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Latinx Heritage Month: Jake Prendez

In celebration of Latinx Heritage Month, we are hosting a series of profiles and stories to amplify and honor people, businesses, organizations, and projects connected to Seattle’s Latinx community.

Latinx Arts In The Northwest: My Chicano Art Journey

by Jake Prendez

Latinx arts in Seattle and the greater Pacific Northwest is a vibrant, dynamic, and rapidly growing movement. Yet Chicanx and Latinx Artists do not receive the visibility and recognition we are due by the greater arts community and institutions. Latinx arts and culture in the Northwest must be recognized. Chicanxs and those who identify as Latinx, with roots in the Americas, and the Caribbean, have a long and rich history in Washington State, comprising nearly 14% of the state’s population. Washington is home to over a million Latinx residents.

I am the Owner and Co-director of the Nepantla Cultural Arts Gallery on the border of West Seattle and White Center. Nepantla is a gallery focused on creating an accessible community art space highlighting Latinx arts. To the best of my knowledge, we are the only cultural arts gallery devoted to the Latinx Arts community. 

I was born in Hemet, California, about an hour from Los Angeles. My family moved to Washington in the early 80s. At the time, I do not remember any other Latinx kids in my elementary school. I felt like an outsider. I struggled in school and my one outlet seemed to be art. I loved to draw and filled up notebooks with little drawings and sketches. By middle school I met a few more Chicano/Latino and other students of color. We felt a kinship with each other and bonded. Soon administration began to label us a “gang”. In high school, I loved drawing Lowriders, Zoot Suiters, cultural iconography and was soon told by art teachers my art was “too ethnic”, “too gang related.” I was dissuaded from art and stopped creating art for over 10 years.

In 2003, I moved to Los Angeles to work on my master’s degree in Chicana/o Studies at Cal State Northridge, which hosted the largest Chicana/o Studies program in the nation. It was magical. I no longer felt like the outsider. I was immersed in cultura. During this time, I decided to focus on Chicanx art for my thesis and took a Chicana/o Studies painting class with famed Chicana Artist Yreina Cervantes. This is where “Jake Prendez the Chicano Artist” was born.

painting of billowing pink clouds against a blue sky in the background. in the foreground is a man standing in profile in front of electrical poles and wires. He has a hat, glasses, and goatee.
Self portrait by Jake Prendez

For the next 10 years I began to hone my craft. I was slanging my art at almost every art walk or street fair every weekend. I began to host art shows with a collective of artists, including Deadmundo and Sketch Navarro. We hosted exhibitions with themes ranging from Harry Potter to Pachucos. We felt that the elitist West LA art scene didn’t care about us, so our goal was to never seek their approval or acceptance. We created an art scene on the Eastside with our community in mind. We wanted to host free accessible art shows that didn’t charge gallery cuts and was full of talented artists who also felt alienated by the established art guard. We were a hit and packed our shows. I was surrounded by amazing talent. I likened the East LA art scene to what the Harlem Renaissance must have felt like. I was hangin’ with remarkably talented artists, musician, poets, and intellectuals, most coming from a Chicanx/Latinx background.

In 2015, I moved back to Seattle to be close to my kids who had moved back for school. After one year I decided to make art a full-time job and tried to recreate the art scene I was immersed in in LA. I was astounded by the talented Latinx Artists I began to meet in Seattle, like Juan Alonzo, Alfredo Arreguin, Cecilia Alvarez, Angelina Villalobos, Jose Lopez III, Che Lopez, and many more. I noticed right away that the talent was here, but artists were fragmented in different areas, doing different exhibitions and, often times, unaware of the other Latinx Artists working in the region. We didn’t have an artist hub or gathering space. The Latinx arts organization, La Sala, had been making inroads but more needed to be done. We needed a physical space. This is when I began to work on creating the Nepantla Cultural Arts Gallery.

I think one of the most life changing moments was when I was selected to attend the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture’s Leadership Institute in 2015.  The program was a week-long training on arts management. I learned about grants, working with boards, starting nonprofits, and creating art spaces. I came back to Seattle driven to create an art space for community. I began to write grants, host informationals, set up coffee meetings with local artists, curators, gallery owners, and arts org folks to get advice and wisdom.  I set my sights on South King County (White Center, Burien, and South Park), an area with a large Latinx and immigrant community. I was first turned on to the neighborhood by my girlfriend and soon to be co-director, Judy Avitia-Gonzalez, who was a long-time resident of White Center. She schooled me on the neighborhoods’ history and how the area has been historically disadvantaged and forgotten. It was clear that this was a community who needed access to arts programing and Cultura.  We knew opening the Nepantla Cultural Arts Gallery here would create a Latinx Arts Hub, a place that would put the Northwest Latinx Art scene on the map. 

glass front door of Nepantla Cultural Arts Gallery
Front door of Nepantla Cultural Arts Gallery in White Center

We opened the Nepantla Cultural Arts Gallery in February 2019. There are three parts to the Nepantla Cultural Arts Gallery:

  • A gallery focused on highlighting art from marginalized communities through monthly exhibitions.
  • A gift shop giving small Chicanx/Latinx/POC business vendors the opportunity to sell their products.
  • A free and accessible art space for community to host arts related workshops, guest speakers, a youth arts program, and other arts related programing.

We have thrived thanks to outstanding community support. In two and a half years we have hosted 30 exhibitions with themes ranging from Frida Kahlo, Loteria, Lowriders, and Dia de los Muertos to exhibitions focused on Indigenous artists, queer artists, women-identified artists, and youth artists.    

poster for Latinx in the Northwest Art Exhibition at Nepantla Cultural Arts Gallery

In September 2021, we decided to host an exhibition dedicated to Chicanx and Latinx Artists living in the Pacific Northwest. Tired of our community and our artists being ignored by the “Art Establishment,” we hoped to create a national spotlight on this growing art movement. The Latinx in the Northwest art exhibition pays tribute to the talented master artists and creatives that call Washington home. Latinx artists interpret the world through a distinct vision of the Pacific Northwest. Some are steeped in tradition and seek to grow from a vision that spans millennia. Others have developed distinct and emerging styles that reflect an ongoing evolution of arts & culture through their unique vision and experience.

Now is the time to work together to shine a national spotlight on Latinx creatives in our region. Through this exhibition we seek recognition from the art world. It’s time to pay attention to Chicanx and Latinx Artists up here in the Northwest.

Latino man with beard and moustache sitting on steps outside a building. he is wearing glasses and a hat, and smiling.
Jake Prendez is a renowned Chicano artist exhibiting his art and lecturing across the country. He is also the owner/ co-director of the Nepantla Cultural Arts Gallery where he runs the day to day operations and art exhibitions. His oil paintings and digital artwork are created with a specific focus on themes relating to Chicanx and Indigenous culture, social justice, pop culture, and satire. Jake’s work is an amalgamation of his life experiences. It represents his Chicano background, his life lived back and forth from Los Angeles and Seattle. It represents love and heart break, oppression and resilience, laughter and tears. It’s as if he took all his life experiences, put them in a blender, and poured them out onto canvas.

This piece was commissioned by the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods. The opinions expressed and information contained herein do not necessarily reflect the policies, plans, beliefs, conclusions, or ideas of the City of Seattle.