Con Edison Immigrant Artist Program Newsletter, Issue No. 42

Con Edison Immigrant Artist Program Newsletter, Issue No. 42

Featured Organization: En Foco

En Foco is a non-profit organization that nurtures and supports contemporary fine art and documentary photographers of diverse cultures—primarily U.S. residents of Latino, African, and Asian heritage, and Native Peoples of the Americas and the Pacific.

En Foco fulfills its mission through a broad range of programs and activities. Executive Director Miriam Romais has been with the organization since 1992, starting as a Program Associate and rising through the ranks to Executive Director in 2006. Her unique perspective comes from her unique background: she is a photographer, editor, and curator, and a dual citizen of the U.S. and Brazil. NYFA Spoke to Romais about En Foco and its opportunities, among which is the annual NEW WORKS #17 (New Works Photography Fellowship Awards), which is a free national call for entries with online submission

Through your “Foot in the Door” professional development series, you provide advice for artists on proposals. Any top tips? What important steps would you recommend underrepresented artists take or skills/tools to develop/utilize?

There are many opportunities out there, many of them for free. And learning the ‘language’ of the art world can be challenging, so it takes practice. Top tips include needing to make a positive first impression, so ask yourself: are you ready? Do you have your website updated, promo cards or business cards? A well edited body of work for a portfolio? If any of those is a ‘not yet’—then put the artwork down for a bit and tackle those tasks. A little at a time, perhaps an hour a day, or several hours on your days off as you can. It does not need to be or feel as overwhelming as we often make it. But better to be ready, so when the curator/editor/dream person meets you, they’ll know you are serious and dedicated to your craft. There are plenty of more tips in our Foot in the Door, and upcoming “Motivation, Marketing, & Moxie” workshops. Also, as an En Foco member, one of the many benefits includes an in-house one-on-one portfolio review session.

How does En Foco raise the visibility of underrepresented artists?

Visibility is raised through various programs such as our Touring Gallery Community exhibitions, New Works Photography Fellowship Awards, tri-annual publication Nueva Luz, and our Professional Development Workshops. Each program helps artists reach a new level in their career. Through these programs, we are able to provide many opportunities to interact with local audiences. The goal is to identify and promote talented emerging or mid-career artists and create a cross-cultural dialogue with the community, while providing artists with exposure and growth opportunities. Whether it’s developing one’s marketing skills, their portfolio, building their confidence, providing artists with networking opportunities, sending them to FotoFest in Houston, or mounting their debut NYC exhibition, we are able to navigate spaces and art world dynamics in a way that allows us to highlight many underrepresented artists.

The Touring Gallery program places photographers in community spaces in New York City. What types of spaces, neighborhoods and communities do you focus on? Can you expound upon any exhibitions that were particularly successful in connecting artists and community?

En Foco uses photography as an accessible means to promote cultural equality. We focus on bringing art into public spaces, especially spaces that are excluded or under-exposed to art; these are spaces that the community uses, sees, and experiences; for example, libraries and clinics. While the communities we service are spread out through New York City, as a Bronx based organization, we have a particularly strong foothold in our home borough. Each exhibition stands out in terms of connecting artists and the community, and we host an Artist Talk and a reception to deepen the experience and involvement. The Artist Talks enables community members to view and experience photography live while simultaneously giving the artists an opportunity to discuss their work in a capacity that may be different from what they are used to.

Do you have any advice or suggestions for foreign-born artists new to New York City? What challenges do you think immigrant artists face in particular?

I think that for any immigrant, adjusting to a new space and culture is always difficult, so when someone is dealing with that type of stress, it can be even more difficult to find spaces where they feel they belong, particularly in the art world. Unfortunately, the world is not as open and welcoming as we would like to think, so really searching for that sense of home that ALSO has a particularly heightened sense of creativity is not easy.

But it’s also not impossible. It’s all about networking and building relationships with others who are searching for a similar community. Though it may be challenging, I think it’s crucial for artists of color, but particularly immigrants, to seek support. En Foco was founded specifically for that reason. To quote Charles Biasiny-Rivera, one of the founders of En Foco, “since [the early days], we have witnessed artists of African, Asian, Latino, Native American and Pacific Islander heritage boldly moving forward, presenting themselves as authentic and valuable creators of American art. En Foco celebrates the courage, talent and tenacity of the many artists it has helped become more visible, and looks forward to a new millennium of acceptance that will acknowledge the treasures of its communities.”

Dee Campos reviewing a participant's portfolio during an Editing Your Portfolio Workshop (2012). © Dani Cattan

En Foco provides a broad range of programming, from your highly respected flagship publication, Nueva Luz, to awards and exhibitions that serve your mission of cultural diversity. What is your vision for the organization in the future? Are there new avenues you are looking to explore? Has social media had any impact on your organization or the field?

En Foco is always looking for new ways to dive farther into the art scene, and I think that with the 40th anniversary coming up, we are particularly looking to expand our En Foco familia. There are so many talented photographers out there that need their skill and work to be fostered and we are always looking for emerging artists to support and help develop their work as artists.

Social media has definitely had an impact on the way we are able to connect with our national audience. Facebook and Twitter, specifically, have allowed us to develop relationships with folks all around the country, including photographers, curators, educators, activists and other institutions. Digital communication and social media technology has removed most of our geographic limitations. This year we will be launching free webinars, so artists across the country (or world?) can attend our workshops free from those constraints.

What current or upcoming initiatives are you excited about and how can our community find out about them?

We have so many events coming up in the next year, it is all very exciting! We have five confirmed Professional Development Workshops, as well as our New Works Fellowship Awards #16 Exhibition in June and our New Works #17 Call for Entry, which opens to the public in March and has a deadline of July 31, 2013. We also have our annual Summer Fiesta celebration coming up, along with a member’s exhibition in the next year. This year and next year are big years for us (2014 is our 40th anniversary!).

En Foco reviews work by NYC photo-based artists of color on a regular basis. It’s free, and you can find submission details here.

The community can learn more about our programs by visiting our website, where they will find a detailed list of our latest events and programs. Additionally they can follow us on Facebook and Twitter (@enfoco) and sign up for our e-newsletter!

Images: Top, Relationships Work Best When Each Partner Knows Their Proper, from the Experimental Relationship series (2008). © Yijun (Pixy) Liao, New Works #16 winner. Bottom, Dee Campos reviewing a participant’s portfolio during an Editing Your Portfolio Workshop (2012). © Dani Cattan.
Amy Aronoff
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