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Meet Ariel Maldonado of Ariel Aurora Studio in Downtown

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ariel Maldonado.

Ariel, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
My art practice is defined by the challenges and limitations I face. Growing up, I never thought I would be an artist and I do not think anyone who knew me thought I would be either. I was never particularly good at drawing and when you are a child in school, being good at drawing is a sort of social status title you can hold. I didn’t identify as an art kid, my parents weren’t artists or particularly interested in the art world. The first time that I felt “authentically creative” was during a ceramics class in my junior year of high school. My parents were going through a particularly nasty and drawn-out divorce and I felt like I had no control over my life. I don’t particularly enjoy making work out of my own personal struggles and I don’t make work about myself, but the challenges I face always somehow feed my work in the background. I never made work about my upbringing but my upbringing made me appreciate the freedom of creation more because I didn’t feel like I had much freedom. It set me on the path. After I graduated I faced significant financial and space limitations, this didn’t manifest directly in the content of my work but I adjusted my thinking and instead told myself they were parameters to work within instead of limitations to fight against.

Today I am both an installation artist and environmental advocate. In 2018 I founded the Instagram page @GoGreenSaveGreen, it has a following of over 60,000 people who are interested in learning about the climate crisis, the environment, the different ways people impact the environment, and how you can help on an independent and collective level. Having done research on the climate crisis, the environment, how materials impact the environment, efforts to save the planet in different ways- this has all started to influence my work today. I do not make work bring awareness on the climate crisis. I think everyone knows about it and my page already does the work of spreading information. The content of my work hasn’t changed but now I am focused on being mindful of the environmental impact my material choices.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
No, it has not been a smooth road at all. When I left school, I faced the same struggles most recent BFA grads face when they leave, a sudden loss of studio + a need to get a job. After I graduated I drove for Postmates for months, it took seven months for me to find a job as a prop maker and as optimistic as I was when I first got there, I quickly realize what a boys club fabrication shops can be. I bounced around a lot looking for stable work. I have worked as a fabricator, as a potter, as a prop maker, as a pottery teacher, as an art instructor for adults with disabilities, and as an artist assistant. While I loved each job when I first arrived, it was definitely discouraging to realize how difficult it was going to be to find something stable, that I loved and that didn’t underpay me. Finding a studio was not even an option for me until I moved in with my partner and we were able to split costs. Now that I am a bit more stable than I was when I initially graduated, I would say I am on the road to “living the dream.” Figuring out what “the dream” was wasn’t easy either. A successful creative career means so many different things to everyone. A silver lining that came from bouncing around from one job to the next was that I was able to dip my toes into a lot of different definitions of what a creative career meant. Do I want to be a teacher? Do I want to be a famous artist that can afford the high life of my art? Do I want to sell my artistic skills to pay the bills but have limited time to work on my own original work? Do I want to get paid to help other artists actualize their artistic vision by providing my particular skill sets? Do I want to be the person behind highly specialized work but get no recognition for it because it’s not under my name and be underpaid on top of that? Having been around so many different creative opportunities helped me realize what I do want by crossing off everything I tried and didn’t like.

It was difficult having to redefine my practice as well. During my undergraduate career, I was in an amazing ceramic studio. I had space and access to tools that I didn’t have once I left. Having spent five years in the ceramic studio at school as if it were my second home, once I left I had a bit of a two-part identity crisis. I no longer had access to the same resources and it was clear that I had two options: pivot to something new or give up art. The second part of this identity crisis was after I choose to pivot. It was hard for me to “turn my back” on clay as a medium, but I did not have the proper studio set up to continue to work as a ceramic artist. I had taken sculpture classes as an undergrad and enjoyed them immensely, but clay had always been my favorite medium to work with. It took six months to a year to get over. Looking back, it was all part of the growing process, and although I do hope to return to clay one day, I am focusing on making work that I would not have been able to make due to the limitations of the material. I realized I can still explore the same themes and ideas that were and are important to me when working as a ceramicist and that trading out one medium for the other is just part of the creative process. We all at some point change our art practice.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
I am more widely known as an environmental advocate and through my research, I have informed my art practice. As an environmentalist, I have been a part of 4 podcasts and one radio interview, several online interviews, and on August 15th of this year will be participating in a panel discussion a national conference through the organization Netroots Nation. I will be speaking on a panel discussing how social media can be utilized to most effectively reach younger generations and how to mobilize them to act. As an artist, I focus on upcycling and salvaging materials from ending up in landfills and turning them into sculptures that are a part of a larger installation.

What were you like growing up?
Growing up, I was not the “artistic kid” at school. I did not come from a family that cared about the arts any more than a typical family. I had no drawing skills, and I constantly admired those who could draw, I wasn’t the person you paired up with if you wanted your group project to look the best in class. I was a bookworm, I read a lot, my parents were both heavily into reading and passed that love down to me. Like most kids, I wanted to read and visit the magical places I would read about in books and see in movies. I loved the spaces that made me feel smaller. I loved feeling overwhelmed by my surroundings, not knowing what direction to look in, and just being in awe. I don’t think I necessarily liked being in beautiful spaces more than the average person, I just realized I could create a beautiful space myself.

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