Worcester artist BrujaTheVillain, says “it took me 25 years to develop my style.”
As such, Bruja has had an independent outlook as a self-taught interdisciplinary artist, activist and mentor who works in film, visual arts and spoken word poetry. Their works of art and live performances have been featured and received honors from numerous venues and art galleries across New England and New York. An exhibition last summer at the Worcester PopUp, “The Baggage Claim,” proved to be a success, they said.
“I’d say I’ve paid my dues.”
Still, “I do have to sit down and look at my bills and budget how I am going to survive the month,” they said.
So Bruja decided to participate in the first Business of Art Cohort funded by the Greater Worcester Community Foundation’s Creative Worcester Initiative in partnership with the Barr Foundation.
“I’m not really the kind of person that goes out and seeks help, but a lot has changed. Some friends encouraged me to try it, and lo and behold, I’m a member of the cohort,” Bruja said.
Twelve artists are taking part in the financial wellness and sustainability program for Worcester artists of color who identify as low-to-moderate income. Facilitated with the help of MASS MoCA’s Assets for Artists, the “capacity-building program” pairs $1,000 mini-grants with one-on-one coaching, artist community-building, and a series of online financial and business resiliency workshops specifically focused on navigating a post-COVID cultural sector. All program components are linked through a core commitment to racial equity.
“I believe I am getting a lot out of being a member of the cohort,” Bruja said. “We’re becoming more of a team. More like an art collective. Even if it’s just basic information, we have each other — support from other like-minded artists like myself.”
Assets for Artists has offered similar programs in other communities, but this is the first Business of Art Cohort in Worcester, said Lindiana Semidei, GWCF Creative Worcester Initiative program officer.
Twelve artists were chosen out of 18 applicants, and after orientation in December, workshops got underway in January.
Semidei has seen what Bruja was talking of concerning the artists becoming their own team.
“I have been attending the workshops. To see the artists get to know each other — I could see these collaborations forming. It’s interesting to see these connections happen. It’s just been this wonderful organic thing that happens when you put talented artists with different abilities in one space with each other. And it’s a virtual space. Imagine what it would be like in an actual space,” Semidei said.
One artist might comment that they need a head and shoulders photograph. Another artist will say they’re a photographer and offer to help, Semidei noted.
Bruja “is such a fascinating artist and truly shows up to all the workshops and contributes in such amazing ways,” she said.
Besides Bruja, the Business of Art Cohort artists are:
George Annan, a documentary lifestyle photographer who specializes in editorial and environmental portraits along with photojournalism
Christine Brown, a multidisciplinary artist who works with textiles, paint, and digital/graphic media
Vanessa Calixto, a visual artist who focuses on illustration work using mixed media and is also the founder and creative director of El Salón
Emmanuel Carboo/Q Demi god, a self-taught artist and clothing designer who created a brand called Wavvz
Julian Cintrón-Pabón, a multidisciplinary artist
William Gardiner, a professional portrait photographer who also engages with the world through his photography
Yasmin Goris, a mixed media and abstract artist whose work focuses on bold patterns and fluid images inspired by nature and landscapes
Geoffrey Killebrew, a musician, entrepreneur and community organizer dedicated to showcasing Worcester’s diversity and creativity
Jenkins Macedo, a self-taught abstract artist who paints vivid works in acrylic and oil and is the founder of Ava’s Artistry Studio
John Vo, a working artist who paints to connect to people, and who aims to make art accessible
Grhimm Xavier, a self-taught multi-disciplinary artist focusing on digital illustrations, graphic design, traditional painting, event curation, mural design and installation.
At least some — if not all — of the names will likely be familiar to people who follow the arts scene here.
The one-on-one coaching in the Business of Art Cohort is to “develop a business plan or launch some kind of program,” Semidei said.
The online workshops have also been open to other artists, but members of the Business of Art Cohort have priority. Workshop topics have included marketing, business strategies, taxes and fostering relationships with galleries and museums.
“Individual artists and creatives are natural entrepreneurs, and they play a vital role in Worcester’s arts and culture ecosystem,” said Semidei.
“However, many artists aren’t given the proper tools and resources to learn how to produce a business for profit from their creative ideas through traditional entrepreneurship programs. We also know that Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) are under-served in the arts community. Through GWCF’s The Business of Art cohort, we plan to invest in and support the amazing work that’s already happening in the creative community and give artists the building blocks for economic self-sufficiency,” Semidei said.
Julian Cintrón-Pabón grew up in Main South and said he received a scholarship from the Greater Worcester Community Foundation when he was a student. He earned his BFA in animation and interrelated media from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. “My work juggles a few different mediums,” he said. He is also a member of the Worcester skateboarding community.
About eight years on from his GWCF scholarship, “I have done a lot of focus on the creative work, now it’s time to delve into the business side and make it sustainable,” he said of his participation in the GWCF Business of Art Cohort.
The taxes workshop had valuable information, “because I consider myself financially illiterate still.” The mini-grant was also helpful, he said.
“It’s been going well so far. It’s really great to have this opportunity in my emerging still young art career.”
Cintrón-Pabón’s business plan is to grow a design house.
“The workshops have been amazing. We’re able to talk about things in a structured but open way. Once you’re there you feel really great because there are people you know. It makes my city feel smaller in a really good way,” he said.
Cintrón-Pabón said he’s watched as “Worcester has been a budding city. Now I want to be part of that.”
John Vo said the last couple of years “things went on a standstill” with COVID.
“The cohort has been connecting us to more community. It’s been going really well. Speaking to other artists who have sustainability and one-on-one time to ask questions,” Vo said.
Vo, whose parents are Vietnamese refugees, went on a Fulbright fellowship to Vietnam and also lived in Boston before returning to Worcester in 2015.
“I am a working artist. I make my living off of doing art,” they said.
With that, subjects in workshops such as taxes and relationships with museums were “a lot of things I had bits and pieces of but it was clearer speaking to someone who is a part of that world,” Vo said.
Vo is developing a two-year plan that includes completing a graphic novel, touring with the novel, and having more of a studio space in Worcester.
With the current art scene in Worcester, “What excites me is there’s much more community involvement and engagement. It gives more space for younger artists to come in, so I am hopeful,” Vo said.
Bruja is originally from Puerto Rico and lived in New Jersey before coming to Worcester.
“I’m actually a downtown Worcester kid,” they said. “When I was a kid there was no place to go.”
Now the art scene here is “definitely better. I feel like art has saved the city in my opinion,” they said.
By the same token, “I am a full-time artist. I do ask to get paid with every job I do.”
Meanwhile, “I feel like COVID has humbled us in many ways. The business aspect is not as uptight as before. It’s caused people to be appreciative of each other more,” they said.
In the Business of Art Cohort, “it just feels good to work with people on the same level with you.”
As an artist in Worcester these days, “it feels great to step out and see the murals. I think it’s fantastic. For me its a dream come true.”
The Business of Art Cohort workshops have been finishing up, but artists can have up to two years to finish their business plans with continued support from their one-on-one coach, Semidei said.
Bruja said the artists in the cohort will be staying closely connected with each other.
“I think it’s gonna end up continuing with a professional relationship with other members of the cohort. So for me, I don’t see an end,” they said.
The artists will have some new potential colleagues.
There will be a second GWCF Business of Art Cohort for 2022, Semidei said.
For more information on GWCF and its programs visit www.greaterworcester.org.