Prayers for ancestors passed and Intermedia Arts

Intermedia Arts cuts staff amid the opening reception of Festival de las Calaveras Arts.

Alma Sanchez holds a photo of her and her mom in front of the Ofrenda that Sanchez helped create at Intermedia Arts in Minneapolis on Thursday, Sept. 28.

Courtney Deutz

Alma Sanchez holds a photo of her and her mom in front of the Ofrenda that Sanchez helped create at Intermedia Arts in Minneapolis on Thursday, Sept. 28.

Kate Drakulic

Festival de las Calaveras is a multimedia and multidisciplinary arts exhibition that highlights Day of the Dead and explores correlating social justice issues through Latinx art, music and discussion. The opening reception for the exhibition took place Thursday at Intermedia Arts on Lyndale Avenue South, despite announcements of financial crisis and staff cuts.

By Friday, all of Intermedia Arts’ staff was laid off as a consequence of the financial situation. 

Ana Laura Juarez, Minneapolis College of Art and Design graduate and local artist, curated the exhibition.

“The venue itself is perfect because we’re talking about death and life … it really feels like this is a good place for the show, and I’m glad we have Intermedia to support us,” Juarez said earlier in the week, just before Intermedia Arts released that they would be cutting all staff and announcing the uncertain future of the organization. 

Juarez and Deborah Ramos, founders of Tlalnepantla Arts, a community based Mexican arts organization, were unaware of Intermedia Arts’ predicament until just one day before the opening reception. Events took place as scheduled, with additional prayers and discussion of action for the continuation of Intermedia Arts.

Throughout the night, members young and old from the local community and primarily the local Latinx community, greeted each other, toured the gallery, danced to live music and, at one point, assembled outside of the building to participate in a sacred fire and healing ritual ceremony. 

As the sky darkened, the audience huddled closer to the fire to hear the words of Mayan Elder Gina Miranda, participating artist Dougie Padilla and community members who felt compelled to contribute. As prayers for ancestors and memories resurfaced, and because many were just then becoming aware of Intermedia Arts’ status, it was emotional for many.

“We’re coming together to celebrate life, to honor those who have passed and allowed for us to be here,” Ramos said. “Every year is different and a continuation of the previous, and that context is what we face as a community, collectively and individually. All the injustices, discrimination and violence … Much of the work here is really reflecting that; you wouldn’t initially consider that or see it, it might not jump out at you, but it is.”

The visual work incorporates elements of Day of the Dead, and many of these injustices, including political issues, gun violence and domestic violence.

“What I envisioned is a show that would have emerging artists and established artists, and that could provide somewhat of an ethnically diverse show,” Juarez said. “I also wanted to make sure we included a community element … an organization that could create a more traditional offering, like the one we see here.”

Juarez was referring to a traditional altar-like ofrenda (offering) created by Casa de Esperanza’s Youth [email protected], a national Latinx organization based in St. Paul, whose mission is to mobilize the local community and address domestic violence.

The ofrenda was overflowing with colorful flowers, photos, food and objects dedicated to the families of participants and survivors of domestic violence. Paper accordion books and colored pencils hung from the walls surrounding the ofrenda, encouraging viewers to interact and honor the dead through writing. By the end of the night, each book contained a note.

In response to the importance of the festival and the exhibit, Juarez spoke of those who are unable to visit the graves of their loved ones on Day of the Dead. For Juarez, the exhibit provides a space and sense of community.

“It’s important to continue having spaces for people of color. In particular, Day of the Dead is becoming more and more commercialized,” Juarez said. “To organize this is really powerful because we’re keeping Day of the Dead in our hands, we’re having control of how it’s being presented, something that’s honorful and that’s authentic.”

Intermedia Arts recently declared a 45-day period during which “the board intends to meet commitments for previously scheduled events, rentals and similar activities.” The Festival de las Calaveras art exhibition, which originally was set to be on display through Dec. 9 and contained various events in the upcoming months, should remain open throughout this 45-day period.