(Left ot right) Lala Caffarone of Aspen Sister Cities, Dr. Leticia Guzman Ingram of Basalt High School and visiting artist and educator Valeria Fiala are among the many individuals involved with “Home” at The Art Base. Photo by Olivia Emmer

On Dec. 9, the public is invited to attend an opening reception for “Home” from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at The Art Base in Basalt.

In a collaborative effort between Basalt High School, The Art Base and Aspen Sister Cities (ASC), the annual art exhibition explores migrant students’ sense of home — past, present and future. This year, the students — who are predominantly from Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador — created “Little Libraries” to be installed around Basalt and stocked with donated Spanish and English language books.

Carefully crafted with bold colors, bright streamers, intricate symbols and flags from around the world, the libraries represent the students’ dream homes and stories.

“I took the theme of their houses that they left and the houses they are in now,” said Valeria Fiala, Aspen Sister Cities visiting artist. “Afterward, we started working with the idea of making their [dream] home. …They are projecting their wishes into that house.”

Fiala, who calls San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina home, has been working with the students since October as part of her time with the ASC Arts and Culture Exchange program. The nonprofit exchanges Roaring Fork Valley and Bariloche artists to teach classes, host talks, showcase their work and interact with locals to strengthen relationships and cultural appreciation through art. In addition to  “Home”, Fiala has been teaching adult art classes and creating her mural “Open Doors” at The Red Brick Center for the Arts in Aspen.

“In 2016, she was here for two weeks as the invited artist for the exchange, and she always said she wanted to come back to teach for longer,” said Lala Caffarone, ASC Bariloche site coordinator. “When The Art Base came up with this amazing proposal for getting an artist from Bariloche to teach this program, the first person who crossed our mind was Valeria. It has been great that she can come back and reconnect.”

A trusting relationship has since formed between the students, Fiala and “Home” co-creators Skye Skinner, executive director at The Art Base, Studio Manager Dana Higbie and Dr. Leticia Guzman Ingram, a mathematics and history teacher for English language learners at Basalt High School. Together, the women have created a safe learning environment for the students to shine, with a dynamic project that combines art, mathematics and language.

Guzman Ingram, 2016 Colorado Teacher of the Year, has dedicated her work to supporting migrant students, and said they flourish when they engage with the community. From City Market scavenger hunts to Thanksgiving dinners with the Aspen Thrift Store, she has created fun and lively interactions for students and community members alike.

Wanting to build upon this momentum, she reached out to The Art Base, which happened to be brainstorming ways to engage with migrant students; and thus, “Home” started to build its foundation.

“We worked together and collaborated to create this project. We knew that kids left their homes, and we wanted to make them feel more comfortable, and not be nervous or scared,” said Dr. Guzman Ingram. Notably, this is the first time many of the students have created art or stepped into a gallery.

“I think they get excited because it’s new and different,” said Guzman Ingram. “I feel like they appreciate school so much more, too, because for all of them, if you hear their stories, having a free education where they can go safely to school is such a huge gift to them.”

According to Fiala, this project evokes a sense of belonging and ownership for the students because they have created a beneficial communal resource that will be maintained and enjoyed for years to come.

“They are having such a good time here, and they are happy because this changed their lives. They are not thinking about what they left. … This is a healing treatment,” said Fiala.

Guzman Ingram emphasized that “Home” encourages people to slow down and listen to another person’s story. She added that our community becomes stronger by breaking through assumptions and stigmas stemming from fear of the unknown.

The “Home” exhibit runs through Dec. 29, and book donations are always welcome. To learn more, visit www.theartbase.org

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