Meeting with Kira Aguirre is never boring or lackluster. Her welcoming smile and open energy makes anyone comfortable in her presence. I’ve known the artist for a few years as she was a participant in various EXPO Collective exhibitions and was always involved in something artistic in Pilsen.
I sat down with her at Pilsen Outpost, located just west of Ashland Ave. in Pilsen on 18th street, to talk about her new business, Pryzm Arts, that she’s been building from scratch for the last year. She celebrated her first full year in February.
“When we first opened up, we were striving to pull in and let the neighborhood know that we were here,” she said. As she has opened up a new business, she wants to make sure it’s inclusive of her culture and her Pilsen roots.
“In the last location that we moved into, we had ‘Pilsen’s not for sale’ written on our windows, which broke my heart because I’m FROM Pilsen,” she said. “I want to occupy space in the neighborhood where I grew up to do affordable painting classes, unlike other locations. The people in the neighborhood are working class and we have to keep that in mind, too.”
The shared collective space that houses temporary exhibits like a gallery, and sells a variety of goods created by local Chicago artists, is undergoing a face lift to make it more “gallery-esque,” Aguirre said. We walked in to a display of Carlos Barbarena’s current line of prints hanging on the main white walls. “I keep telling myself to take his class,” Aguirre tells me. He hosts the month-long class there at Pilsen Outpost.
Aguirre maintains her own little nook in the gallery store, right in between either section. The curtain-covered space resembles a large closet and holds Aguirre’s teaching materials that she uses for her classes every weekend.
Aguirre began teaching in 2012 by accident after attending a sip and paint activity, where she was asked if she’d ever consider teaching others. So began her journey to opening up her own business. After realizing she didn’t want to be the token Latina, nor did she only want to paint cliché Latino images, Aguirre feels that she’s developed her own style for her business with everything she had experienced in her time teaching for other companies.
“I wanted to teach people what I’d already learned,” said Aguirre. With that, she came up with images that highlighted her likes and interests while also keeping in mind cultural relevancy — whether it be the Latino culture, pop culture or current mainstream trends.
The past year has seen the face of Pilsen change drastically, with new businesses, new living quarters meaning new people. In that vain, Aguirre feels that it’s important to uphold standards of her business and the neighborhood that comes with assuming stereotypes.
“The new stuff that’s popping up in the neighborhood will try to reach out and want to do a sip and paint, but they want to do something corny. Something like, a guy eating a taco at a taco place,” she laughed.
“I grew up in Pilsen and I feel like I have a responsibility to educate people on the images we paint. They’ll think they’re coming in to just paint a moon, when it’s really part of Mexican bingo. It’s not just teaching art. It’s more educational.”
“A first timer is the white light, they come in here, realize it’s something fun and are proud of what they’ve created and painted,” she explained. “Giving that revelation to people who felt they couldn’t do it, makes me proud.”
Written by Christina Elizabeth Rodriguez-Estrada