For creative entrepreneur Tara Sherry-Torres, Pittsburgh was the perfect place to situate Café Con Leche — an art project drawing on her Latino roots.
That might seem counterintuitive. After all, Pittsburgh’s Latino community is among the smallest of any major U.S. city.
“Diversity [here] is pretty passive,” says Sherry-Torres, a Brooklyn native who moved here in 2008 to complete her master’s degree in social work at the University of Pittsburgh.
But the city has a flourishing arts community, and Sherry-Torres saw room to grow. Her finesse for community organizing — and her passion for her Puerto Rican heritage — led her to establish Café Con Leche (“coffee with milk”), a pop-up initiative that celebrates Latino culture.
Last year, she extended its scope to include Latinos worldwide when she received a Heinz Endowments Small Arts Initiative Grant to fund a Latino artist residency. Garfield’s Most Wanted Fine Art Gallery hosts the residency, with new artists monthly through August. The current guests are Nicole Oliveri and Greg Garay.
Oliveri, a Puerto Rican painter recently relocated to Delmont, infuses love of her heritage into her artwork, a whirlwind of color set against equally rich political subtexts.
“The news loves to portray the violence in Puerto Rico,” she says. “But I want to show it’s actually beautiful.”
Oliveri, 25, describes military tanks left on the Puerto Rican coast that the community has reclaimed with graffiti. In “Surreal perspective of the island’s beauty,” she depicts a tree’s roots stretching toward a similar tank beneath a beacon of light.
Greg Garay, a Panamanian-American from Brooklyn, uses his artwork to portray mood, hinging on the theme of memory. His style borrows from illustration, cartooning and digital painting.
The residency highlights Garay’s double alienation as a black man and a Latino.
“I’m usually just identified as black,” he says. “This brings a lot to that diaspora, to show just how buried Latinos are.”
“What’s interesting about being Latino in Pittsburgh is that I’m not [considered] Latino. It’s like invisibility,” he says.
Artists like Oliveri and Garay seek to widen creative opportunities for Latinos in Pittsburgh.
Sherry-Torres, whose work has been recognized with a Pittsburgh Magazine “40 Under 40” designation, says more is to come. “Latinos in the creative space are really on fire right now,” she says.