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Pow! Wow! Festival Transforms Long Beach Public Spaces Into Incredible Murals

"POW! WOW! brings art and culture to public spaces by beautifying the city while cultivating community pride."

Back for its 3rd year in Long Beach, CA, Pow! Wow! Long Beach returned last week to fill public spaces in the beach city with vibrant large-format murals. With a mission to beautify the public spaces of Long Beach through contemporary muralism and broader community engagement, Pow! Wow! has become a representation of what happens when you collectively transform a community through the transformative power of art.

“You take a wall that might be blighted maybe tagged with graffiti and enhance it and turn it from just a space into a place just with a little bit of paint, a little bit of vision, and a little bit of community support,” said Long Beach Vice Mayor Rex Richardson.

Fodor’s caught up with local Long Beach artist/muralist, Eric Guadarrama aka SPARC, and Miami artist/muralist, Tati Suarez, who both created works for the festival. Both artists stressed the desire to engage the community through their murals.

 @bshigeta; Leonardo Vargas

FODORS: What are the most important decisions you make as an artist?

GUADARRAMA: Picking the content. Picking the content that I want to put out there for people to see and the way I want it to be represented by the people I’m doing it for. I think that’s probably the most important thing for me. I want to make sure I’m getting the right message across to the right people.

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SUAREZ: I think some of the most important decisions I make as an artist is just at the end of the day realizing that I’m doing what I love, putting my heart and soul into it and trying to separate that from the business aspect of it. The reason I love doing the murals too is you’re giving back to the community for people that can’t make it out to shows and certain galleries—you go to their neighborhoods, you go their countries and you’re leaving a part of you behind. That’s important for me—to share it with the world.

How do you stay cognizant of keeping business and meaningful content apart?

SUAREZ: I try to be selective. If I’m going to be collaborating with a certain brand I try to be selective and make sure it’s something that you can see in my work. Nowadays, because street art and murals are so popular, sometimes you’re getting approached by brands that have nothing to do with the style that I paint in—so I have to try and say no because I want to keep some integrity [in my work]. I don’t want to feel like I’m wearing myself too thin. To me it’s important that even if it’s business, I try to keep it true to myself.  In the beginning it was a little more difficult because you’re getting started so you just kind of want to say yes and get experience but I’m lucky enough to be doing this for long enough that I can say no to certain projects and it makes me feel better about the integrity of my work.

ME: What artist or scene in LA influenced you to create?

GUADARRAMA: Pretty much the graffiti world. All of San Francisco and all of LA graffiti. We have Jaber who is from Long Beach and he’s all over the place. That’s another big influence. Since I was a kid I’ve always liked drawing and painting and pretty much just started there and grew up with graffiti so that mixes my style with cartoons, graffiti, and classical paintings.

 Noah Boskey; Leonardo Vargas

What resources would you recommend to someone that’s looking to gain insight into the arts, particularly street art and murals?

SUAREZ: There’s a lot of people volunteering [at Pow! Wow!] to assist artists and I think that’s super important. Interact with the artist and ask questions and learn—it’s a great way to get involved in the scene. I think social media is a great tool now to just put your work out there and find other people—reach out to all these other festivals and share your work. It’s just important to create and get your work out there.

Tati, are there adversities you face “getting your work out there” as an artist and a woman of color?

SUAREZ: Not really actually. I feel like as a woman I realized that there’s still not an equal amount [of woman] and it’s a totally male dominated scene but I’ve never felt out of place, mistreated, or unwelcomed because of my gender. I’m from Miami, Florida. It’s funny because it’s like 70 percent of the population is Hispanic so it’s only been since I started showing out of Florida that my ethnicity has even come into play when it comes to my art.

Noah Boskey; Leonardo Vargas

Who do you make art for?

GUADARRAMA: The underdog[s], you know, the local people with everyday nine to five day jobs to feed their families. That’s my audience.

SUAREZ: The reason I love doing the murals is you’re giving back to the community for people who can’t make it out to shows and certain galleries—you go to their neighborhoods, you go to their countries and you’re leaving a part of you behind. That’s important for me—to share it with the world.

Additional reporting by Noah Boskey.

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