Latino art's variety in Minnesota focus of an upcoming book

A man wearing glasses holds a sheet of paper.
Educator and independent art curator William “Billy” G. Franklin talks about his upcoming book "Latin Art in Minnesota," showcasing the work of 12 Latino/Latina Minnesota artists Wednesday.
Nicole Neri for MPR News

Latino art is as diverse as the members of the Latino community itself.

Two years ago, Afton Press approached William Gustavo Franklin Torres about the idea for a book focusing on Latino art in Minnesota. The result is “Latin Art in Minnesota: Conversations and What’s Next,” which will be published in spring 2023.

Afton Press says it will be one of the first books about Latin art from Minnesotans.

The leader of the project isn’t an artist himself. But Franklin has been involved with the arts in one way or another since arriving from Caracas, Venezuela as an international student in 1994.

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He teaches college-level art history and is an independent curator. He has worked with artists to put on shows including “Latino art migration” and “Caravan,” the latter on people who left Central America for the U.S. border.

“And so, they knew of me sort of, and they were just looking for a person who could put a history together,” he said.

A man wearing glasses.
Educator and independent art curator William “Billy” G. Franklin.
Nicole Neri for MPR News

Franklin wasn’t so sure about writing a history of art in the state, but he knew from the larger community of Minnesota Latino artists, he could curate a selection produced by the artists he knew. 

“I feel confident because I have followed them throughout the years,” he said.

The book features 12 artists whose work spans the artistic spectrum. And Franklin also wanted to include established and emerging artists.

He was quick to point out one thing.

“It's a coffee-table book. I'm not writing an encyclopedia about the whole history. It’s actually a book as seen through my lens,” he said.

Franklin wrote the introduction. The rest is based on interviews conducted by 12 people. The interviewers are connected to the Latino movement, such as actor Carlos Carrasco.

“I'm just a conduit — you know, a humble conduit — very emotionally invested in this,” Franklin said.

One of the artists featured in the book is Carmen Gutierrez-Bolger. She’s a painter, who also works extensively in collages.

Initially, she had been asked to be one of the interviewers. But fate had other plans.

“I don't really know how it happened, but I was fortunate enough to be one of the artists that will be featured,” Gutierrez-Bolger said.

The book will be a good introduction to how much variety there is in Latino art, she said. Franklin has a strong vision, which will be reflected in the book, and Gutierrez-Bolger believes it will become a reference for future generations.

“I think this book offers an opportunity — particularly for people that aren't familiar with what it means to be a Latino; the variety of styles, ways of working and cultural differences that we all have is huge and not to lump us all into one space,” she said.

Art has always been a part of her life since coming to the U.S. from Cuba with her family when she was a child.

“When we came from Cuba, we had nothing,” Gutierrez-Bolger said. “One of the things we did for fun was to draw.”

That’s where her love of art began. About 20 years ago, she began using art to tell her story as a refugee and exile.

An artwork.
Educator and independent art curator William "Billy" G. Franklin holds up a book by artist Dougie Padilla while about his own upcoming book Latin Art in Minnesota, showcasing the work of 12 Latino/Latina Minnesota artists, including Padilla, Wednesday.
Nicole Neri for MPR News

Stevie Ada Klaark, director of development for Afton Press, said the book also puts on the map voices not in the mainstream.

“What I’ve seen in the five years that I’ve lived in Minnesota is that there’s a lot of looking in on communities, rather than having the voices come out of the communities. I think that’s what’s exciting about this particular work,” Klaark said.

Vicki Adame covers Minnesota’s Latino communities for MPR News via Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues and communities.