Jessica Lopez Lyman Knows la Cultura Cura

Jessica Lopez Lyman names her influences: Chicana feminist scholar Aida Hurtado. Writer/theatrical jazz artist Sharon Bridgforth. Artist/scholar Omi Jones. Performance artist/scholar Stephanie Batiste. Chicana theorist Gloria Anzaldúa. And many, many more.

“I surround myself with a lot of women, elders, and community leaders,” Lopez Lyman says. “Powerhouses, from lawyers to doctors to musicians.” Lopez Lyman, a performance artist and Xicana feminist scholar, is a powerhouse herself. She has a doctorate in Chicana and Chicano Studies from UC Santa Barbara. She teaches in the Chicano and Latino Studies department at the University of Minnesota. She also consults on academia and “big life questions” through Springboard’s Artist Career Consultant program. “I love mentoring, because I am a product of strong mentors,” Lopez Lyman says. “I believe that it’s our duty to continue the pipeline.”

Hi, Jessica! Please share a little about your creative practice.
I consider myself an interdisciplinary artist. I originally came to creative production through spoken word. I was part of a collective called Vibin’ Collective. We hosted open mics at Quest nightclub, which no longer exists, and other places around the Twin Cities. Desdamona was a mentor of mine. She had me performing when I was young, at the first B-Girl Be at what was then Intermedia Arts.

And ultimately, I also am a researcher. I consider that part of my creative production. I’m working on a book right now that looks at Latina artists, who I consider to be cultural organizers in contemporary social movements in St. Paul/Minneapolis.

I identify as a Xicana feminist, and part of my understanding about the role of art is: “La cultura cura.” “The culture cures.” Based on generational traumas, historical and systemic oppression, art is a really important survival strategy for us. It is a form of healing. So the work that I do as a performance artist — to intervene, to interrupt — is always interested in trying to figure out: How do we break apart the current conditions in which we live, to create spaces where we can dream and imagine? To heal and think of new possibilities?

Jessica Lopez Lyman with the La Luchadora screenprinting cart at a creative placemaking event in Bloomington’s South Loop. Credit Bruce Silcox.

How did you start working with Springboard for the Arts?
Ready Go was was my first introduction to Springboard. I applied for a grant and got it, and I’ve been working with Springboard around Ready Go for at least the past five years now. When they did their first cohort of artist consultants, I was invited to participate.

It seems to me that [as an ACC], I specialize in two areas. One is around folks that are going through more formal academic training — MFAs, Ph.Ds — and trying to navigate that system, particularly for BIPOC folks. The other area where I seem to have found a niche is around people that are trying to think about the big life questions: What’s their role as an artist? What is the purpose of their craft? How can they use it to uphold their values? These people are asking the big questions and trying to find answers for practical, everyday solutions of how they can incorporate their craft into their daily ritual.

What are projects that you have going right now or an idea in the making? What’s a project you’d like to see happen?
I have this project called La Luchadora, which is part of Springboard’s mobile toolkit/mobile art project. It’s a mobile screenprinting cart that’s based off of the paleta cart, the popsicle cart that’s very popular in a lot of Latino urban communities. And I have gone all around the state and have done over 50 different community events. Been hired by governments; by libraries; the Walker; and the Weisman [Art] Museum to do work around screenprinting. I would not call myself a printmaker — the project La Luchadora is about social process and arts engagement. And to me, it’s a performance in itself.

What’s something you wish others knew about you?
I guess the one thing I would like people to know is that I’m a new mom. I had a baby at the start of the pandemic: April 28 of last year. And the reason I want people to know that is because I never thought I would be a mother. And it has obviously immensely changed my life, in the most beautiful way. I think it has made me a stronger artist. And it has also made me have to reprioritize how I show up in community spaces.

Being a new parent in the pandemic, I’ve had to make a lot of different choices. For example, I’ve said no to every Luchadora invitation I’ve had this year, because I didn’t want to risk bringing the virus home to my baby. And so it has prohibited some of my artistic production. But at the same time, it’s given me a new lens to see the world and how we organize in different ways, and it has made me a stronger fighter for the issues that I care about — and finding a network of other mamas who share similar values and have been negotiating the balance of their lives a lot longer than I have.

Springboard Resources
Artist Career Consultants, available for virtual consultations:
Workshops & Events Calendar:
Work of Art and Handbook for Artists Working in Community books:
Ready Go roster of mobile artist tools:

Editor’s note: As the national platform for Springboard for the Arts, Creative Exchange has long been a platform to highlight the artists, resources, and efforts in our national network. In this pandemic, as Springboard for the Arts’ work is increasingly online and accessible nationally, we’ll be turning the spotlight on Springboard staff and our Artist Career Consultants, to share more about who we are and the work we do. Enjoy!