For the past couple years, anyone even remotely engaged with the art world in Madison was bound to bump into artist, educator and activist Carlos Eduardo Gacharná at some point or another. Gacharná’s work harnesses techniques from glassblowing, neon, and ceramics with a beautiful fluidity and an uncanny grasp of texture. But he’s made just as big a mark here through workshops, activism, and nightlife events, from the Sway music and performance series to art programs for marginalized youth.
Gacharná was born in Colombia, and his family came to Madison when he was seven years old. He began putting on events when he was 16. “Those first years were parties for fun, but I organized a citywide youth gallery night for this restorative justice program that I was an intern for, and that made me realize that there was a way to kind of embed culture into these community experiences,” he says.
From there, he kept focusing more and more on finding ways to combine art with social-justice work. He’s contributed to art workshops for youth who’ve had run-ins with the criminal justice system, worked as a translator for immigration lawyers, and for a time ran the 100arts program at downtown startup incubator 100state. Friction has been a constant. Gacharná started putting on art shows as an undergraduate art student at UW-Madison, because there were a lack of opportunities for undergrads to show their work and connect with the off-campus community, and because, he says, UW’s art programs don’t teach artists how to market their work.
“I think I’ve always kind of worked against a lot of what’s been happening in the Madison art community in general,” he says.
Gacharná left Madison last month to resettle in Long Beach, California. After a period spent living and organizing events in Brazil, he began to long for a change of scene, and for all that he’s accomplished, he’s open about the limitations that artists face in Madison. “At a certain point you stop having people to look up to,” he says. “Everybody becomes a peer.”
That frustration extends to the community-building aspect of his work, in part because the context around it has changed. “I think people are less trusting now, with good reason,” he says. “I think with government and politics going the way they are, there’s just these really deep divisions between different groups, and unfortunately, due to a lot of the trauma that’s been happening, some of these groups that could be working together end up just sort of pushing away and isolating themselves, and just trying to preserve themselves.”
Gacharná talked with us in late September in the midst of preparing an art show and going-away party at Robinia Courtyard. He discussed his experiences in Madison, his advice for the artists and community builders who remain here, and what it’s like to handle an art controversy within a startup incubator.
Give the conversation a listen here, or subscribe to the Tone Madison podcast on Apple Podcasts.
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