“When I look at the banners, I feel very proud,” artist Shey Rivera Ríos begins. “I feel like our community can see these images and hopefully feel proud too, and celebrate our strength and resilience.” Ríos is referring to Mi Gente Siempre Responde (My People Always Respond), a public art project consisting of seven large banners by local artists installed on buildings around Providence selected for their importance to the Latinx community.
The project evolved from a conversation when Tony Méndez of radio station PODER 1110 reached out to Ríos, well-known for specializing in arts management, looking for some way to show appreciation and recognize the Latinx healthcare and frontline workers helping to manage the COVID-19 crisis in Rhode Island. “Tony and I talked through the idea, and involved local poet/artist Sussy Santana. We decided to start with an initial artwork that I made to celebrate Sussy’s sister Helen Santana, who’s been a certified nursing assistant for 16 years.”
Next, the group posted a Call for Artists, received work, and reviewed pieces by committee with an aim to showcase a broad range of talent. “We held a virtual meeting for all the artists to come together and with our partners including The City of Providence and the Department of Art, Culture + Tourism,” says Ríos. Throughout a span of several months, locations for the banners were chosen, working with advice and support from Mayor Elorza’s Latinx Task Force for COVID-19 Response, and other community leaders.
One of the artists is Atabey Sánchez-Haiman, known for her graphic style and cheerful but limited palette of red and yellow. Sánchez-Haiman’s effective work of someone pushing a broom with the word “gracias” repeated now brightens the brick at One Neighborhood Builders at
66 Chaffee Street. “It is great being part of a project that represents my community and recognizes the hard work of those that are helping to keep everyone safe during this difficult time. I chose to thank janitors in my piece because without them hospitals can’t function effectively and I feel that their indispensable work too often goes unrecognized. I wanted to make them visible.”
The project has recently been extended to include 250 large-scale posters throughout the city, a bilingual coloring book, and video interviews of the artists that will be available on the Art, Culture + Tourism website.
“Latinx people are often depicted as negative stereotypes and that needs to stop because it only perpetuates racism and anti-immigrant narratives in this country. Latinx people are hard-working people, strong and wise, with very grounded values of family and community. We make great contributions in this country. We need more positive representations of who we are, and how diverse we are,” Ríos says. “I see these public art banners as temporary monuments. A big thank you to the people who risk their lives every day for all of us to be safe.”