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White Center gallery fosters local, Latinx art opportunities

Green, white, and red cut out flags hang from the ceiling. People are gathered in the small space. On the left is a wall covered in art. So is the right side.
Grace Madigan
Nepantla hosts a monthly art exhibit with a different theme. People can come to their opening night reception to get first dibs on the artwork on display.

Jake Prendez jokes that he had to come to Seattle to find an L.A. girl. An artist, Prendez moved to Seattle in 2015.

As a kid, Prendez loved art. He remembers being obsessed with recreating the drawings in his Disney books. But in high school, he was told his art was "too ethnic" and "too gangster." He was drawing lowriders. So he stopped.

In college he took a Chicano studies class and realized there was a space for the art he loved creating. When he moved to Seattle, he decided to dedicate himself to his art and quit his day job. Becoming involved with the local arts community he got the idea for Nepantla Cultural Arts Gallery.

"I quickly discovered amazingly talented Latin artists, but no one was showing together. There was just this kind of disbursement of artists, like there was nothing that brought us together," Prendez said. "There wasn't this physical space and yeah, we just knew that we needed this for the community."

Judy Avitia-Gonzalez is the "L.A. girl" that Prendez met and who helped make Nepantla a reality. The two are now engaged.

Avitia-Gonzalez moved to White Center as a kid so when Prendez came to her with the idea for creating a gallery that would be grounded in Latinx arts traditions, she knew it had to be in the neighborhood.

"There's a lot of immigrant families, first-generation, young people like me who have parents have migrated here. And I just knew we needed a space where people like myself and my children could feel included," Avitia-Gonzalez said.

Prendez also pointed out that White Center is part of unincorporated King County, which means the neighborhood doesn't get the same resources and funding as other parts of Seattle. That's why at Nepantla they have a mission of creating art opportunities that are accessible to the local community. They host workshops on art, running small businesses, host guest speakers and even open mic nights.

A wall of artwork inspired by the holiday Día de los Muertos.
Grace Madigan
The gallery accepts all art that is submitted, limited only by their wall space. Each piece has the artist name listed by it and also their Venmo so that people can either buy the piece directly from the artist or simply leave them a tip.

"We want to make sure that those folks that aren't included in mainstream society, that aren't included in those traditional art spaces, are welcomed here, are represented here," Prendez said.

Prendez remembers a time when a family with two little kids, a mom and dad, and a grandpa came into the gallery. At first, the grandpa seemed like he got dragged there. But then he started looking around.

"This guy, probably his whole life, has not seen art that represented him," Prendez said. "But he came here, he saw art that reflected him and it just made him happy and he had this huge grin. It just made me feel so good that he got it and that he felt embraced in this space."

The gallery accepts art from anyone who submits it, right now they’re only limited by wall space. That means an established artist might have their piece next to one by a 12-year-old. Prendez said oftentimes it’s the 12-year-old’s piece that’ll sell first.

A skeleton in the middle of the picture emerges from a shell while other skeletons hold serapes.
Grace Madigan
Rosie Saldana is from Yakima but makes an effort to make it out to Nepantla's exhibits when she has a piece showing. Her Instagram handle is @artbyrosiesaldana.

The gallery also doesn’t take a cut from the sale of pieces. The low barrier to entry at Nepantla for artists draws people from all over Washington state, including Rosie Saldana from Yakima. She contributed a piece to the gallery's Día de los Muertos-themed exhibit.

"You know we’re getting better but there’s definitely not a space dedicated to Latino artists so when I heard about this space, I thought this was a really good opportunity to get my art out here on this side of Washington but also in a space that I truly believe in," Saldana said.

One of her pieces reimagines Botticelli's Birth of Venus. Instead of a white woman emerging from a shell, there's a skeleton figure. It's a take on the famous painting that Saldana said she imbued with her own Mexican heritage. She's loved being a part of Nepantla's shows because of their mission of being a place that puts artists first and is all about creating community.

"It's hard...especially as an artist of color, it's hard to find those spaces to do that," Saldana said.

Each month features a new exhibit with a different theme. They’ve had shows about lowriders and another centered around reproductive rights. On Saturday, they are hosting a Día de los Muertos festival at Evergreen High School in White Center.

"You can come in here speaking Spanish, English or any other language. You don't have to explain yourself. You're included. We embrace everybody here," Avitia-Gonzalez said.

The Día de los Muertos exhibit continues through the rest of the month.

Grace Madigan is KNKX's former Arts & Culture reporter. Her stories focused on how people express themselves and connect to their communities through art, music, media, food, and sport.