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Artists struggle in El Paso

Adam Ziegenhals
Senior studio art major, Francisco Melendez continues to showcase his art in El Paso, although it can be hard for many local artists to make a living.

For some, art in El Paso may not seem to be appreciated as much as in bigger cities like New York and Los Angeles.

Francisco Melendez, senior studio art major, said art in El Paso has been growing year by year, but that there’s still a long road ahead in order to make the city aware of the talent that it has.

“I think overall the people of the city have a very outdated idea of what art is, there’s a sort of a divide in the city between people who think of art as oil paintings of landscapes or religious themes,” Melendez said. “Or graphite drawings of family members and pretty girls; versus people who have actually been able to attain an education in modern and contemporary art.”

Performing arts also go unappreciated, said Julian Maldonado, senior dance major. He said dance has also grown considerably in El Paso, but not in a way where it is appreciated as a form of art.

“I feel that dance has very little importance in El Paso and is not taken seriously,” Maldonado said. “I noticed that more people are going to studios than ever before. I believe it is due to how popular dance has become. Shows like ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ and ‘Dancing with the Stars’ have helped drastically in promoting dance’s popularity.”

Making a living out of art in a small city like El Paso may be a challenge to someone who dedicates his or her life to create art.

For Maldonado, making a living in El Paso from dancing is a struggle due to the low rate of   dance studios available in the city.

“A huge factor that gives me a negative look on making a living in El Paso is a huge lack of respect for the performing arts,” Maldonado said.

Melendez said it is hard to make a living as an artist in El Paso.

“The fact that the vast majority of the people in the city have such an outdated view makes it really hard for anyone who’s doing anything with a modern or contemporary influence to have any real chance of selling or displaying their work in the city,” Melendez said.

Melendez also said being an artist and dedicated to art is a challenge.

Many UTEP graduates have been making a living out of art. Some of them have been successful in the city of El Paso, while others have moved to continue with their passion in other cities such as Mexico City and other different U.S. cities.

There are design and advertising studios, such as Sanders/Wingo Advertising and Viva + Impulse Creative, located in El Paso that have given work opportunities to UTEP graduates.

Anne Giangiulio, associate professor of art, said there are students from UTEP working in design studios in New York City such as Mario Aguilar, who came to UTEP to give a lecture last semester, or Andrew Yañez, who owns a design studio in Fort Worth called Pytch Black.

“UTEP is the only university in town, so of course our designers make up the majority, if not all of those working here,” Giangiulio said.

Professors help many art students while they’re still in college by being mentors, providing opportunities to get students’ work shown at El Paso events and encouraging them to apply for different internships and job opportunities.

“Whenever I hear of job opportunities, be they work-study gigs here on campus, summer internships or permanent positions, I pass that info along to students and encourage them to apply,” Giangiulio said.

Student organizations among art students are also an important outlet to obtain opportunities and learn about local and international art.

“I have been part of the Maximo Art Society for a few semesters. Now, since its induction, and I am currently the vice president,” Melendez said.  “So what we do in the organization is try to provide art students with opportunities to develop as professionals in the art field.”

The Maximo Art Society helps art students to showcase their work; they organize lectures from professional artists and help students to build their portfolios, resumes and curriculum vitae.

Art in El Paso has been growing year by year, but it still presents a challenge for many local artists who want to make a living out of their art. There are more opportunities, internships and different outlets that local artists may take in order to achieve their goals and grow professionally.

“I believe if you are truly good at what you do and aren’t afraid to be enterprising and creative, you can make a living doing anything anywhere,” Giangiulio said.

Fernanda Leon may be reached at [email protected].

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Artists struggle in El Paso