Public Art Projects with Impact: A Conversation with Lina Montoya
Staten Island-based artist Lina Montoya talks about her public art projects in collaboration with communities.
As the warmer weather makes it enticing to spend more time outdoors, we had the honor to speak with Lina Montoya, a muralist and teaching artist who creates community-based public art projects for beautification and social impact. Born and raised in Medellín, Colombia, and now based on Staten Island, NY, Montoya speaks about her creative approach to building community, her relationship with home, and her experience as both a NYFA Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program (IAP) mentee and mentor.
New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA): Many of your works are community-based creative work. Tell us about your work and the community that you work with.
Lina Montoya: My work can be linked with arts education and organizations that advocate for social justice, minorities, POC, immigrants, and workers’ rights.
School based-projects have been my focus lately; artistic residencies allow me to open spaces for students and staff members to work with different materials, express themselves, and be creative. There’s new work on display at Bridge Preparatory Charter School, PS 41, PS 55, and PS 78 on Staten Island, and at PS 1 in Brooklyn.
I received a New York City Department of Cultural Affairs Art Fund Grant from Staten Island Arts and I’m looking to have a new version of “La Isla Bonita Festival” in October this year! The festival celebrates Staten Island’s diverse and vibrant community by prompting accessible, family-friendly local and global arts, and culture and civic engagement for all. We will have live music by Volker Goetze, an IAP mentor for many years, at Canvas Institute. Stay tuned for more program announcements soon! Mas arte para todxs!
NYFA: Can you share with us how you build trust and relationships with the communities you work with through your art projects?
LM: I have a premise for the creation of public art with communities: You too can transform the world for a moment. We all have power in our hands and minds, the capacity to create from scratch, or build a better version of what already exists.
I have a premise for the creation of public art with communities: You too can transform the world for a moment. We all have the power in our hands and minds, the capacity to create from scratch, or build a better version of what already exists.-Lina Montoya
One of my main intentions with the projects has been to involve as many community members as possible during the transformation of spaces. When you have a group of people participating actively in different levels of the process, it enriches the final piece. The artwork becomes a memorable experience for the participants and they begin to trust their power because they can see the transformation.
Community-based creative work can be transformative: participants who are not necessarily on the artistic spectrum explore different sides of themselves. It’s like the process presents a new approach to art, with some familiarity. The community members will notice the change. Public art projects that involve communities make a real impact.
NYFA: As a Staten Island-based artist, you’ve done a great deal of public art in the borough. How does making public art change your relationship with place? Is there anything you’ve learned about the community that you’d like others to know?
LM: As an immigrant artist, one of the reasons why I started making public art was because of the need to have a sense of belonging to a place I didn’t really know 12 years ago. I love my hometown so much, but I wasn’t there anymore and my wish was to make this place mine, one corner at a time. The need was to find ways to manifest beauty and transformation.
As an immigrant artist, one of the reasons why I started making public art was because of the need to have a sense of belonging to a place I didn’t really know 12 years ago. I love my hometown so much, but I wasn’t there anymore and my wish was to make this place mine, one corner at a time.-Lina Montoya
The Island is not well known for recognizing the diversity and the beauty one can find here. There’s only one Staten Island but there are many versions of this place that differ from each other by a lot of acres. Still it’s important to manifest, represent, and celebrate our differences with love and respect.
Representation is important. I’ve learned that Staten Island is not how it has been painted. The place has many more colors, shades, and shines. I wanted to help open more spaces for us to show who we are, who is here, and now that we are here we can raise our voices and chants. We can shine together and thrive.
NYFA: You went through the Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program in 2015 and came back as a mentor in 2021. Can you tell us how participating in the mentoring program helped your career? Were there any parts of your experience as a mentee that informed your practice as a mentor? What advice would you give to emerging immigrant artists?
LM: The mentoring program helped my career in an immeasurable way. I have a lot of gratitude for the organization and especially for this program. It was an honor to be part of the program as a mentor. Both mentors and mentees always have their doors open for connections and opportunities. NYFA continues its efforts to be more than a platform for artists in all stages of their careers and to provide a wide range of services to support us.
Back in 2015, my mentor Carlos Martínez supported me to find partners so that I could start the La Isla Bonita Festival. Another mentor, Gina Goico, suggested that I apply for a teaching artist position at Groundswell. Other participants in the program provided more advice, and there was also space to collaborate and create opportunities of our own.
It’s always great to share experiences, especially this year, I was paired with my mentee Mauricio Perez, a Colombian fellow living in this country! I enjoyed learning about Mauricio’s work, and we are looking to collaborate soon.
My advice to emerging immigrant artists has been to pursue your true self and celebrate who you are, because that uniqueness is what makes us special and makes a difference.
About Lina Montoya:
Lina Montoya is a prolific visual artist, graphic designer, muralist, and teaching artist, born and raised in Medellín, Colombia, and based in Staten Island, NY, since 2010. One of Staten Island’s most popular artists, Montoya embeds her cultural heritage in her art. She is a dual-language speaker who connects deeply with Latinx communities in NYC. Montoya’s experience as a teaching artist is focused on arts creation and education. Over the past nine years Montoya has developed more than 70 community-based visual art programs, including artistic residencies in public schools, commissions, and public art projects.
Montoya is founder of the Ele Eme Project, an artistic initiative developed between the U.S. and Latin America to exchange “Magical Experiences” through socially engaged art for public space beautification and social impact. Montoya is also co-founder of “La Isla Bonita Summer Festival,” a yearly cultural event established in 2015 which celebrates Staten Island’s diverse and vibrant community, promoting accessible, family-friendly local and global arts, culture, and civic engagement.
Montoya has been supported, worked in partnership, and recognized by the NYC Department of Transportation, Staten Island Council of the Arts, Staten Island Shakespearean Theater Company, Wagner College Port Richmond Partnership, City Parks Foundation, NYC Parks, UNIQLO Arts Expressions Grant, Long Island City Partnership, Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden, NYU Dream Team, Staten Island Justice Center, Richmond County Savings Foundation, Yonkers Arts Weekend, Pictopia Medellin, Alcaldia de Medellin, El Centro del Inmigrante, Police Athletic League, NYC Murals Arts Project, NYFA, Staten Island Museum, NYU Wallerstein Collaborative, ABNY, National Day Laborers Organization, Universal Temple of the Arts, Groundswell Community Mural Project, Sundog Theater, and Colombian Consulate in New York City.
–Interview conducted by Ya Yun Teng, Program Officer, Immigrant Artist Resource Center (NYC)
NYFA’s Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program will announce its next cycle in late summer.
This post is part of the ConEdison Immigrant Artist Program Newsletter #150. Subscribe to this free monthly e-mail for artist’s features, opportunities, and events. Learn more about NYFA Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program.