Q&A With Amanda Cortes, Springboard for the Arts

Ecolution reporting made possible by Seward Co-op, which has been a community-owned grocer since 1972: Together, we continue to cultivate a cooperative economy.

Photo Ne-Dah-Ness Greene

How did you first engage with creativity?

My belief that art, culture, and community life are intertwined comes from my parents. They both emigrated from Mexico and made Chicago their home. My dad worked at an employee- owned cooperative printing press and is a lifelong grassroots organizer. My mom was a second-grade teacher for English language learners for 37 years.

Their advocacy work within and outside of day jobs has always been imbued with a love of culture and community, while also being highly politicized. I spent much of my childhood with them at community art shows, street festivals, concerts, plays, organizing meetings, and parties that celebrated local artists and artists visiting from Mexico. These gatherings took place in community halls, cafes, restaurants, backyards, and living rooms. I feel at home in the energy those spaces radiate. Along the way, I noticed that the adults in the room, who were mostly artists, struggled to make a living and sustain their projects. As I reflect now, that left a deep impact and shaped my trajectory.

What is the mission of Springboard for the Arts?

In 2019, I began working with Springboard for Arts. Today I’m the community development program manager. My biggest project is the Creative Community Leadership Institute (CCLI), which is a learning space for artists, culture bearers, community organizers, and other leaders who want to deepen their impact through creative community building. We support the development of leaders capable of challenging oppressive systems and normalizing conversations about race and colonialism. The mission is to support artists with the tools to make a living and a life, and to build just and equitable communities full of meaning, joy, and connection.

How do you practice art today?

Community work has always been the center of my practice. Although I’m really great at helping others understand and own their identities as artists, doing this for myself has been challenging. My art is community practice. My most joyous moments happen when I’m at work with collaborators where trust, vulnerability, humility, and patience fuel our work.

I have been part of the Pilsen Housing Cooperative (PiHCo) in Chicago, which has pushed my growth as a cultural worker immensely. We began in 2016 as a group of neighbors, most of whom were artists, looking for a grassroots, people-powered response to the gentrification and housing crisis happening in the community. Art, activism, organizing, and class struggle are interrelated. We began with potluck meetings in a neighbor’s garage studio. As a member of the board, I was part of purchasing our first building in 2019. We now own three buildings, and we function as a limited-equity housing cooperative for artists and working families that is member owned and directed.

Can you share best practices and challenges?

Best practices: Nothing is a so-called failure. The work we do to challenge systems is exhausting, and even if our work doesn’t end up looking the way we thought it would, it’s still good work. We adapt, we hold ourselves accountable, we change. We resist and we flow. This work takes energy, so at moments we step back and call on our compañeros and our families to step in for us. Hold yourself accountable, acknowledge the hurt you caused, forgive yourself, forgive others. Work from a deep love of yourself and a deep love of community. Repair is possible.

The notion of shared, communal ownership can be challenging. Individuals who work at institutions like traditional banks, lenders, and government entities have the hardest time opening their minds to efforts like PiHCo. Their existence depends on extraction, which is ironic given that cities, counties, and states share resources that come from a communal, public source. This means that accessing loans in order to purchase buildings has been challenging. Our first building’s rehab loan came from Minnesota-based Shared Capital Cooperative.

Mutual aid is still the center of our organizing power.

How do you hope to see Minnesota artists supported?

In 2018, I moved to Minneapolis and began to witness the difficult and vulnerable work that Black, Native Indigenous, People of Color, and Queer artists and activists were doing to repair harm and build better systems. These folks set aside personal ego in favor of shared community-building. They centered love as a source of organizing power and joy as a force for defiance. What I saw reflected and expanded my idea of what is possible.

Collaborative action across borders and boundaries is one way that artists in Minnesota and beyond will deepen our work. I’m looking forward to that part of our history.

The Art of Economic Justice

The Springboard for the Arts launched in 2021 one of the first guaranteed income pilot programs in the country focused on artists and creative workers in Minnesota. A guaranteed income is a monthly cash payment given directly to individuals, designed to test how this boost to economic equity along racial and gender lines impacts community.

The original goals of the program included providing 25 artists and creative workers in the Frogtown and Rondo neighborhoods of Saint Paul with $500 monthly payments for 18 months. The University of Pennsylvania Center for Guaranteed Income Research is collecting and analyzing data to determine the impact of this program for individuals and communities.

Springboard and the City of Saint Paul collaborated with artists on a narrative change project called “Artists Respond: People, Place, and Prosperity.” The artists created public projects highlighting root causes that lead to the need for guaranteed income, and its impact on the families and communities. For example, Katey DeCelle created postcards with QR codes that link to an audio story with participants in the City of Saint Paul’s People’s Prosperity Pilot, describing why the program worked for their family.