Meet four local arts leaders giving a voice to underrepresented communities

Bayou Bay and Leslie Barlow
Artists Bayou Bay and Leslie Barlow at Affirmation Space and Public Functionary.
Danelle Cloutier | MPR News

Art is a wide-ranging world from food to community spaces and paintings on a wall.  

MPR arts reporter Jacob Aloi visited the studios of local arts leaders whose work is centered around diverse experiences and voices that more accurately reflect the people who live in the Twin Cities. 


  • Bayou Bay is an installation artist and muralist with Creatives After Curfew, a group of BIPOC and queer artists and allies who create murals to soothe, remember, build and imagine a future rooted in justice and liberation. Their installation called Affirmation Space at the Northrup King Building in Public Functionary opens Feb. 4. @creativesaftercurfew

  • Leslie Barlow is an oil painter and muralist with Creatives After Curfew. She leads Public Functionary, an artist-led space in the Northrup King Building. The group runs PF Studios, a program that supports BIPOC and marginalized artists. @pfunctionary @pfstudios.mpls

  • Alec Fischer is a documentary filmmaker and runs Fischr Media. His latest project is called COVID Confessions — a video series that focuses on how the pandemic affected hundreds of workers in the Midwest.  

  • Valéria Piccoli is the first-ever curator of Latin American Art at the Minneapolis Institute of Art and she’s the chair of the arts of the Americas.

Here are some key moments from the conversation.

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The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity. Click the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

‘Affirmation Space’ and ‘Public Functionary’ emphasize building community. What role does the community play in all of it?

Bayou Bay: As someone that's a little bit introverted, it gave me a space where I could feel safe to not only experience blackness outside of my home, but at a time when there's been so much violence and harm done to Black folks in the last 10 years. I feel like art and community gave me multiple spaces where I can express myself, feel liberation inside of my body, and create art that is not only healing for myself but also healing for others. The more community spaces we have, the more spaces we have to combat all of the trauma that our systems inflict on us on a daily basis.

Leslie Barlow: Community is everything. As an artist, I find that the stronger your community is the more likely you're going to stay committed to your practice. It's so important to me to have a community that I can be vulnerable with, that I can trust and that I feel supported by. As a person who paints other people, relationships are really important. Whether you're getting to know that person with a painting or through multiple conversations that lead to creating a work of art together.

Why did George Floyd’s killing galvanize the creation of ‘Creatives After Curfew’?

Bayou Bay: It wasn't a moment where we said let's create a collective. It was a moment where we were in trauma, both Leslie and I lived a few blocks from where he was murdered. At the time, during the pandemic, I didn't want to be locked down in my house alone, I wanted to speak truth to power. Police brutality didn't stop with George Floyd. There was Dolal Idd, Winston Smith and Daunte Wright. The way the community came around the Daunte Wright mural was witnessing collective trauma. The mural was kitty corner from Daunte's funeral and I remember a car full of black women out the window saying: “thank you,” and other people saying: “we love you.” That was important.

Leslie Barlow: Sometimes it's hard to talk about how we came together. When we sat together in this park, with artists from that area, there were helicopters circling us. I just remember the sound, we couldn't even hear each other talk because they were so loud. But there was a nexus of things that made that possible: George Floyd's murder, the isolation we were all feeling, and also that we didn't have any work. The pandemic had removed a lot of things from a lot of artists so we wanted to create a space and opportunities for people of color to grieve and process together what was happening.

Bayou Bay and Leslie Barlow in the Affirmation Space portal art piece.
Bayou Bay and Leslie Barlow in the Affirmation Space portal art piece.
Danelle Cloutier | MPR News

Why did you choose to go down the journalism and documentary film path?

Alec Fischer: I spent a lot of time in middle school and high school doing advocacy work for the Safe and Supportive Schools Act that was trying to be passed at the time. Even in college, I did some lobbying work, I worked with a friend to draft legislation to ban conversion therapy, and was doing a lot of meetings with elected officials. I realized that what I was trying to do was change people's perspectives and pass things that were going to protect people in our communities. However, I was angry all the time, so frustrated, because it's such a game to some of these people. I saw that doing more of the film work could change perspectives and be a catalyst for social change in ways that I could not do writing legislation. Plus I had some talent and passion in that area, and I'm also a lot less angry doing it, I feel a lot happier. And I can have really incredible conversations with people that are inspiring to me and empowering to the community I work with and communities I reside in. And so that was a flip for me is going from politics to film was, you know, realizing the impact could be there in a different way that I hadn't realized, originally.

How did you start the process of creating COVID confessions?

Alec Fischer: I had conversations with friends who were in different industries and realized that no one had been doing sit-down interviews on camera with nurses and teachers. There have been a lot of written articles, audio type podcast work, but not sit-down-produced reflections for folks. I brought eight people together and individually filmed them. I thought I would just make a short film that highlighted the nurses’ and teachers' worries. But then I realized there was so much more I could do if I wanted to. A week of filming turned into a month of filming, and after that month, I decided I could stop and edit for two months, to figure out what that looked like. But then I made the decision to challenge myself and see how many stories I could tell in a whole year. Twelve months passed, and I interviewed more than 300 people across 40 industries. Telling Midwestern stories has been on my heart for a couple of years now. When I first started my company four years ago, I realized that there was this huge gap in productions that were focusing on local stories, but bringing them to a national level.

Alec Fischer
Alec Fischer is a documentary filmmaker and owner of Fischr Media.
Danelle Cloutier | MPR News

What is your perspective on the term ‘Latin American Art’?

Valéria Piccoli: It's a very sensitive question because Latin America is a European construction. It speaks to the colonization process, but I think we still lack a proper term to speak about the countries in Central and South America that were colonized by Spain, Portugal, the UK and France. When speaking about Latin America, people always think of Spanish America and they don't consider Brazil, for instance, as part of Latin America, or the Caribbean countries, which have a mix of different traditions. Your question is really tricky. I think we lack a proper term to define Latin America.

Can you explain the overarching themes in Latin American Art and the decolonized perspective you put into your work?

Valéria Piccoli: I think that those overarching themes are really what interests me. To think about how the Americas are at this crossroads, a mix of many different cultures and how we can think about it in relation to African heritage. African people were brought to many countries in the Americas against their will, enslaved, and that had a decisive influence on their culture. To also think about the Americas in relation to Asia, because since colonial times, we have had contact with China, the Philippines, Japan. I think that all those aspects are things that we share and have in common in the Americas. I want to build a collection and a program that showcase artists with African descent, Indigenous artists, I want to insist on women artists and talk more about underrepresented artists that can really bring to the surface the historical questions of colonization, and the historical experience of Latin America. This is a way of having a decolonial, or, or post-colonial approach added to the collection building.

A person poses for a portrait
Portrait of Valeria Piccoli, Curator of Latin American Art and Head of Art of the Americas at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.
Courtesy of Dan Dennehy | Minneapolis Institute of Art

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This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.