April 29, 2021

Meet Teaching Artist, Juan Alberto Franco Ricardo

“Art, especially photography, helped me come to terms with the complex identity problems teens confront.”

— Juan Alberto Franco Ricardo

We often discuss our mission of amplifying youth voice and providing arts access to teens. Less so, do we share our goal to employ qualified and talented artists in our community, whose lived experience reflects that of our student body. Over the next few days you will meet a few of our Teaching Artists who have been gracious in sharing their thoughts, processes, memories of art as a teen, and more.

A diverse set of experiences with the arts has brought us all here. Join us in celebrating the reasons we are drawn to this mission and support Youth in Focus in creating equitable access to the arts for teens today. Your donations up to $6500 will be doubled, thanks to the contribution of an anonymous donor.

Meet the Artist: Juan Alberto Franco Ricardo
Juan joined Youth in Focus in 2016 as a volunteer mentor and is an artist working in photography, collage, and organizing to explore memory and relationships. They are currently teaching virtual after-school session: Intro to Photography and Art.


What was your first memorable experience with either an art class, practice or teacher?

In preschool/kindergarten in Colombia, I remember having a conversation with my parents and teacher about my report card. Rather than grades, it was a list of skills and knowledge marked as passed or failed. One of the items graded the student’s ability to color inside the lines. I definitely failed that one. In failure, there is always value: it is to learn what went wrong or it is to be critical about why something or someone told us we failed. I don’t remember being happy about “failing” coloring inside the lines, but in hindsight, this is probably my first identification as an artist.  

What kind of role did art play in your teens?

“Art, especially photography, helped me come to terms with the complex identity problems teens confront. As a bartering and garage sale expert, my mother bought me a film camera (alongside lenses and a carrying bag) from the eighties. Walking around the neighborhood by myself with that camera became an almost daily ritual. It allowed me to spend time with myself to develop an idea of how to define art. Yes, it was about the photographs that I had developed and printed at the local drug store. It was about something else, too. It was about the process of learning and looking with curiosity in solitude.  

How old were you when you got serious about art?

I think the daily walks became so ingrained into my identity that once I got to high school my friends referred to me as a photographer. I began working and collaborating with them to create portraits and to generate ideas about creating meaningful images. At the same time, high school was the time I decided that I wanted to pursue an art education in college. The application process helped get serious by building a portfolio, writing about my work, and experiencing the work of contemporary artists through research and museum trips.

What’s your most important artist tool?

The most important tool for an artist is the community that surrounds them. For one, an (ideal) community feeds us, houses us, provides the foundation for survival. A community also challenges us to try something new, to discover what is possible and to make the world a better place. From the basics to creativity, building a strong community helps artists make their best work.  

How has living in DC changed your approach to your work?

Moving to DC has brought me back to the days of my ritual walks, but not in practice rather in feeling. My practice has become solitary two-fold through a new city and through a global pandemic. Leaving Seattle meant leaving behind a community years in the making. This is marked both as the relationships and the spaces in Seattle. In DC,I have focused inwards again, asking questions about how and why I make art. I have been slowing down and thinking more about long-term goals. Seattle was a place to make and explore, DC has become a place to strategize and rest.

Are you completely off of social media? How does that change the conversation between your work and those that see it?

I took a break from social media last year. Part of that inward process meant going back in time in a way; disconnecting from a constant and instant connection to a more intentional connection. It meant calling my friends and family, writing letters, and keeping up with the art community in Seattle and DC through more intentional means. I am back on social media now, but my relationship is different now (or at least I am trying to make it so). I am working by setting boundaries about its uses and thinking more carefully about how I use it. I like to keep up with contemporary artists, but I also recognize that social media feeds into the capitalist mentality of productivity through “content creation” and “engagement.” In the end, I want my work and the work of others to be an intentional experience, rather than a passive consumption.  

“Art is abundant, it is not scarce and it is for everyone. ”

Is there anything you’re working on right now that you can show us?

I am currently listening to a lot of Cumbia and I (finally) finished reading Gabriel García Márquez’ “Love in the Time of Cholera.” While I am not directly working on making images, I think the ongoing experience of music and the reflection of the reading will yield some results. Stay tuned. I have also attached a collage I made based on this.

What stops you from quitting?

Going back to the most important tool for an artist: community. Showing up for one another is what keeps from quitting.

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