The Blossoming of a Young Leader
The Semilla Center for Healing and the Arts at St. Paul’s invests in youth from an early age. We believe in nurturing the artistic and social vision and energy of youth. From an early age. One of our favorite quotes is from Pablo Picasso: “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once they grow up.”
Angie Barrera is one of those artists who was nurtured by Semilla. We met her over a decade ago when she came with her mother to help at La Natividad, a performance that St. Paul’s co-produces with In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater. She was polite and helpful but didn’t say much, until I asked her to be one of the “neighbors” that night. That year, the children who were neighbors wore crowns that looked like poinsettias. She dashed up the stairs to show her costume to her mother, with such joy and brightness in her eyes. We said, This child is special, and she has confirmed that over and over again.
Angie recently graduated with an Associate in Arts degree in Art from Normandale College. But her “career” started much earlier.
In our Young Leaders Program, youth 11-15 learn from professional artists in mosaics, murals, photography and poetry. We were so impressed with Angie, that we “snuck” her into the program just before she turned 11. She engaged with the other youth and the staff mentors, and showed great talent in our mural program. At that point, Phillips was being hit hard by gang graffiti, and we started a program called Guerilla Garages, where we painted bright murals with multicultural themes on garages and other buildings that had been tagged. In one two year period, we completed over a dozen of these murals, which helped transform our neighborhood.
Angie learned so well, that we picked her to be the lead artist for a mural when she was 13! With the guidance of a staff member, she led a group of youth to design and paint a mural that still shines in the neighborhood. That building has not been hit by graffiti since.
She has shared that it wasn’t always easy for her. “I was very shy as a young person, and anxious about speaking in front of people, or leading a group. Young Leaders helped me gain confidence, and a sense that I could contribute to my community.”
And she has! First as a volunteer, and then as staff, she has worked with the after school program at the Windom Dual Language Immersion School. She has been a part of productions at In the Heart of the Beast, and plans to continue her studies in art and communication. And this summer and fall, Angie has been one of our Semilla artists!
“Doing art as a young person helped me to express myself and relate to my community,” she says. “I want to help others see that art isn’t just about being the perfect drawer or painter, but about expressing yourself and connecting with others.”
Angie’s art will be on display at our Taste of Phillips Art Festival in the fall. But we couldn’t resist including this photo of her days as a young leader “back in the day”.