LaCa Projects celebrates Latin American contemporary arts while challenging misconceptions

LaCa Projects, which stands for “Latin American Contemporary Art,” was founded nearly three years ago by an Argentinean businessman, Walter Dolhare, who was born and raised in Argentina but moved to the United States at age 20 on a tennis scholarship and has lived in this country for the last 30 years. As a lifelong art collector, he wanted to open an art gallery that would highlight the positive things about Latin American culture, and change the way people think about this important part of the Charlotte community that’s continuing to grow.

“He has had very interesting experiences growing up in Argentina then coming to the United States and going to college,” says Neely Verano, LaCa Projects Gallery Director. “He became more proud and passionate of his Latin American roots but realized there’s still a lot of misconceptions and stereotypes about Latin Americans. He understands pretty keenly both sides of the coin, and is very passionate about Latin American art.”

LaCa Projects is a traditional commercial gallery that rotates shows every 8-12 weeks, with a great breadth and depth of artists that range from emerging to master level artists. The shows also have a wide range of style, medium, aesthetic, and movement.

“That’s been really important because people have very strong misconceptions of what they think of when they think of Latin American art,” Verano explains. “Many people just know Diego Rivera and Frieda Kahlo. Latin American art has had a huge influence on the contemporary arts movement globally, but Europe tends to still be the focus with Picasso and Dali. We feel that we have a very important role in education, not only educating people about the important place contemporary Latin American art has in culture, but with the dominance of Mexican culture in our own society, also showing that there is a wide variety of Latin American cultures outside of Mexico. That’s an important education piece we do here as well.”

With 9,000 square feet of space at LaCa, the gallery takes up 4,500 square feet in the front and the back has three artist studios used for a hybrid artist residency program. Resident artists pay rent on par with comparable studio spaces, sell artwork out of their studios, and have the advantage of being directly connected to the gallery, which is also rented out for private and corporate events and high-profile gatherings like CreativeMornings/Charlotte for which the studios are encouraged remain open.

Because LaCa aims to promote Latin American arts and culture, the residency requirements are strict: the artist must have been born in a Latin American country and have lived there for part of their lives. LaCa also has the “loose” expectation that the artists will engage with community to the extent that they are able to and are all very aware of the no-profit motive of the studio spaces.

“We feel that gives an important context to the art here and changing this stereotype,” says Verano. “The whole mission is exposing people to Latin American art in a way they haven’t been before. These requirements help bring in that Latin American experience and any sort of social or political issues that we may not know about here in the United States. The art serves as a context for the education process. It also brings artists right to the community. That interaction is often lost in the gallery setting. Here we have a cross-cultural dialogue that’s so important. Most people love the opportunity to wander through the studios, and that space is a way for us to activate that part of our vision to be a resource for Latin American art and culture.”

Residency applications are accepted on a rolling basis, though LaCa prefers artists that can reside with them for at least six months. Eventually they also want to be able to open it up to the artists’ families, to better enable them to spend that kind of time in the residency.

“It takes awhile for the artist to create enough work and for the community to have enough time to know that they’re here,” Verano explains. “Especially for artists coming from outside the United States, it takes a long time for them to get established. A year-long studio residency is better to have a longer-term impact on the community. Then they are able to engage more with the community with different programming around the themes in their work.”

Though the gallery is not a nonprofit, they still incorporate a “no-profit model” into much of what they do. They recently partnered with the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art‘s Jail Arts Initiative, which allows inmates to express themselves through artistic creation, to show an exhibition of artwork created by Latino inmates and youth offenders incarcerated at the Mecklenburg County Jail.

LaCa is also supporting institutions in efforts to collect pieces of Latin American art, and would like to start an endowment for Latin American artists local and abroad to take advantage of funding opportunities.

“These are ways for us to partner with other organizations that are reaching out in some way to the Latino community through the lens of art that contributes to social change,” Verano says.

This December LaCa Projects will bring five Latin American artists they have represented for nearly as long as they have been open to participate in their first art fair at SCOPE in Miami, which runs the same week as Art Basel and Art Miami. “This is a huge accomplishment for us to be in this type of fair,” says Verano. This will help us connect with other international galleries and their missions. This is a goal that we have had since our inception.”