An Interview With Regina Martinez, 2017 Visionary Awards Community Impact Artist Recipient
Regina Martinez was first given the keys to the Pink House in Pagedale five and a half years ago without any specific instructions, a formalized mission statement or even a staff. But she did have a sincere willingness to stay invested in the project for as long as it would last, eventually witnessing the Pink House evolve into a neighborhood haven of creativity and community.
Through a partnership between The Rebuild Foundation, a nonprofit based in Chicago, and St. Louis’ own Beyond Housing, Martinez organized arts-related programming, workshops and activities for the neighborhood’s residents, frequently bringing in well-known local teaching artists to lend their expertise. The Pink House, described by one Pagedale neighbor as “this spider web that caught all the beautiful things,” helped sprout the creative opportunities and collaborations that became the hallmark of the little pink cottage on Salerno Drive, helmed by this year’s Community Impact Artist.
Though the Pink House was forced to close its doors in December of 2016, Martinez’s commitment to the arts in St. Louis has remained steadfast. Her bachelor’s degree in photojournalism and experience with photography recently inspired a collaboration with the Pulitzer Arts Foundation, where she’ll be teaching a multi-week series of photography workshops with youth in Pagedale later this spring. Martinez is also a member of Yeyo Arts Collective, a graduate of the Regional Arts Commission’s Community Arts Training Institute and co-founder of “The clothesline,” a one-night-only collaborative audio and visual showcase event that takes place once a month at Blank Space on Cherokee Street.
What was your first reaction to finding out that you were a 2017 Visionary Awards recipient?
I was sitting in my car in the driveway of the Pink House, and it was about a month after it had been decided that the Pink House would close. So it was a paradoxical joy, because of the timing.
Can you tell us a little more about the Pink House? What was your mission for the space, and what kind of work did you do there?
When I first started going there, we were just calling it the Salerno House, based on the street address. It’s this salmon-colored cottage that’s been in that neighborhood for 50-plus years. The people who live in that area referred to it affectionately as “the pink house,” so that stuck, formally.
It started out as meeting and making with the people who were present. It was organic. We were kind of on our own little island. And even as the dust is settling, I’m still processing and reflecting on the experience of being graced with so much wisdom from the children, from their families and from the elders who kept showing up to have conversations.
We learned so much about the subtle alchemy of having a room where there’s just opportunity for limitless encounters. Whether that be with a material, another person, another idea, another culture, another language, another smell or another way of seeing. We were having these seasonal creative exchanges with three to four artists across the St. Louis region, and we were learning a lot about how relationships form. It encouraged us to take risks and increase opportunities, from going to a new place, to connecting with a new person, to getting to know your neighbors. It was all experienced in this little house.
What’s your vision for the future of community-based arts programming and opportunities in St. Louis?
When I think about community-based arts movements, one of the things that I have a vision for is commitment. I think that’s one of the key characteristics of something that’s community-based; it’s based in time and relationships. You can’t be replaced in a relationship. And that’s what I always knew. Like, if I had decided to leave Pink House before the decision was made above me, it might’ve still been called The Pink House but it would’ve operated differently because that’s just the reality of individuality in the context of community.
Can you tell us a little more about “The clothesline”? Where did the idea come from, and why does the monthly event only last for one night?
“The clothesline,” for me, is so much about vulnerability and connection. It really was conceived between April Fulstone—DJ Agile One—and myself, two and a half years ago. And it was really just about creating something that we’d want to attend. To create something that is there and then isn’t—which speaks to detachment and the one night only. We’re still working through the true nature of it, because in our original conception, it was a very gritty intersection between a visual component and a sound or musical component. But regardless of that, it’s always been so wonderful. Every one is so different, and every one brings out so many different people. It’s an expansion of a constellation of creative thinking in St. Louis. It’s a learning process, but it’s so rewarding to experience and to be a part of cultivating. And Angelina Fasano—I trust deeply in her aesthetic intuition, and the three of us work together on “The clothesline.” April and I had an initial conversation, but before we even had our first event, we knew that we were missing someone who had a lot more experience with tangible visual work. So Angelina became a part of it at the beginning as well.
What advice do you have for artists who want to learn how to better serve, support and impact their communities?
I think my advice would largely be around patience. One of the most challenging things about being present at the Pink House was that Beyond Housing and The Rebuild Foundation wanted to hurry and see some arts-engaged thing happening. But I don’t think that the rhythm of the Pink House would’ve been as interesting if it would’ve just been me sitting in my car, dreaming it up. It wouldn’t have been as relevant if it would’ve just been me drawing up the constellation for people to experience. It’s more interesting to be patient, to lay out all the dots. And then the real skillset becomes knowing when to connect them. Sometimes it’s not intuitive to be patient for that because you feel like you just want to deliver something. But the delivery is in the patience. That’s an intricate process, and collaboration is a critical skill.
The Visionary Awards celebrate the contributions, specifically, of women in St. Louis. Who are the women who inspire you?
Frida Kahlo, eternally, because in my mind, she led with an insatiable emotion—which is a risk, especially as a woman. And she also had this playfulness, this humility and this betrayal all through her life. My mom. And locally in St. Louis, there are so many people with whom I’ve had this sort of exchange of witnessing each other’s process as thinking partners: Dail Chambers, Amanda Colon-Smith, Tru Lawson, Carly Ann Faye—who’s a photographer, and who was really present at the Pink House for the last two years. Kat Reynolds, because she also leads with emotion. April Fulstone and Angelina Fasano, who co-founded “The clothesline” with me in 2014. And some of my elder friends that I met through the Pink House process, Is’Mima Nebt’Kata and Cyndi Redmond-Jenkins, who were patient and shared their presence and wisdom with me in a way that has fulfilled so many of my own curiosities and insecurities.
What’s next for you? What are you working on right now?
Over the last five and a half years, I’ve developed a skillset that feels so intangible. Which is why I think where I’m going next is going to have to be more tangible, just for some semblance of balancing out for me. Now, because I’ve had this really intense experience inside of human dynamics, I think I would like to get lost in materials for a while. And writing. I’m in a moment where the rug has been pulled out from under me, and I have this pivotal space right now to write about what I’ve been learning, and to develop whatever that is into what’s next.
The 2017 Visionary Awards will be 6pm Monday, April 24 at the Sun Theater. Feature image courtesy of the clothesline 314.