Photo by DAVID SZYMANSKI
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
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
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
Favorite drink: Palmona with a salted rim
Favorite Dish: Pozole
Favorite author: Junot Diaz
Favorite artist: Melanie Cervantes