In 2018, the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) brought their Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program to Oakland. I was invited to be a mentor for the program by Rhiannon Evans MacFadyen with Emerging Arts Professionals Network. I had no idea what exactly I was committing to, but I jumped at the opportunity to be in community with immigrant artists.
I am not an immigrant artist, so I feel unqualified to be a mentor. My approach is one of peer support and practicing mutual care, aid, and support. Instead of meeting with my mentees one on one, we met together. Over coffee, tea, and cakes, I invited each to share their art, their challenges, and what feedback they were looking for. Together, we shared strategies, tactics, questions, and resources. This cultivated trust and shifted power. Everyone was both the mentor and mentee. We figured things out collectively.
I did the program again in 2019. This time, both my mentees were looking for strategic support in specific areas. One wanted help developing their artist narrative and bio. The other was looking for support in their book project and navigating ethical conundrums as related to university publishing. Their needs and availability dictated a different approach. We met one-on-one, and instead of a mentor, I was more a Creative Coach. I posed questions, transcribed their responses, and summarized what I heard both in words and in deeper meaning.
At the end of the second cohort, we gathered for our final session. There wasn't resources to continue the program. Luckily, I had already been working co-creating virtual, intergenerational, peer-based support programs with the Alliance for Media Arts and Culture, so I offered to co-create some sort of virtual convening for immigrant artists. The only problem being I’m not an immigrant. So I asked if there was any immigrant artist who wanted to co-create something with me.
I was looking at Rupy C. Tut when I asked, and she spoke up. She didn’t have any experience in facilitating a group virtually, but she was willing to take a leap. We set up a date to meet over coffee, tea, and cakes near Rockridge BART in Oakland. That was September 2019.
We couldn’t predict COVID hitting, but because of our efforts in the fall we were ahead of the curve when it came to planning a virtual support system for immigrant artists. We already had three virtual roundtables co-hosted by Luis Valderas (San Antonio, TX), Katya Grokhovsky (NYC, NY), and Shalini Agrawal (Oakland, CA) scheduled. We also were able to hold space for immigrant artists to share their direct needs with each other and the New York Foundation for the Arts. One that emerged was a space to show their work to fulfill residency requirements, whether for visas or for institutions.
Rupy and I responded by co-creating a Virtual Salon on December 2, 2020, sponsored by NYFA and featuring artists Juan Carlos Escobedo, Han Qin, Fernando Vieira, Tanika Williams, and Kiana Honarmand. In the lead up to the salon, we facilitated a workshop on storytelling and another on how to present virtually. We also offered one-on-one coaching for all the presenting artists.
Working with Rupy during this time was crucial for my mental health. My father was dying of mantle cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and I wasn’t able to physically be by his side during the last year of his life. Instead, I had to provide support to him and my family virtually. This required an ability to lay down my guard and be fully present in writing, on video, and on the phone. In essence, I had to break the fourth wall.
Rupy helped me do this. When we first set out in September 2019, Rupy was a bit hesitant about facilitating a group, especially virtually. That hesitation never got in the way of showing up, though. Instead, I watched over the course of just a few sessions Rupy become an excellent online facilitator, one who fostered a deep sense of camaraderie among strangers. Witnessing her growth helped me to grow too. I was able to really be present with my father and not let a screen get in the way. Again, I found myself indebted to immigrants for teaching me how to be in this world.
What Rupy and I co-created over 2019 and 2020 became the foundation upon which we built the Immigrant Artist Network launched in 2021. Now in its second year, the Immigrant Artist Network virtual mutual care, aid, and support for immigrant artists and their comrades. We do this through two main efforts. The first is our Virtual Salons, which are a free, six session offering that provides space for artists to share works-in-progress, ask for feedback, and practice giving feedback to their peers.
After participating in a Virtual Salon, artists are invited to join the Immigrant Artist Network Advisory Group. The Advisory Group meets monthly. During the first hour of our Gathering, an artist leads us either in a creative session or a feedback session. The second hour is set aside for the work of the Advisory Group, namely how we present ourselves online, becoming fiscally sponsored, and planning for Salons. We have 15 immigrant artists and two comrade artists (one being me) in the Advisory Group.
Anyone who shows up to a Gathering is included in decision-making. Additionally, everyone has the chance to lead a creative session or feedback session, facilitate the Advisory Group meeting, or take notes. Our schedule rotates based on the availability of the Lead Artist and Facilitator. This allows different people to be present during the Gatherings. This also helps us continue to distribute the network as wide as possible.
It is an honor to give back a fraction of what has been given to me. What we are co-creating together is more than just a network. It is a lifeline for immigrant artists and their comrades to stand in solidarity with each other and practice mutual care, aid, and support. In a world where the dominating system wants to constantly break us apart, the most radical thing we can do is show up for each other and make stuff together.
If you’d like to be a part of the Immigrant Artist Network, we are currently accepting applications until March 27, 2023, for our Spring 2023 Virtual Salons hosted by Rupy C. Tut and Sindhu Natarajan. Visit our website for more information: www.immigrantartistnetwork.com
If you are in need of some support, I offer Creative Coaching. You can book an Intake Session for only $20. We’ll chat about what you need, want, and desire, and I’ll share a bit about my practice. There’s no pressure to commit, and you will leave feeling heard and seen.