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Oil City Opinions: Casper artist speaks out on Art 321 controversy

Protesters stand outside of Art 321 during Art Walk on July 1, in downtown Casper. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

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What matters is the artist’s mindset
By Chris Navarro


I read with interest the front-page article in the July 4th Casper Star-Tribune about the controversy at Art 321, its new leadership, the gradual exodus of board members, growing concerns about the standards of art under the new leadership and backlash over the Art of Pride exhibit.

Well, it did catch my eye because I just had my Art of Rodeo art show at Art 321. I had been working with executive director Tyler Cessor for the past few weeks on the show. When I was getting the art together for the show, he talked to me about the Art of Pride exhibit and asked me if I had a problem with it being the same time and place as my rodeo art show. I told him I did not have a problem with that.

He then asked if I would show my maquette sculpture ‘’Ring of Peace,’’ the memorial sculpture I created for Matthew Shepard, in the Art of Pride exhibit. I told him I would.

The article stated there were flyers handed to those passing by, which asked the public to boycott the gallery and said Cessor was “hiding behind the LGBTQ community to save his job.” And then I read that Joe Arnold, a former development chair, told the Star-Tribune that he and Cessor had butted heads over an exhibit from local sculptor Chris Navarro.

Cessor, Arnold said, was uncomfortable showing some of Navarro’s pieces that resembled indigenous art since Navarro is not indigenous. Arnold said he knew then his interests weren’t aligned with Cessor’s and gave up his position.

All I can say is, wow! I did not know there was all this controversy and drama going on down there. So, I would like to speak my peace on the matter (did you notice my use of piece as peace — well speling and grammar were never my forte.)

First, I had no problem with the Art of Pride exhibit. Heck why would I, my work was in it. Next, the part where Mr. Cessor was uncomfortable about showing some of Navarro’s pieces that resembled indigenous art since Navarro is not indigenous.

Well, I called Mr. Cessor and asked him what this was all about. He told me it was taken out of context and that he expressed that there should be a conversation about it because some Indigenous Americans are offended by non-Indigenous Americans creating art of Indigenous Americans.

Now that is a lot of Indigenous Americans in one sentence. Grammarly, I don’t know if this is even correct. It is especially difficult for me to admit because my mother has a Ph.D. in English literature and was a professor at Sinclair State. It was embarrassing when she would send my letters I wrote back with many red-inked corrections and sometimes even with a grade. Sad to say I was a C student at best. Like I said I was never that good with speling or grammar.

After reading the article I called Mr. Joe Arnold to get his take on the matter because I wanted to hear both sides of the story and find out why my name was being kicked around in this article.

Talking with Joe, I found him to be apologetic and sincerely sorry that I was drug into the story. I had worked with him two years ago when he called and wanted to know if Art 321 could use one of my sculptures to raffle off and help raise funds for the organization. I told him I would be happy to help and if they paid the casting cost, I would donate one.

After discussing the option of which one to select, we decided on the Spirit of the Thunderbird. This is the sculpture I created for Casper College, my alma mater. It is based on the Casper College’s Heyoka mascot. I attended school at CC back in 1974-76. I lived in Bailey Hall and met the kid who wore the costume and entertained during half time with his native dancing and gyrations at the basketball games. Sorry to say he was not an Indigenous American, even worse he had no rhythm.

I asked each of them why they assumed I was not an Indigenous American. After all my last name is Navarro. Neither one really gave a good answer but they both agreed they got into a heated argument over the matter. Well, I told them I had a surprise for them because they were both wrong, and I had the DNA evidence to back me up!

Five years ago, for Christmas my lovely wife Lynne gave me the gift of Ancestory.com. This gift came in a little box with instructions and a small vile containing a blue solution. I had to fill another vial with my saliva, pour the magic blue solution in, put it in a prepaid envelope and send it off to their lab. In only 6 weeks I had an answer to the mystery of my DNA ethnicity.

Dang if my illusions and dreams of being a pure blood were not completely destroyed and shattered when I received my results back. Come to find out I am of a mixed breed, nothing but a simple mongrel, merely a brown eyed American mutt. Here are the sad statistics and percentages of how it broke down: Spanish 33%, English 25%, Indigenous American 16%, Portuguese 8%, Wales 6%, French 3% and Irish 3%.

But wait! I found out I am 16% Indigenous American. However, was it enough? After all it was only 16%. Would I be able to make Indigenous American art without offending others in society? I thought about it for a while and then I decided who gives a **!

Making art is not about my blood line or who my parents are. What it really is about is my own mindset. Because just as early man created images on cave walls, we all have an inherent need to express our individuality. One of the reasons that I became an artist was to express who I am and what I believe.

But when you open the window of your soul and share your art with others, you expose yourself to criticism, judgment, and rejection. It is difficult not to take that criticism personally when you’ve invested so much of yourself in the creation.

We all suffer setbacks from time to time; it is the way we react to those setbacks that matters. That is why I like to take rejection and criticism and make them work for me.

When someone tells me that I’m not good enough or that my heritage isn’t quite right and that I can’t do something, all it does is put a fire in me. It fuels my desire to not only disprove the naysayers, but also to prove that I am capable.

Believe me, I don’t like rejection, failure, or looking foolish, but I’m not afraid to take risks. Life is full of challenges, and that is what gives meaning to life. There is little value in easy perfection. Don’t do it because it’s easy; do it because it’s hard.

There will always be negative people and haters out there. Your happiness should not depend on what’s going on in someone else’s head. You have no control over that. What matters is how you view yourself and what is going on inside of your own head.

It is important to keep your sense of humor in all things. Humor is the armor that protects you in life; it is the great lubricant that makes the difficult things easier to bear. So, laugh at yourself and roll with the punches.

For the artist who thrives on challenges and believes in themselves, rejection is not a problem. Because the real responsibility of an artist is to put forth their best effort and strive for continual improvement. In the end, that is all one can do.

Your time and energy are the greatest gifts you have been given. How you use them will determine how much you will grow in this lifetime. That’s the way it should be.


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