Human Stories: Elan Cadiz, New York City, USA



Elan Cadiz is an interdisciplinary North American visual artist based in New York whose art and practice are grounded in domestic, documentation, historical imagery and personal narrative. She graduated from City College of New York with a BA in Studio Art and received an MFA Fine Arts degree from the School of Visual Arts where she was awarded the SVA Merit Scholarship, Paul Rhodes Memorial Award and the Martha Trevor Award. Elan has been commissioned by the Studio Museum in Harlem, El Museo de Barrio, Art in Flux Harlem, Mount Vernon Hotel Museum and more. She was one of the first Sustainable Arts Foundation AIRspace Parent Artist in Residence at Abrons Art Center and her An American Family Album series was featured in VOGUE. Her artworks are in the recent issue of New American Paintings no.146 curated by Jerry Saltz and included in the Black Expression, Rebellion, and Joy Through Fashion Exhibition. She was enjoying life until Covid-19 brought everything down around her.


This is Elan Cadiz's story as shared with Affluent Society from USA:


A happy place


2020 started off really great for me. I had three part time jobs that I enjoyed. In February I started working for the Brooklyn Public Library assisting with the Ezra Jack Keats Book Competition, a competition I had won a bronze medal for in my youth. I was also working for a not-for-profit called Foster Pride and was coordinating weekly art lessons that I facilitated during family visits and I hit my six year mark for working with the Family Programs department at the New York Historical Society. My father received an award from the NAACP in January and in February I was celebrating my Moth Slam win on the historic stage at the Schomburg Library. I was earning enough money to pay all of my bills and my tax refund was very helpful to getting a lot of my financial instability stable. I was saving money again and preparing for a rainy day. Little did I know it was more like a deluge.


When things fall apart


It was mid-February when I started seeing more signs that something was going on with this new virus called Covid-19. I remember sitting on the metro north one evening and peaking between seats to see a woman reading an article about the virus. It felt urgent but our government’s response made me uncertain. By March 11th I was still teaching classes in crowded offices for Foster Pride in the Bronx, I was still going to restaurants, and I was still working at the Brooklyn Public Library. It wasn’t until March 16th did things begin to shift.


It began with the New York Historical Society. I received word that after six years of working with the museum I was to be furloughed. They were unclear for how long I would be on hold, but at the time we all were unclear on how long any of this was going to last. No one knew when public programming was going to be safe again. By May I was notified of my termination. My internship at the Brooklyn Library was cancelled as well. I did some work from home but a lot of my tasks were for the culmination celebration. That became virtual and my services were no longer needed. They were kind enough to pay me the rest of the stipend though. And finally Foster Pride had to cancel all classes too. I was a consultant for them so I’m still on their roster but there was no work for me.


A scaffold out of the dark


I’ve been an Art educator since my first introduction to the career in 2000 when I worked for afterschool programs and summer camps. As an Art educator for 20 years I was hit with the reality that my career life must shift. How would I pay bills, take care of my children? And I knew other Art educators like me who were struggling even before the Coronavirus so this was only going to make things worse. Right? Then an opportunity was brought to my attention.


I received an email from artist/curator and mother Katherine Gressel, of the Old Stone House in Brooklyn. She notified me about their recent request for submissions for their exhibition Brooklyn Utopias 2020. At first I was very critical of the title. Utopia! Are you kidding?! Why Utopia? It was the kind of word that, I felt, mocked the very concept of peace by implying peace was imaginary or fantastical and could only exist in a perfect world. Then I began amusing myself with the ideas of what if? What would it look like? What could bring it about? Utopia doesn’t have to be imagined and perfection is subjective. After a long meditation and several heated debates with myself and friends I came up with the beginning of a project idea but I had to flush out the details and consider everything that was going on. And there was a lot going on. By April 2020 we were dealing with Trump, Covid, quarantine, unemployment, racism, police violence and an economic freeze that pretty much strained the working class income but didn’t pause the bills.


Art is Utopia


I could have panicked or worried myself into poor health but instead I began doing what I love to do. I created an art project that I could work on during quarantine. I wanted a project that would highlight everyone's need to be honored with respect and tolerance. I began contacting fellow artists, friends, acquaintances, colleagues and mentors and created a currency of connection and community that highlighted people of all kinds doing their best but all in need of some sort of support.


Scaffold: Equity of Treatment is about the encouragement of self reflection and preservation and how these very important practices need to be supported by equitable treatment in our homes, communities and world. The use of the scaffolding is to symbolize the individual care and support we all need. My goal is to encourage discussions on self reflection and deciphering what we need as individuals and ways the government can better support these needs.


I’ve completed 115 portraits and if I could I would make a portrait of everyone in the world because we all deserve support. In the words of Octavia Butler, “Consider - We are born, Not with purpose, But with potential” and potential, with the right support, can become greatness. The only thing that ever made America great was its people.


Follow her and her works on https://www.elancadiz.com/


About Human Stories:


All of us have a story to share. Some are joyful. Some are teary. Some provide perspectives. Several are downright heartbreaking. Others are simply inspiring.


I've been receiving and exchanging stories of COVID-19 lockdowns with business and government leaders from around the world since June. As the third wave of the pandemic handcuffs some nations and borders, I turn my attention to you - readers and followers of Affluent Society - and your emails and feedback to me these past months. While I continue serving my sentence in Melbourne, I will try my best to tell your story.


This Human Stories Series is a cumulation of stories shared with Affluent Society by its readers and followers from around the world.


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