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15 Minutes With: Xela Garcia


March 2017




Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, Marcela “Xela” Garcia came to Milwaukee with her family when she was 5. Garcia, who recently took the helm as executive director of  the Walker’s Point Center for the Arts, is an MPS and UW-Madison alumna. She brings her skills as an artist and a deep commitment to positive social change to her work in the city’s near south side community.

You’ve been described as a cultural warrior. How do you define that term?

One could say that, as a society, we’re living through shifts, and we’re seeing changes in every facet of our society, and things are rapidly changing. There are always byproducts to changes, so some of the byproducts really do call for us to kind of fight “battles.” These changes are affecting people; they are being dislocated. I see the need for a radical change and social transformation to try to protect the historical existence of many people here on earth. On a personal level, it’s a way to honor my ancestors and the communities that do exist. For me, that ultimately leads to empowerment and liberation.

How does Walker’s Point Center for the Arts work toward building community?

Maybe 50 to 60 percent of our work revolves around education and targeting youth.

I think there are a lot of questions and issues that require breaking down the differences that have been pronounced because of the current situation we’re in as a society. Art is a mechanism that helps bring down these barriers and brings people together in conversation.

Where do you want your leadership to take the center?

We have great supporters, but we also see the need to connect with and nurture the next generation of artists and supporters and gallery-goers. I see the center playing a critical role at the intersection of art, culture and social change.

Tell us about your work as an artist.

I consider myself a culturally grounded artist. So I write, perform and do visual arts. I guess the work I explore is really about identity construction and deconstruction. And this is based on my lived experience. I went to a bilingual grade school, so there my linguistic and cultural heritage was nurtured. In middle school, I was bused to the northwest side, where I became one of very few Latinas who attended that school. Through that, and being aware of “otherness,” (I had) a better idea of who I was. I come from a home with a strong cultural identity. Especially growing up, you have your doubts — “Do I belong?”  I found that easy to explore through my art.

What inspires you?

My deepest sense of inspiration really comes from my family. My parents came to this country as professionals, but had barriers in acculturating, learning a new language and a new system of operating. Seeing them trying to start from scratch — when I saw and confronted challenges, there was no reason I couldn’t find success, because I saw my parents do it. A loving, supporting family reassures you that you are enough to make a difference.

What is your most cherished dream?

I just really hope to live a life that’s rich in love and laughter and invigorating work that’s going to leave a positive impact in the community.

To learn more about the Walker’s Point Center for the Arts, visit


Favorite Book: "A Map to the Next World: Poems and Tales by Joy Harjo

Favorite drink: Palmona with a salted rim

Favorite Dish: Pozole

Favorite author: Junot Diaz

Favorite artist: Melanie Cervantes


This story ran in the March 2017 issue of: