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Claudia Salguero is a Colombian-Canadian professional muralist and multidisciplinary artist who works with multicultural groups in communities at risk. She has created more than 30 community murals in Ottawa, and she has been working in schools through MASC since 2017. In this interview, she talks about the Together-Apart community mural in collaboration with MASC coming soon to Sandy Hill.

MASC: Congratulations on the upcoming launch of your mural! As a community-engaged artist, many of your works involve in-person collaboration, but of course that wasn’t possible this time around with COVID-19. Could you talk about how you adapted your approach to collaboration in creating this new work?

When the pandemic started, my projects came to a full stop. But I wanted to feel useful to the community, so I got busy on three projects: I offered a free online “mini-mural family creation” workshop; I organized a fundraising campaign to send art kits to 210 isolated families in Overbrook and Lowertown; and I volunteered in the creation of an ART ApART community mural with Ottawa Community Housing.

More recently through MASC I developed a mural project entitled Together-Apart. There were 32 families chosen by Sandy Hill Community Health Centre to participate based on their degree of isolation. I recorded a video giving instructions on how families could contribute to this mural. The participating families were sent paint, brushes and paints, and then they painted their pieces on canvases that were sent back to me. I assembled the canvases and painted butterflies and branches of trees on top. The final piece is an 8×4 feet aluminum print and will be on display in Sandy Hill.

2019 mural at Viscount Alexander Public School. Photo courtesy of MASC.

What have you learned about the potential for collaboration under these restrictive circumstances? What do you imagine could be the possibilities with regards to national and international collaboration?

This project shows how a community can come together to create something beautiful even in challenging situations. Having the participation of 32 families was a great achievement in the current circumstances.

I feel that despite the restrictions we can engage in community projects with artists in different disciplines at the local, national or international level. We just need to explore opportunities, be creative, look for the right partners and act.

Another recent mural of yours, MARIPOSAS, also features butterflies, and you’ve described it as “a mural dedicated to transformation, resilience, patience and freedom from fear and judgment.” Why is this message especially important to you right now?

These days, I have seen discussions judging people for how they’re dealing with the pandemic. I think we need to be more respectful and compassionate. This judgment of each other creates even more distance between us than the physical distance that is required. My mural invites freedom of fear from each other. One thing is to be afraid of the pandemic but being afraid of each other is a very different thing. The pandemic may be limiting our interactions, but I am the one who decides whether I am a prisoner or not.

I’m working on another mural for an Ottawa Community Housing high-rise building in Ottawa. It will be as tall as my big butterfly mural, Transformation, on Rideau Street. This new mural called Wisdom, is inspired by the wisdom of Indigenous peoples and their connection to Mother Earth. I will create this mural in collaboration with Ottawa-based Algonquin, Inuit, Métis and World-Indigenous knowledge keepers, together with volunteers from our community. Through my community partners, South East Community Resource Centre and Catholic Centre for Immigrants, I have been awarded grants from the City of Ottawa and Ottawa Community Foundation and I am raising additional funds through a Gofundme campaign.

Together Apart mural in progress. Photo courtesy of MASC.

As a member of MASC, what do you gain through offering your workshops in schools and in the community?

Being a community-engaged artist changed my life. Seven years ago, I was a struggling digital artist. I was then invited to work with youth in a community project and I realized: this is why I am an artist. I gave myself to this cause and I have been busy ever since. Now my main worry is, “how can I be there for others?”

Shortly afterwards, I applied to MASC and became part of a creative family. MASC is a source of inspiration, support and opportunities. Being a MASC artist opens doors, gives you exposure, experience, and the ability to grow working in different areas in the community.

Why do you think it’s important for our local community to have access to professional artists?

Artists stimulate interaction, dialogue and creativity. We help build a sense of belonging and empowerment. We become part of the community. Especially when the same artists go back to work with the same community. They get to know you. They think, “MASC is here for us.” One project is great, but the second and third projects are even better. When you come back, it builds their confidence and they are capable of doing more. They are able to take risks.

In addition to being a visual artist, you are also a musician. You’ve been raising funds for kids’ foundations in your home country Colombia through annual sold-out concerts at the National Arts Centre since 2011. What responsibility do you feel you have to the international community? And what role can other Ottawa artists and Canadian artists play?

Being an artist is a big responsibility. We know the great impact of art in the community and that is why we need to continue to work even during difficult moments like the pandemic.

As a singer, through my Latin-Folk-Jazz concerts at the NAC, I have been able to send funds for ten years to a community house in Bogotá. Not this year, as my concert was cancelled. Singing is a gift: I need to keep that going. Every dollar I send is a huge amount for them in Bogotá. I hope to be able to do it again soon.

As artists we can teach, raise money, and inspire. Artists can find creativity in any situation. There are always ways. My free online workshop is still on YouTube. Many families have participated in it during the pandemic. So when MASC said they wanted to offer online programming, I was ready!

I invite everyone to open their eyes and see what’s possible.