Requiem of Instructions for the Artist/Creative to Reflect on

11.2 / In/With/For the Public

Requiem of Instructions for the Artist/Creative to Reflect on

By Sonia GuiƱansaca January 15, 2020

In/With/For the Public is supported by the Kenneth Rainin Foundation, a private family foundation dedicated to enhancing quality of life by championing and sustaining the arts, promoting early childhood literacy, and supporting research to cure chronic disease.


Dedicated to the queer, migrant, gender nonconforming, femme, Indigenous creative expanding and reflecting on their public art.

I am writing this as I listen to my favorite playlist featuring Kate Bush and Rihanna. “Running Up the Hill” is currently playing. I am in LA. My heart is heavy, but there is a puppy here. The palm trees are swaying, I anticipate rain soon. 2019 was heavy. Blame it on Saturn's Return or Mercury in Reggaeton. Blame it on the government. Blame it on the nostalgia for home. Blame it on _______. 

I am showing up to this page with a decade plus of experience in social justice and cultural spaces. I’ve done local and national community organizing in the immigrant rights movement and work in cultural spaces to create infrastructure for marginalized artists. I am a poet. I am migrant. I am formerly undocumented. I was raised in Harlem, NY, and for the past six years, I’ve been bi-coastal between Oakland/LA and NY. I am Kañari, from Cuenca Ecuador. The majority of my creative output has been in collaboration with my queer/trans/gender nonconforming chosen family who are also artists and cultural workers. My family is mixed status and working class. Access notes: I have chronic back pain and PTSD. I am in my thirties. Naming all of this, and leaving out some things so you know how I arrived at these answers, which are mostly questions reflected back to you. I am always wondering how I can be a better cultural maker.

Take as much as you want of this; recycle what you may not need or whatever does not apply to you. Things for you to consider and think about: How did you arrive at this particular moment? Where are you coming from? How may you take up space? How do you show up into a space? What’s your background? Where does it hurt? What are you envisioning for yourself next year? Why are you an artist? What does “public art” mean to you?

Make a list of the communities you are part of:




This can be based on locality, trade, discipline, politics, identities, etc. You are not limited or pressured to 3. Name as many communities as you are part of. Some of these communities overflow into the other. That is okay, too. Everything is fluid, but be intentional. Don’t just list random communities for the sake of listing. Really think: What communities are you really part of and committed to? And why?

Now, identify people within those communities that know you very well. Write their names in the space below:

These are folk who know your values, and who will check in with you if you stray away from those values. These folks are kindred. They are chosen family. These are the folks who you have had meals with, who have seen you ugly-cry, who you respect, and who you have shown up for, too. These are folks who you have mutual and regenerative relationships with, and it is not extractive. These are folks who will celebrate you and push you to grow and reflect. These are folks who will hold you accountable to your values.

If you have paused because you do not know your values, make a list of them here:

As you work on these lists, memories shared with these folks might come up for you. Invite them in. Let them sit on your shoulder.

Sometimes, many times, we are doing national work, and it may feel like we are not responsible to a specific community. “National” does not mean the absence of a local community. National means the presence of many local communities. Touch base with a range of folks across the country to advise and keep you grounded. We are part of a beautiful and ever growing ecosystem of artists and cultural workers-there are plenty of folks to reach out to.

Whenever you are doing work/projects in relation to a community you may not be part of, it is your job and responsibility to bring in a person from that community. By not bringing in a person/people of that community you are taking away a communities autonomy, taking away their agency to self define. If you are not bringing in a community member in a thoughtful way then you are appropriating and doing such an injustice. There is power in collective work. Take time to build intentional and real relationships with said community members. There are no boxes to check off. This is not just a quick task on your to-do list. As cultural workers, creatives, and artists, we do not parachute into a community. We build. We build. And building takes time.

You can move back, and let an artist from that community do the project. Front-line communities and communities directly impacted by said issues should drive and lead that work. Allies, move back.

If you must take on the project, bring in and adequately pay a community member/artist to advise and co-create with you. People directly from those communities should always drive the project.

Now that you have this list: whenever you are expanding your work, doing projects outside your region or community, return to these folks to receive input. Return to these folks to get advice, to stay grounded. We are not alone. Our public art work is not done in solitude ever; it is always in dialogue with those around us and grounded on values we keep present during decision-making. For example, my queer community is very important to me. Within that community, I turn to kindred artists/cultural workers like Rommy Torrico, Lylliam Posadas, Dorothy Santos, Alan Pelaez, Jess X Snow, and Vivian Crockett. They are also friends, formal colleagues/collaborators, family, and creative life partners. They hold me accountable to my creative practice. They push me to reflect on my long term commitment to growth, joy, liberation, and healing. Over dinner or brunch, at the beach, during breakups, post-exhausting non-profit industrial complex meetings, and between projects, these are the folks who I can turn to for a temperature check on a specific project, gently nudging me to rethink an approach/audience/language/frameworks/material/energy/time frame/capacity.

Gently but firmly I am asked by them: Why? How does it feel? Why bigger? Why that direction? Who is the audience? Is this for community or for the grant? Who benefits? What happens if you do not expand? What's wrong with local/focused? Are you getting paid? Are you getting paid enough? Is this the right timing? Is there compensation? Why are you doing this? Come here. Reflect here. Let's eat. Lets rest. Cry here. Breath here. Reground here. Regroup here… 

And I reply with:                                                 .  
Now, your turn:                                                  .


  1. Illustrations by Will Betke-Brunswick

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