Nelson Salazar has worn many hats in Somerville, from executive director at the Welcome Project to graduate student at Tufts. Art is a passion for him, which he finds time for in between his two jobs.
He started the “Nuestro Arte” exhibit last year, aiming to highlight work from Latino artists. “Nuestro Arte” will be on display at the Somerville Public Library’s central location through Oct. 7, and features work from Salazar, Antonio Lones, Celoni Espinola, and Hector Perlera.
Salazar spoke with Scout about “Nuestro Arte,” his stained glass creations, and forging bonds within the city’s Latino community.
Tell us about yourself.
I moved to Somerville back in 1982, and so I’ve been living here for a long time. I have seen many, many changes over all these years. I came originally from El Salvador, I left right before the Civil War exploded, so I came here, and like any immigrant I started working in restaurants doing dishes, and little by little I went to school, I got my associate’s degree in culinary arts, I worked in restaurants for about 10 years, and then decided to go back to school, so I went to UMass and got a bachelor’s degree in human services and community planning and started working in nonprofits. And then later I decided to go back to school, went to Tufts’s urban environmental program, UEP, and I got my master’s in public policy.
In the meantime, I was always interested in arts, and I started working with stained glass. I work two jobs, I work a full-time job at Riverside Community Care, I work with with the Early Head Start program, and I also work for SCALE, which is an adult education program that teaches ESL for immigrants. So in order for me to meet my needs I need to work two jobs, but I just get a lot of satisfaction knowing that I help people.
There used to be a couple of [Latino agencies in Somerville that] are no longer around. So it’s kind of sad, because even though there’s a lot of people being gentrified and leaving the city, there’s still a large amount amount of Latinos living in Somerville, and so I feel like there’s a disconnection within the community. I feel like for a lot of Latinos, there’s no place to go.
So I started thinking about how can we do something that kind of brings back the Latino community together. Last year I started this exhibition at the public library, and the idea for me is to identify Latino artists who live in Somerville who don’t get the exposition or the expose when it comes to art.
How would you characterize your work?
I try to connect my work to my culture, it’s a way to express myself. If you look at the work, there are a lot of birds. For the me, the bird I see [as] freedom, and so the colors I use, I use a lot of vivid colors, colors that represent a lot of nature, and also I think some of it has the blue of the water, the sky, things that I miss.
How did you get connected to the other artists who are participating in this exhibition?
One of the artists used to be a student at SCALE. As I talk to people, I always try to identify them by their strengths and not by their needs. I like to emphasize the strengths of the individual, so I always ask people “What did you do back home?” and try to figure out things that they can feel good about. So the student told me that he used to do drawings.
We’re always looking for more people. I want to identify more of us, so we can actually have a group of us, a consistent group, and have our work in different places.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and conciseness.