Art Alum Miguel Guillén (’92) of the Washington State Arts Commission in Olympia, took the time to share his personal story and let us know what he has been up to since leaving Cornish.
We extend a hearty thank you to Miguel for this interview and applaud his positive impact on the artists of Washington State.
Describe growing up and your childhood.
I was born in Mexico. At six months my parents moved to the Skagit Valley, here in Washington State, to work the fields. I grew up on a farmworker camp just outside of La Conner, WA. I went to school, first grade through graduation, in the La Conner School District. I was a creative kid that constantly questioned everything having to do with power structure and norms. My childhood was – to me – extremely interesting. I challenged conformity, paid the price, and am reaping the rewards today.
Tell us about why you decided to pursue art and why Cornish?
Art was always present in my life. My dad was an artist who used art to describe his place in the world. I understood the power of art at a very young age. My earliest participation in art, as more than a thing that kids do, was about age 6 when I submitted what I thought was a drawing to an art contest but actually was a placement test for an art school. They wrote back and told me I was too young 😊. I love and have always loved art. As a youth I enjoyed the way making art allowed me to investigate materials and communication. I kept refining my understanding of art through my youth and to the present. I pursued a degree in art at Cornish at the encouragement of my art teacher.
What was your takeaway from Cornish?
Cornish gave me an understanding of the breadth of art forms out there and supported my investigations of what art can be and the ways art can give voice to the human condition.
Were/Are your parents artists?
Yes. My dad was a painter/sculptor. My mom loves the written word.
How did your art lead you to your current position at the State and are you still practicing your art?
My path to my current position in arts administration was born from a few of things. As an artist in Seattle I came to understand that supporting oneself as an artist is complex. I wanted to do something other than work restaurant jobs and piecing together gigs so I decided to pursue a career in arts administration. Additionally, as I became knowledgeable of grants for artists, I also became aware of the inequities in that type of support. I wanted to investigate that and make changes where I could. The only way I could do that in a satisfactory way was to get into “the belly of the beast” and find out what was going on. My first job in arts administration was with Artist Trust (Seattle) where I worked with individual artists from across the state. Then I moved on to the Washington State Arts Commission (Olympia) where I work with arts organizations. My work in arts administration has become the focus of my life. From this platform I am able to effect change in the arts in a way that is equally as satisfying to me as making art – but I do still make art of course and will make art for as long as I am able.
Tell us your vision for the future of our arts world, especially in this pandemic, societal, and financial crisis.
Art is simply humans communicating. As long as our planet spins and humans live on its surface, art will be made. What we call the ‘art world’ is the configuration of institutions we have built around art. Consequently, like all institutions during this pandemic, institutions of the art world are going through tumultuous change and grappling with the role that past inequities and exclusive frameworks have played in current struggles to survive. For me, knowing well that the waves of the status quo will white wash language and smooth out “uncomfortable” realities once things are “back to normal” again, it is my goal to make as many enduring structural changes as I can before the muscular memory of exclusion can flex back to previous form in the art world.
Any additional comments and thoughts from you?
I am grateful for my years at Cornish. The instructors, advisors, and staff, everyone at Cornish was incredibly supportive throughout. Thank you for asking me for this interview.