Brite Winter 2017 Artist Spotlight: Visual Artist Hector Castellanos Lara

Written by Emily Appelbaum

Hector Castellanos Lara is a community leader, artist and organizer – the mastermind behind much of what makes Dia de Muertos Ohio’s annual event an amazing chance to celebrate Hispanic culture in Cleveland – and a pro at bringing people of all backgrounds together. Hector works with diverse populations to cross borders, both real and imagined.  This ranges from his work as a board member of Spaces World Artist Program to work with the International Community Council, Cleveland Public Library and countless local universities, creating interactive art projects and teaching everyone from local schoolkids to migrant farm workers through the Immigrant Worker Project.

Gathering images from the majestic volcanoes surrounding Ciudad de Guatemala in his youth, Hector brings forth a lament of sorrow, exile and joy from Central America.  His early influences included his father, a well-known commercial painter in Guatemala who worked on giant commercial and political murals from the 1950s through the 1970s.  Castellanos Lara’s mother, who drew inspiration from the folk art of Guatemala as a dressmaker, also had a major impact on him.  Once a commercial designer in New York, Hector has been a resident of Cleveland since 1990 and has exhibited and produced workshops through the Cleveland Museum of Art, Playhouse Square Foundation, Beck Center for the Arts, International Community Council, The Arthouse, International House of Blues Foundation, and many more, drawing upon an enchanted beginning in an environment of art, joy, and struggle, from which Hector’s work flows today.


How would you describe what you do?

Some visual artists tend to describe themselves as painters, illustrators, sculptors, or photographers, while others are able to experiment and combine these to produce wonderful and unique art. I love the process of integrating multiple disciplines. It allows me to discover new perspectives of a particular art project, working collaboratively with other artists as well organizing and working directly with multiple ethnic groups.

What is a recent milestone you achieved in your work?

Dia de Muertos in Cleveland has been a highly successful event which is now gaining great recognition thanks to my fellow artists, Cleveland Public Theatre, and all the people who care deeply and dedicate their talents, time, and resources to produce this traditional event that brings together all people of all races. Last year we doubled our audience and cemented our position as an annual celebration on Cleveland’s calendar.

You say Cleveland has changed the way you work. Tell us about that!

I think many artists are continuously evolving. If they don’t, they will stay the same without new opportunities to explore in the art world. The city of Cleveland has taught me to discover new ways of creating, to bring traditions but at the same time to use them with a new vision. A good example of this is my work with the well-known annual event Parade the Circle in which all the artists share and learn from each other in complete harmony,  where everyone can be part of something beautiful that we call art.

What’s the best thing about being an artist in Cleveland?

During the last two decades I’ve seen many changes in the Cleveland art scene and in recent years the arts have grown incredible, strong institutions and organizations that support us. The hard work of the artists that have been here for many years, as well the new wave of young artists who participate constantly in diverse art projects, has helped the socioeconomic and educational landscape grow in Cleveland. The diversity makes us stronger. It is one of the best times to be part of this progress for better city. Every artist brings creativity embracing all cultures to build the path for a new generation to come.

And your favorite thing about winter?

For sure this year it will be Brite Winter. Maybe I’m one of the few visual artists who gets inspired during this season. It has something to do with the different tones of grey skies, cold winds, and snowy landscapes.

Even though I was born in Guatemala (the country of eternal spring) my genes tell me a different story. I have always liked the majestic highlands of the Mayan sites. While it’s not quite like the Cleveland cold weather, I still see this as a contrast to most people who look for the perfect sunny day.  All in all, whatever the season, we are always at the perfect moment for creation.