Huge: The Benefit Art Show for Comunidades Unidas

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Like many, Provo-based artist Casey Smith felt anger, frustration and uncertainty after the 2016 presidential election. Also like many, he felt an urge to do something. Recognizing the very real fear felt by one of his colleagues—who is undocumented—Smith reached out to fellow artist and Utah Museum of Fine Arts Director of Education and Engagement Jorge Rojas. “[Smith] said, ‘Let’s invite all the artists we know in Utah to donate an artwork and show the people in our Latina/o community disenfranchised by the election that there are Utahns that love and support them,’” says Rojas. The effort found a home—the Mestizo Institute of Culture and Arts (MICA), for which Rojas serves on the board of directors—and a local organization to partner with and support: Comunidades Unidas/Communities United (CU). Soon, Smith and Rojas put out a call to local artists to donate submissions for The Huge Benefit Art Show, held Feb. 11 from 6 to 9 p.m.

After surveying a list of local advocacy organizations, MICA elected to partner with CU for the benefit show, impressed by their vision and “clear action steps.” Founded in 1999, CU serves over 8,000 individuals each year in their mission of “empowering the Latino community in Utah.” Presently, CU’s work includes building a sanctuary movement in Utah; healthcare, immigration, civic engagement and “know your rights” programming; policymaking and legislation advocacy; and more. “This exhibition is necessary, particularly now that Washington’s anti-immigrant efforts seem to be gaining momentum,” says Rojas. “Regardless of our political views, our community can come together and do what we can to ensure that similar efforts locally don’t further burden our most vulnerable communities.”

Local and national exhibiting artists were quick to respond with enthusiasm to The Huge Benefit Art Show’s call for submissions. Smith and Rojas each plan to donate works, and both are grateful for the artists’ generosity and the wide-ranging diversity of the donated pieces. All of the featured works will be for sale via silent or live auction, and proceeds will go directly to CU. For art collectors, the benefit show will provide an excellent opportunity to acquire pieces at potentially high discounts, as bidding prices will begin at a fraction of each work’s estimated value. “But whether or not you can afford to buy art,” says Rojas, “we want everyone to feel invited to come out and show your support.”

Early submissions to The Huge Benefit Art Show include Laura Sharp Wilson’s Side Dreads, a painting that toys with color, form and texture in her signature style, while University of Utah Head of Art Teaching Beth Krensky’s Bridge III comprises two bronze sculptures. BYU students Jacob Haupt and Noah Jackson submitted a print, Untitled (Demon), in which the BYU students present a stunningly fabricated realm that feels both alien and familiar. Additional notable donations include Hector D. Gonzalez’s 1971 photograph, Viva Cesar Chavez, and two powerful, gestural silkscreen prints by California-based artist Malaquias Montoya—one reads “La Sal de la Tierra,” and the other reads “YO SOY CHICANO.” Other exhibiting artists include Ruby Chacon, Trent Alvey, Adam Bateman, John Bell, Matthew Choberka, Peter Everett and more.

One donated work that particularly embodies the intent and mission of The Huge Benefit Art Show is BYU Associate Professor of Art Collin Bradford’s. In the archival photo print, Bradford captures a faraway nighttime shot of a single, brightly illuminated sign, which quietly and poignantly declares, “You are exactly where you are supposed to be.”

In addition to the one-night-only benefit art show, Mestizo will host a Stop Police Brutality group exhibition throughout the month of February. While the exhibition will not interact with the benefit show, it’s an example of the types of programs Mestizo is committed to supporting, says Rojas. The submission-based artworks aim to explore and highlight abuse of power by law enforcement, and particularly how that abuse has systematically and historically targeted marginalized communities.

“All throughout history, artists, through their lives and work, have played a crucial role in creating cultural and social change,” says Rojas. “By helping us to find beauty in dark times, artists inspire hope, courage, empathy, questioning and action. Art is a way of understanding our present and imagining our future.”

Beyond The Huge Benefit Art Show, there are countless avenues for artists and community members to support marginalized communities and the coalitions working to uplift them. “As with this show, it usually starts with a conversation between a couple of people who want to take action,” says Rojas, who, in addition to CU, points out the work done by Utah organizations like Utah DREAMers, the ACLU of Utah, Latinos in Action and more. “I believe we’re entering a new era of activism and cultural organizing where more and more people are realizing that the power to change anything starts and ends with us.”

The Huge Benefit Art Show will be held on Feb. 11 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Mestizo Institute of Culture and Arts to raise awareness and funds for Comunidades Unidas (cuutah.org). The silent auction will be held from 6 to 8 p.m., and the live auction will begin at 8 p.m.