Behind the Scenes at the DAM

CelebrARTE and Carnaval: Reveling in Art, Heritage, and Community

For many of us, it may seem like the time of year to settle in and relax after all of the winter celebrations. However, in many Latin American countries, the fiestas continue for another month. Christmastime celebrations continue with Día de los Reyes Magos on January 6 with more parties, parades, and food. Not long after those celebrations finish, many Latin communities are deep into preparations for Carnaval, better known in the United States as Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday. It is in the spirit of this famous festival that Denver Art Museum's monthly bilingual artmaking event CelebrARTE kicks off 2013 on January 20 with a full roster of fun and activities that celebrate art, heritage, and community.

Historically, Carnaval and Mardi Gras were for reveling in the indulgences before a season of fasting and spirituality. For many Brazilians, Carnaval is the celebration of the history and culture that developed uniquely within their nation. Brazilian Carnaval is a complex mixture of ancient European religious festivals, indigenous beliefs and dress based on the Amazonian environment, and West African rhythm, dance, and spiritual expressions. Over the past 150 years Rio de Janeiro’s Carnaval has developed into an opportunity for neighborhoods to showcase their unique identity (represented by samba schools) within the larger community, while at the same time giving artistic training to often underserved community members. When you see samba schools parade through the streets during Rio’s Carnaval, it is a demonstration of a neighborhood working together to teach, learn, and create. 

Children perform with their samba school during Rio's Carnaval. Courtesy brazilinhotpants.wordpress.com.

Like Carnaval, CelebrARTE is a celebration of the richness and complexity that make up Latino heritages within Denver. In creating CelebrARTE, I was inspired by the way we learn in Latino families and communities. Knowledge and learning is shared and passed between generations. Youth respect and learn from the experience of the veteranos, and these wizened individuals are constantly inspired by the energy of the jovenes. Between the two, adults play a leadership role. This method of learning is especially true in artistic training, and this is manifested in the traditions of the samba schools, and in CelebrARTE’s master-artist workshop, the Taller.  Every month, we make a point of showcasing the incredible artistic talent that we find throughout our city. On a much larger scale, Carnaval parades do the same with a mix of the visual arts, design, and the performing arts. Similarly, artist-partnerships with CelebrARTE help to reintegrate all arts into a whole experience where there is no distinction between different creative expressions. 

Bella Diva Dance performs the samba in Civic Center Park in Denver. Courtesy belladivadance.com.

Most importantly, both of these events are about sharing our perspectives, and learning from each other through the arts in order to create a comunidad más unida. So, as you samba through Duncan Pavilion with Bella Diva Dance in your DAM-inspired parade costume by Beatriz Gomez, you may begin to notice the values that make these events so much fun.

Image credit: Intergenerational families learn from artists and make art together in the DAM's Taller.

Madalena Salazar is the Latino cultural programs coordinator in the education department at the Denver Art Museum. Madalena has been at the DAM since 2011 and her favorite artwork that has been on view here is Mud Woman Rolls On. This piece reminds her of home, family, and community and serves as inspiration for her practice as a museum educator at the DAM.