. They say when you go to another country you are more yourself than ever because you have no attachments and no one judging you. Nothing you say or do will be held against you. It was a good feeling. I have started from scratch several times in my life and it really feels good.

Dinner started with some drinks, our introductions, and then the controversy started. Artists are tired of big institutions trying to take advantage of small starving artist. At the same time they are worried about the community. I agree. Yet in my opinion, we cannot stop working on something we believe in just because people want to take advantage. We need to find a way to bring them to our territory so we can live and work through our art. We have to commit to our ideas and objectives.

Something we agreed on that table was that being an independent artist demands certain skills they don’t teach in Art School. You are your own publicist, accountant, PR, lawyer, social media person, and it takes a lot of work and effort to be able to succeed and create a name on your own. Most of us have to have a job, that even if it’s related to Art, it is not giving you the freedom to be fully committed and focused in your art. Some of the guests were more skilled than others and they were able to live completely from their art.

Some of the artists invited to the “agendless” dinner believed that some organizations should start helping artists instead of helping themselves. Yes, the problem comes when everyone in the process of creating a specific art activity gets paid yet the artist works for exposure. That’s not fair and that’s something big institutions should start working on, adding in that budget money to pay the artists for its work.

A few months ago I was sitting with two artist friends who were complaining about how difficult it is to find a place to exhibit in the Bronx. We decided to stop complaining and start acting. Working alone is difficult and it takes too much time and energy with little compensation. Joining forces makes things easier. For sure you will face some challenges. Working with a team is not easy however you broaden your borders and expand your limits. BxArts Factory was founded. This is a multi-disciplinary initiative that will be an incubator for artist and art-based projects to assist the underserved minorities in the Bronx. We will focus on providing space and resources to local multi-media artist to work on projects to make art accessible to the community with an educational component.

I believe we all have the power to change something in life. We have to believe in it and act consequently. If thoughts stay in your mind and you don’t bring them to action, no one is going to do it for you. It is important to stand up for rights and as an artist I am the first one to encourage other artist to price their artwork for what it is worth. If we all stand our ground, no institution, organization or individual would ever ask for “free work”. We have to take art and our profession seriously the same as a carpenter or plumber. Be proud of what you do.

— Laura Alvarez

Image: Art is Served by Laura Alvarez, 2015

This post is part of our series on Dinners Without an Agenda where guests authors react to the events they attend. Read on at this link for the rest.