Noticing Neighbors with Deanna Munoz
If there is an award for most inspiring maker in 2020, my nomination goes to Deanna Munoz. Deanna Munoz is already the CEO of the Latino Arts Center downtown, but at the end of 2020 she took all that extra drive and passion (that she miraculously keeps stored up somewhere) and decided to start a business selling her boutique jewelry designs. She has called it the Midwest Chicana Brand, and the reception to the handmade earrings has been inspiring to watch. No matter what was going on in her world, Deanna never stopped creating. Looking at her posts, it would be hard to miss the sense that she was always meant to follow this dream. This venture holds the signature she brings to all of her work: showing up as her full self, with true passion and drive.
We had initially planned to meet and talk over coffee, but the smiles over video chat are just as bright. Hayley: I want you to know that even though we are on zoom, mentally we are totally at Cafe Corazón!
Deanna: Definitely! It’s so good to see you! Hayley: You too! I love your gallery art wall in the background.
Thank you! This is the spot I go Live to sell my Midwest Chicana earrings online. I really love how it shows who I am and what I do, with both Midwest Chicana and the mentorships at the Latino Arts Foundation.
The Latino Arts Foundation is a mentorship space that connects young artists, writers, and creators to experienced artists in the area and showcases their work.
I also have this wall up because it gives me inspiration every day. It’s a mixture of these phenomenal artists who are a part of my community. There’s Amy Kligman, who painted the piece with the candle. She’s a local artist and Executive Artistic Director at the Charlotte Street Foundation.
There’s Juan Moya, a great support to our community and also a local tattoo artist. He made the three women’s portraits.
My son, Aaron Munoz, is 12 and he painted the two abstract pieces.
My daughter, Priscilla Munoz, is 17 and did the portrait of the woman with the bubble gum.
Hayley: The first time I heard you speak, I learned how much your drive comes from hoping to provide mentorship opportunities for your kids.
But when you introduced your Midwest Chicana earrings this past year, it really clicked for me. Of course you have that drive for local artists. You are an artist! You know what is needed in this space because of who you are. Was there a specific person who mentored you creatively when you were younger? Is that what inspired you to create this?
The answer is that no, there actually wasn’t anyone. I never had that. So it’s the exact opposite—the fact that I didn’t experience it is exactly why I set out to create this network. The access it takes to have a mentor sounds pretty simple, right? From where I sit now, I definitely feel that way. It's all around me because I’ve reached out to each person, one artist at a time. You talk to someone who knows another artist, who then introduces you to someone else—there’s been a match for everyone. Even myself! Hayley:
What did you learn through that process of meeting new artist mentors? Deanna: At first the question was: how will I find any mentors? Then once I did find them, the next question was: how should I approach them? I learned from some pretty great people in my life to stop talking myself down. I would approach artists by saying: “I’m just Deanna.” My supportive people would hear that and put a stop to it, which was so helpful for me.
Nobody is just somebody, you are somebody.
Who are some of these great people? Who helped you along the way? Deanna: There have been so many people to lean on. Amy Kligman has been phenomenal. She may not feel like it, but she is mentoring me because I watch and learn from her.
Edgar Palacios has been such a support, and I've known him for about ten years. I wouldn't even be in this
economy right now without him. He was the first one to draw up the umbrella for the foundation and draw out what it would provide. I still have that picture to this day. It's just those people that have come through my life. Without them even knowing that they're touching me in some way, their actions provide this huge impact. I'm hoping that I do this for others also, because I don't want the impact to end with me. I want it to continue. Hayley: That’s a great intention. Deanna:
The impact should always continue because I know what it feels like to be alone and left out of spaces. I’m living dreams right now that I wish I could have started 20, 30 years ago. I am so grateful for all of it, but there are so many years I could have been doing work that I was passionate about. None of the kids in my community should ever have to go through what I did, because there truly are so many resources out there. We should all be capable of reaching our dreams.
Hayley: What are some moments you’ve seen success? Deanna: I’ll tell you my favorite moment: it’s when I see the young artists, who never thought their work would sell, leave an event with nothing to bring home because they sold everything.
I want the support we provide to fit the needs, and so we always make room for the kids and their families to voice their opinions. We want them to let us know what we can provide, because at the end of the day, our intention is for our foundation to be built on what the community needs.
Hayley: You're always listening and pivoting at the same time. Deanna: Exactly. Hayley: I saw you just recently had a pop up event at the Latino Arts Foundation, can we talk about that? There were a lot of amazing businesses I had never heard of!
Yes! So we used to do that, but it was very much just for artists. We decided to start them up again and open it up to include makers and vendors as well.
Our next one is going to be in April and we’re already completely maxed out on the capacity we can take for the vendors! They are people just like me, who have the same story as I do: their work comes from the heart, and they want to sell without a storefront.
How can artists and vendors get involved? Deanna: This event is for everybody. If you want to be a part of it, there's no cost. We take nothing from you. You sell your stuff and it's all yours. We’re here for your visibility and want you to be a part of the community. Whether you're an artist or a maker, we want you to have an outlet to be able to say, “Look! I am amazing at this!” Because everyone deserves to be seen and heard.
I came to your pop up and got the cutest earrings. Like, I love these earrings. They're one of a kind, and when we talked at your table, I didn’t realize that you make them all by hand! No outsourcing. How did you get started?
I was dabbling in designing jewelry last year when I very suddenly lost both my mom and brother in October. My brother died of Covid, and my mom died a week later from a heart attack when we were on our way to his memorial. It has been a very traumatizing time since the end of 2020. Prior to this, I had been dabbling in jewelry design, and once this happened everything shifted. I started putting my whole heart into it. I pour myself, my whole heart, and my love for my community into these pieces. You really are getting a piece of me in every jewelry piece.
Hayley: I know you said creating these earrings is your therapy, because your art is sacred and personal to you. It shows.
Can you please paint the picture: what does your creating process look like? Deanna:
It’s me, rolling and clasping these earrings at the dining room table. My kids are usually nearby to help. Hayley: How do they help? Deanna: They give inspiration and point out the designs they like. No not that one, this is great — they let me know what they think!
Well, it’s also that people feel comfortable enough around you to give that feedback. I’ve noticed that, and it’s such a strength. Do you have any tips on how to help people feel seen and included?
I think that I had to embrace the thing I was always told was my biggest fault growing up: my empathy. I was told I had too many feelings. So in these last couple of years, I fought with myself to break free and know this is who I am.
I am this person. I don't need to hide my feelings, or be hard, or be cold. This is how I'm built, and it’s how I want to be.
After losing my mom and my brother especially, I knew I didn’t want to be anybody but myself. Because that’s what they made me be. I have a big heart for everyone, and I want everyone to know that they are always going to be invited to the Latino Arts Foundation. I never turn anyone away. Hayley:
That’s also a specific skill set, because you definitely lead with your empathy. It’s such rare air to be able to hold space in that way.
I always want the people around me to know—I got you. If I see someone standing alone, I'll take that first step and ask them how they’re doing. It’s who I am. The way people feel when they first walk in our front door is so important, and creating that welcoming space is what I will always be about.