New to Basalt, Salvadorean teen immigrants find community at the Art Base |

New to Basalt, Salvadorean teen immigrants find community at the Art Base

Andrew Travers


What: “Home,’ presented by the Art Base

Where: The Art Base, Basalt

When: Opening reception Friday, Nov. 15, 5-7 p.m. Exhibition runs through Dec. 19

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As they’ve settled in Basalt this fall, a group of 15 teenage immigrants from El Salvador have found a home at the Art Base.

The Basalt High School students, all of them new to speaking English, are making the nonprofit art center’s annual “Home” exhibition in its third iteration. Now in its third year, the program — a collaboration with Basalt High School — is an innovative effort to welcome these newcomers and build bridges between the midvalley’s Spanish- and English-speaking residents.

The students are working with Carbondale-based muralist Valerie Rose on the project, which will be unveiled to the public Friday, Nov. 15. She wanted the newcomers to make artwork that would go beyond Art Base’s gallery and integrate into the community, much like these newcomers are. So their work will adorn the ubiquitous Aspen Times newspaper boxes throughout Basalt and El Jebel.

For most of the students — who range in age from 14 to 18 — this is the first art class they’ve ever taken, so the majority of the art-making in the three years of this program have focused on the basics of form, line and color. Rose has asked the students to use color itself as a form of self-portrait in this year’s work, teaching students about symbolism and color studies. She photographed portraits of each of the students, on which they are making color treatments.

In keeping with the newspaper box project, each student has written — in both English and Spanish — a short biography about themselves, displayed on the walls of the gallery in mock newspaper pages. They sketch out the family who these young people have left behind and what they miss about their homes along with their hopes for a better life in Colorado.

Many refer to their parents’ deaths and their hope to find a better life in Basalt. Others talk about their jobs in the resort service sector in Aspen — which come in addition to their schoolwork — and most say they miss the food in El Salvador. They write of anticipating snow, of liking school here and new friends here, but also of missing parents and siblings who are dead or back in El Salvador.

“I miss my mother; I miss my brothers so much. I miss playing with them. I miss the crazy corn and pupusas,” writes Maria. “I miss my grandmother and uncles. I miss my whole family.”

Jose writes of getting news that his grandfather had died shortly after arriving here: “I was trying to ignore it but it is very difficult for my mother and father.”

Gerson, who is living with his older brother, writes, “I left for a better future for my family. Right now I have a job but I am happy that my family is well.”

“I had tears in my eyes as I read the biographies,” Art Base director Genna Moe said. “I am so proud of them and so moved.”

All of these students immigrated into the U.S. in recent months, most of them as unaccompanied minors, passing through the border detention centers that have drawn much media attention this year and then permitted to settle in the Roaring Fork Valley because they had relatives here.

They’re now enrolled in the English Language Development program at Basalt High School, led by Leticia Guzman Ingram, whose innovative work with Spanish-speaking students earned her the 2016 Colorado Teacher of the Year award.

In each iteration since 2017, “Home” has been embraced by the midvalley’s Spanish- and English-speaking residents. The shows have incorporated community participation. This year’s includes prompts on a gallery wall, which viewers are encouraged to respond to with chalk.

Immigration and the southern border, of course, are a hot-button political issue nationally. But for Basalt, where 60% of students speak English as a second language, and for the Art Base, this exhibition isn’t about politics.

“This isn’t our stance on immigration,” Moe said. “This is our stance on making sure that everyone here in Basalt has access to art to improve their lives.”