Art Show Reveals City Employee Talents - KXAM Austin News

AUSTIN (KXAN) - The gallery space in the City of Austin's Mexican American Cultural Center is big and bright. The sun streams through skylights and spotlights are trained on dozens of sculptures and paintings. They all have one thing in common: They were created by employees of the City or by members of employees' families.

 
The exhibit marks the eighth year in a row that the National Arts Program Foundation has mounted the show here with the help of VSA Texas, an organization devoted to opening doors to the art world for people with disabilities."This was a way to make the arts accessible, a different version of the term, accessible, as in: Anybody can be a part of the art scene here in Austin," said VSA Artworks director April Sullivan. "To show their art at the MACC, I mean, that's a pretty amazing venue."
 
Despite being somewhat outside the VSA Texas box, the organization jumped at the chance to work with City employees on the project.
 
"We get funding from the City; we work a lot with the city on programs," Sullivan said. "So just to be able to meet those employees on that level, as artists, was interesting to me. And I've gotten to know all these artists very well; it's been fun."
 
It's been fun because Sullivan has seen the glee in the eyes of many of the artists who are showing their work for the first time in their lives.
 
"It's hard sometimes to think of yourself as an artist or to put yourself out there like that," she said. "So to have a program that is easy to enter; anybody that enters is accepted as long as they're an employee or a family member of an employee, and as long as their artwork meets the requirements, it's accepted into the show. Then once it's hung, it's juried and we give out cash prizes and people really like that recognition of their talents."
 
The exhibit levels the playing field for participants, dividing the pieces into categories like youth, amateur, intermediate and professional. Austin City Manager Marc Ott's drawing titled, "Portrait of a black man," for example, hangs next to a photograph shot by an employee in the City's water utility department.
 
"It's for everyone, not just professional artists," Sullivan said. "So [it's] a way to get everyone into a gallery space, to be a part of an exhibit, even if they never thought they could do that before."
One artist from the exhibition that is showing for the first time is
 
Kathy Carrasco. She qualified for the show because her son is an Austin police officer.
 
"He said that it would be a good idea for me to show my art work," said Carrasco, as she unpacked a portfolio filled with portraits of children.
 
The kids have one horrifying thing in common. Each of them is missing, vanished, leaving an enormous hole in the hearts of their family members. For Carrasco, it's her daughter, Monica , who was 16 years old when she disappeared.
 
"I tell people it's like a nightmare," said Carrasco. "It's like a bad, bad dream and you can't wake up."
 
The Carrascos were living in the west Texas town of Alpine in 2003. Monica played basketball at school and was deeply religious, her mom said. But there was trouble brewing. Monica's father was battling cancer when he suffered a fatal heart attack. The girl had her own physical problems, as well.
 
"She was anorexic," said Carrasco. "She was getting counseling and therapy, but the problem was getting her to eat. She felt like food was bad; it was making her fat, that she was fat. But she wasn't; she was like 100 pounds and she felt she was fat."
 
Things then took a turn for the worse.
 
"She stopped eating and drinking water, so I had to put her in the hospital," Carrasco said. "She didn't like that but, you know; she was very sick."
 
Doctors put the girl on medication and sent her home. But Carrasco was working full-time and couldn't stay home with her daughter. So she went to recuperate in the home of her aunt and uncle in the nearby town of Balmorhea.
 
Two weeks later, the relatives woke up around 6 a.m. and found Monica gone.
 
"All her stuff was left behind: Her bags, her luggage, her shoes, her clothing were all left behind and she was missing," said her mother.
In fact, a thorough search revealed that Monica had left home wearing nothing more than a nightgown. She was barefoot. Only one thing was missing from her room: her Bible. The girl has not been seen since.
 
Carrasco began to paint. Working with watercolors, she produced one portrait of her daughter after another. As her understanding of the hurt of missing children grew, she started painting portraits of other vanished kids, as well.
 
"It's something I never thought would happen to me," she said. "You see posters, you know, at Wal-Mart and you walk by and you really don't pay attention. So this is why I do the paintings because I want people to see their faces, to see their eyes, to see the innocence that they have. I want them to feel what I feel when they see their faces. The more you see their faces, the more chances that they might be recognized and reported and go home to the family that loves them and misses them."
 
As for Monica, seven years after the disappearance, Carrasco refuses to quit looking.
 
"I always try to think positive and hope that she's well," the mother said. "I feel it that she's somewhere, that she's alive and well, and I feel like she wants to come home but for some reason she can't. That's how I feel."
 
Shortly before she vanished, Monica was starting to fool around with a new home video camera. When Carrasco looked at the video her daughter had shot, she found one six-second clip of Monica laughing into the camera lens.
 
"Hi, welcome to Monica's world; hope you enjoy it," she said.
Carrasco still lives in that world. She cherishes a few photographs of her daughter and she keeps working on the portraits of her and the other missing kids.
 
"They're somewhere out there," she said. "We have to keep looking; we can't give up. There's people that love them. We love them and we miss them and we want them to come home."
 
Carrasco's work will hang with the rest of the exhibit through Jan. 15.
 

Art show reveals city employee talents: kxan.com