Galería Casa Cultura Shines A Light on the Artistry Of Trenton’s Latino Community

November 2017 marks the two-year anniversary of Galería Casa Cultura, an intriguing establishment on Broad Street in Trenton that houses an amazing exchange of art and ideas from the Latino community in the city. Founded by Sam Kanig, Josue Lora, Dave Palacios, and Peter Rodriguez, the gallery has played host to exciting art exhibits, live music performances, and more, and has morphed into a hub for the Latino community to discuss social issues.

We recently caught up with Kanig, who's name you might remember from the newspapers earlier this year when a dispute over a mural of the Puerto Rican flag he painted turned racist, to get a brief history of Casa Cultura, how the gallery (and the community) reacted to the tragedy in Puerto Rico during Hurricane Maria, and what we can expect from the space during Art All Day 2017.

Growing up in Trenton, it's easy to recognize how massive the Latin community is in the city, and yet it was only until a few years ago that Casa Cultura became the first Latin art gallery in Trenton. What do you think took so long for something as important as this space to happen?
Being part of the Latino community, I was always exposed to the arts and the music that was always present but sort of hidden in our community. Later, meeting Josue Peter and Dave had a huge impact in shaping the idea of Casa Cultura because we all possessed talents that we wanted to share with the world. At the same time, we knew that there had to be more people like us who never had their opportunity to share their work. Casa Cultura became a place where we could empower Latinos to recognize that they have a place in the arts community. Later on, after doing her solo exhibit, Tamara Torres joined the team and brought with her a passion that coincided very well with Casa Cultura’s mission. Since then she has had an active role in our endeavors.

When it came to music, the city of Trenton is home to some of the most amazing musicians in the East Coast, but very rarely do they have an opportunity to show it off in their home town. We wanted it to be a venue where they are able to bring their talents to their home. When we talk about the visual artist, there were already some names that were very well known in the area. Others, who never even taught of themselves as artists, began to visit us and we made them aware that there is a space for them to work on their craft and build on their talents. Casa Cultura naturally became a place of empowerment for artists.

Talk about Casa Cultura's growth over the last few years; it feels like it's never just been an art gallery. Was it always open for more discussions and social activity?
Over the last few years Casa Cultura has found a place in our community. Not only in the art scene but also in civic engagement. We have done a number of exhibits as well as many musical events but we have also taken every opportunity to engage in social issues we feel are important in our community. From immigration rallies to local politics to providing services to people in need, it has always been in our hearts to be a part of our community. The key has always been to use our collective creativity and skills to bring awareness in a manner that would catch the attention of our community but very specifically, our youth. Casa Cultura has, since its beginning, partnered with many different grassroots, community organizations, and non-profits. This will always continue to be part of our mission.

It's been a rough year for Puerto Rico, primarily with the horrific damage done by Hurricane Maria. I'd seen members of Casa Cultura stepping in early to organize funds and supplies to send to those in need. How important was it for Casa Cultura to step in like that?
Casa Cultura’s members come from many different places in Latin America. I represent Puerto Rico, where I grew up most of my life, and I naturally felt a responsibility to help. I immediately organized a community meeting to discuss the aide and relief efforts the day prior to Hurricane Maria hitting the island. A category 5 hurricane was heading in a direct path to Puerto Rico, and we just knew that we could not wait to begin organizing and creating a plan that we could execute right away. This effort was echoed throughout the entire community with many organizations and individuals joining together to become part of a huge movement that has already sent thousands of pounds in donations such as water, food, and other basic necessities. Along with the Puerto Rican Civic Association, a monetary fund has been established. The funds collected will be sent directly to organizations in the island who are providing on-the-ground support. Casa Cultura is proud to be a part of this incredible display of love and support to Puerto Rico. We are just one of many organizations and community members who have selflessly and tirelessly given their all for that beautiful island.

Will the events of Hurricane Maria and other issues to the Latin community become a part of what Casa Cultura will be showing at Art All Day 2017? Can you talk about what people will experience when they hit the studio on Art All Day 2017?
Inspired by the resilience that we have witnessed from the people in Puerto Rico over the last few weeks, we felt the need to do a tribute to the island and everything that they have been going through. Not necessarily focusing on the tragedy, but more so celebrating what makes us Boricuas which is our culture and traditions. In this exhibit, you will find artists such as Tamara Torres, Berto Cintron, Leticia Acevedo, Jazmin Jones, Orlando Vargas and Jossue ‘El Indio’ Ramos. Each of these artists have a very particular style that reflects their Puerto Rican roots. As part of the events for Art All Day, four of these artists will be doing live painting inspired by the resilience of our people and the fight to rise again. Also, a special wall is being curated by Tamara Torres. This wall will feature prints and original art from local and regional artists from all backgrounds. These artists have very generously donated their art to be part of a fundraiser that will support Casa Cultura’s upcoming projects in the island. The prices of the art will range between $40-$60 and 100% of the proceeds will be sent to Puerto Rico. Casa Cultura is committed to being part of the long term recovery in the island.

Can you give any insight on what will be going down at Casa Cultura in the near future?
In the upcoming months, Casa Cultura will be hosting events in different locations throughout the city. There will be visual art that will include solo and group exhibits by amazing artists from diverse Latino backgrounds. We will also feature musicians with very unique sounds and an ability to set the tone for what is sure to be a memorable event. One of our main missions has always been to share our Latino roots to the rest of the world and also exposing our Latino community to other cultures, as this is what brings us together.

Casa Cultura is located at 222 S. Broad Street in Trenton; find out more about them via their Facebook page, and be sure to stop by during Art All Day 2017!