Supporting My Community: A Conversation with NYFA’s Immigrant Artist Consultants
Hear from Cecile Chong, Chemin Hsiao, LuLu Meng, and Martita Abril from NYFA’s 1-on-1 Consultations for Immigrant Artists Program.
In this interview, our consultants share their insights on the benefits of being connected to a community of immigrant artists.
What attracted you to the 1-on-1 Consultations for Immigrant Artists program, and how do you think it is benefiting the community?
My own work deals with cultural interaction and interpretation. I see participating in this program as an extension of my practice.
I want to help immigrant artists by facilitating their transition to the new culture. I want to empower immigrant artists to pursue fulfilling careers and to sustain their practice, to build communities for themselves, and to find a deeper sense of belonging. I hope to foster support among immigrant communities and for this knowledge and openness to be extended to others.
New York is vast and complicated terrain when it comes to the arts. There are different opportunities and challenges at different career levels. It’s not easy to be a newcomer in a new place. I wanted to share what I know, support immigrant artists, and talk about the resources, time, energy, skills, and confidence that it takes to build their art career.
For the last three years I have had the pleasure to serve as a mentor for NYFA’s Immigrant Artists Mentoring Program. It has been immensely satisfying both guiding and learning from immigrant artists that have lived in the US for less than 10 years. The opportunity to be a 1-on-1 consultant to immigrant artists is an extension of that experience and I’m excited to be part of this program.
I came to New York from Ecuador to study art at age 19. For many years, I painted in isolation until I realized that I needed to show my work and find my art community. Starting was very difficult. NYFA has been a constant resource as I built my career as an artist.
Looking back to 2016 when I first joined the NYFA’s Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program as a mentee, I appreciated the time and conversations I had with my mentor and remembered the relief I felt knowing that somebody has the same struggle or situation to deal with as an immigrant artist. Since then, I have become a mentor for the program. I can see how my experiences can possibly provide some direction and a sense of comfort for my mentees.
The benefit of the 1-on-1 Consultations for Immigrant Artists program is the same and simply about knowing there is someone who has similar experiences like you, who you can talk to and who can propel you to face the next challenge in life as an immigrant artist. What attracted me about this program is knowing I can share experiences and possibly support an artist in moving forward and gaining confidence.
As an immigrant artist myself, when I first moved to New York City, it was challenging and at times overwhelming to navigate and sustain myself as an artist in this city.
Fortunately, I was selected to participate in NYFA’s immigrant Artist Mentioning Program and the Artist in the Marketplace (AIM) Fellowship Program in the Bronx Museum. Through these programs, I met wonderful artist friends with whom I stayed closely in touch and started to build connections. I feel grateful for the experience and advice from the programs and people I have met along the way.
The 1-on-1 Consultations for Immigrant Artists allows me the opportunity to give back in the way I can. These consultation sessions align with what I believe in: to share resources and information. There are plenty of opportunities out there. I wouldn’t be able to achieve what I have today without the support and kindness from people who have been there for me, pointing me in the right direction.
The 1-on-1 Consultation is intimate and efficient. In the time-limited sessions, we can cut to the chase and focus on the most pressing questions that participants have. I hope through the consultation sessions, what I share can be beneficial to people who receive it.
As immigrant artists, we might have different backgrounds and practices. Yet, the questions we have and the challenges we face can be similar. I think it is helpful and assuring to receive suggestions and learn personal experiences from someone who has been in a similar situation.
I was drawn to this program’s mission to engage fellow artists who come from other parts of the world. It provides a vehicle to illuminate a path, and encourage them to continue to pursue their career as artists in the US.
It’s truly rewarding to work with immigrant artists and share with them the possibilities and the communities that they can build or be part of in their fields. I have been part of the Immigrant Artist Mentorship program at NYFA and I have been inspired to continue this kind of work and feel that 1-on-1 conversations can help to find support in a more personalized way.
Please share some common advice you have been giving or the approach you have adopted to support your fellow immigrant artists.
The experience of being a panelist for different organizations and being a member of an artist-run space (especially when we review 400 applications for our open call) has taught me how important an artist’s website is.
When I do 1-on-1 consultations, I like to first give feedback on the artist’s website and online presence. Having a strong but short bio and artist’s statement can make a significant difference for someone who wants to know about the artist and their work. Then we discuss the artist’s goals for the session and talk about specific needs and extra information that each artist has indicated when they signed up.
Although a one-time 40-minute consultation may seem short, I hope each participant comes with curiosity and an open mind. Sometimes a brief interaction with someone can have a long-lasting effect. In 2006, when I was applying for my MFA, a painter, friend, and mentor, told me that I will always have the most authority over my own life experience as it reflected in my work, and that an artist’s career can be like a roller coaster with 5 years of being up and 5 years down. Those words have stayed with me as I continue to navigate my own practice and career.
Accessing opportunities: Be diligent in locating artistic opportunities but stay within your own pace. Above all, consider if the opportunity is really a good fit for you before committing to it.
Advice on Residency, Fellowship, or Grant Writing: Be honest and precise in your writing materials according to the purposes of the application, write clearly and to the point, and follow all the application requirements. If you’re not confident with English, ask an artist friend to review it briefly for you.
Creative output: Be patient with your creative practice with the consideration of your living circumstances as an immigrant artist.
It is a fact that it is challenging to actively practice as an artist in New York City, but it is not impossible. Don’t be discouraged if your application gets rejected, just keep applying. Ask friends to review your application before submitting it. It is essential to be patient, sincere, and persistent. Make friends rather than just make connections.
My approach during the sessions is to get to know the artists and to cater to their objectives. I want to bring as much information as I can to share with them and address their questions or goals they would like to accomplish in our sessions. But more importantly than just simply giving the artists information, is guiding them on how to connect and find the answers themselves.
Ultimately, I hope to inspire the session participants to accomplish their goals as artists. As immigrant artists, we all have a distinctive or unique trajectory that we have to build. I want them to feel supported and that they are not alone.
This post is part of the ConEdison Immigrant Artist Program Newsletter #160. Subscribe to this free monthly e-mail for artist’s features, opportunities, and events. Learn more about NYFA Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program.