By Taran Lucker
To ensure these children would be exposed to their art and culture, Peruvian born artist Garaycochea established Expressiones in 2009 with co-founder Jose Ulloa, who is from Chile and serves on the administrative side of the center as director. They began bringing in artists from across Latin America, giving Latino children a chance to connect with their heritage as well as introducing non-Latinos to the richness of Latino arts and culture.
Garaycochea, who moved to the United States in 2003, has earned numerous artistic honors over the years and also founded the Expressiones Virtual Gallery in Chile in 2000.
Expressiones has partnered with the Drop In Learning Center, St. Mary’s School, New London Youth Affairs Teen Center, St. James Episcopal Church, and the New London Public Library, to enhance their work with Latino children to help them express their cultural heritage and experiences through art.
The increased funding will allow Expressiones to make two field trips to El Museo del Barrio in New York City this year, offering its students the added opportunity to examine works of art inspired by Latin culture.
Expressiones also welcomes non-Latino children to learn more about the diverse Latin culture Garaycochea said is often homogenized and not adequately represented.
The misconception that Latin culture is the same across all ethnicities is an element that “plays a very important part in the inspiration of my pieces,” he said
The daily progress Garaycochea sees in his students only fuels his passion to keep Expressiones running for the community. He remembered a particular child who was reluctant to participate during his first few days at the center and lacked confidence in his artistic ability and creativity.
“He was scared of the blank page; he didn’t know what to do; he didn’t know how to draw anything,” Garaycochea said.
He didn’t notice a change until the day that artist-in-residence Santos Arzu Oioto taught the class about a technique that involved dripping paint onto paper. That was when Garaycochea saw that the light bulb had turned on, and in that moment the student was inspired.
“The student just came alive,” he said. “He suddenly had a clear vision; he was fearless in the way that he was creating, unhindered by the need to represent something. He was free to express himself.”
Although the program has been an arduous learning experience at times, Garaycochea said that the sense of pride he feels when a child completes a work of art is the ultimate reward.