It’s a Sunday afternoon. Estella Sanchez, seven months pregnant, stands behind a table full of kids with her children Star and Krishna beside her rolling paint onto trays to teach students in San Juan Unified School District the ancient art of block printing. This Sunday is like so many others for the executive director of Sol Collective, as she works to bring art, culture and activism to life.
It’s been 12 years since Sanchez signed rent papers on the first Sol Collective Arts and Cultural Center in Del Paso Heights. More than a decade, hundreds of art exhibitions and thousands of community events later, Sol Collective recently purchased the building on 21st Street in Sacramento that they have called home since 2010 (full disclosure: The author works as a contractor with the organization). They received $95,000 from the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission and support from Northern California Community Loan Fund. They also raised about $10,000 through crowdfunding.
Comstock’s sat down with Sanchez to talk art, activism, the importance of building ownership and snacks.
What is Sol Collective and how did it start?
Sol Collective is a center dedicated to arts, culture and activism. It started as my master’s thesis project while I was in the Educational Leadership and Policy Studies program at [Sacramento State]. I was exploring ways to provide arts and cultural resources through a collective community model. I had the opportunity to travel for years throughout the U.S. and the caribbean as a co-founder of the Libertad Cultural Exchange Tour. We took over 130 artists, activists and educators on grassroots, community-oriented tours over a three-year period and often found incredible spaces where the arts were accessible to all in the community.
Previously, I had also served as the program manager at the Washington Neighborhood Center, a community space [in Sacramento] founded by members of the Royal Chicano Air Force, so I had witnessed the power and importance of community arts and activism. These experiences inspired me to open Sol Collective and to explore what is possible when you bring a collective together to serve the community via the arts.
People know you as an organizer and facilitator, but you are an artist as well. What role does art play in your everyday life?
I consider myself a creative. Creativity moves through my daily experience and I see my life as my greatest art project. I’m thankful that there were people in the community when I was a kid that gave me opportunities to experience art, whether it was music, painting or designing my own garden plot at the small school I attended. These experiences shaped my view of the world as well as my idea of what is possible. While I often shy away from the term ‘artist’ and prefer being called a ‘creative,’ I am in a band (World Hood), I paint, I design community art experiences. I curate art and musical performances and create daily.
Why are spaces like Sol Collective so important in the community?
There aren’t many places where art is accessible and relevant to communities of color and even fewer places that encourage real multicultural experiences. Now more than ever, we need safe spaces to learn from each other and art has always been a beautiful tool to do so. Our programming is community-driven via our extended collective and community network, so it stays relevant to the needs and wants of the people we serve. There aren’t enough of these types of spaces. We are very excited to be working with people from Portland to Staten Island to duplicate the Sol Collective model in their communities.
Sol Collective just purchased the building they were renting. What does that mean to you, and what’s next for the collective?
For me, it’s the reaching of an important benchmark. I never expected something that started as a thesis project to have such a long-lasting community impact, but after our 10th year in existence, I knew it was important that we lay down real roots in the community. After a decade, the impact and influence Sol Collective has had in our community was evident via youth who were now adults, their stories and the fact people are working to replicate Sol Collective’s model. We knew it was important to ensure this work could continue after us, especially during a time when across the country artists and community organizations are being displaced [due to rising rents and cost of living].
As far as what’s next for Sol Collective, the long-term vision is to find community partners who are interested in helping us further develop the space. We can develop a few stories up and the vision is to build artist, activist and educator housing as well as office spaces for other small organizations and create a central hub of community resources and support for generations to come.
How do you balance being an executive director, mother, youth mentor, social justice activist, community advocate and still find the time to garden, paint and make music?
I get it from my mama. She immigrated to Sacramento from Mexico at 16 and worked in the surrounding agricultural fields and industrial warehouses before retiring from the Sacramento Bag Manufacturing Company. She worked extremely hard yet found time help community members through the immigration process, put us through private school, while volunteering at church and a garden. She passed away far too young, and through her two-year battle with cancer, she taught me the importance of living out our dreams.
I don’t take a day for granted and I am eternally grateful for the sacrifices that both of my parents made as immigrants so that we would have a better life. I realize that painting, music and serving the community are gifts and I’m thankful every day that I have the opportunity to live these dreams out.
You and I often compare snack notes. Where are you snacking now and what snacks should Sacramentans be looking out for?
Well, I’m currently pregnant so my snack game is all over the place. I’m munching on fresh strawberries growing in the garden daily and have been obsessed with making stuffed cheese squash flowers with an egg batter. It’s a pretty common Mexican dish. Squash blossoms are in season, so I wait all year for these! Sacramentans are so lucky that we live in such a fertile region. My favorite place to go for snacks is the Sacramento Food Co-op …Their organic dark chocolate selection is amazing and I love the green olives and chocolate chip walnut cookies from the deli … I think I need some snacks now.
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