Sweety’s cofounders — Julia Pimes Mata, Bryan Rodriguez, Ximena Izquierdo Ugaz, and Eduardo Restrepo Castaño — met at Boston’s prestigious School of the Museum of Fine Arts. The collaboration grew out of their experiences feeling isolated and frustrated as minority students. Sweety’s Radio came into being in 2015, when the co-founders brought in hosts Rene Dongo and Andisa Montez and DJ EARTHACLIT (Cierra Michele Peters) to create a podcast aimed at centering the experiences of creators of color. “Part of your practice becomes defensive, you know?” explains Rodriguez. “Part of your practice is just shielding yourself, which denies you an opportunity to grow. It’s another moment of privilege you don’t have. So Sweety’s became a gesture to reclaim those things.”
In March 2015, Sweety’s was invited to §üb∫amsøn, a Samsøñ residency, which gave them the space to create the podcast. Samsøñ’s director, Camilo Alvarez, is one of the few gallerists of color in the area, and he was intent on giving Sweety’s a home. “We need this moment together, to be there for each other,” says Castaño. The podcast was established to be centered around the experiences of people of color, an action that’s often perceived as antagonistic to or meant to provoke white people. “We’re not even thinking about that,” Ugaz says. “I don’t think about white people or whiteness when thinking about or making my work.” Sweety’s is focused on enriching those who come to the table and building a community. As Rodriguez notes, “It’s a way of cultivating wealth, even if it’s not financial wealth. It’s the wealth of a community and a platform and a voice, a way to tap into an audience and similarities experienced.”
The podcast serves as a vehicle for the conversations the founders are intent on having, and sharing — as Peters says, “All you have to do is record it, and then you can post it anywhere, share it anywhere, and people will find a way to listen to it.” The goal is an open forum to discuss everything from current events to the experience of creating, in a space free of the dynamics of performance and privilege that they deal with in school, in their art praxis, and in their daily life. Joining them in these wide-ranging conversations have been guest including rappers Jay Boogie and Bbymutha and artist Carlos Martiel and Guarionex Rodriguez Jr., among many others.
Boston is one of the most segregated cities in the country, both by race and by class, and art-making is still seen mostly as a privilege of the few. Galleries are quiet, sacred spaces of white walls and red wine. “But art should be fun, you know? Art should be lit!” exclaims Peters. Adds Dongo: “I feel like often art is hard, it’s stale, it’s like, ‘Look at me and don’t understand.’ Most of the time when you go to a gallery, everyone is standing around looking at something that everybody thinks they should like.” Sweety’s Radio, with its live audience and raucous good times, does away with these restrictions on behavior and expression in a gallery setting. As Peters describes it, “Sometimes you want to be loud, you want to snap, you want to say yes! A gallery is like a church: Be quiet. But in our church, it’s not like that.”
Outside of the gallery, the cast of Sweety’s Radio worry about the lack of resources for people of color and native Bostonians to get involved in the art world, that there’s not enough to help and support them staying in the city to create. There’s a lack of creative community and a lack of communication with audiences here, which is something Sweety’s is working on. It can be impossible to be an artist, Dongo says, because “you have to leave, or you have to stop and get a 9 to 5.” Boston’s environment makes more acute the problems faced by people of color in the art world, but it’s not just this city. The alienation is wider than that, with the art world as a whole. “The art that people with money like isn’t the necessarily the art that is enjoyable, that people want to look at,” says Ugaz. “It’s like Sweety’s Radio: you can’t buy Sweety’s Radio. But you can listen, you can come by and experience it.” Adds Rodriguez: “We don’t get paid, but we do it out of love.”
For the moment, the Sweety’s group and their podcast are ensconced in Samsøñ Gallery, where they help construct programming and the co-founders show their work. In the future, they have bigger plans: They’d like to take the podcast on the road, and are developing a print publication to put out alongside it. In an ideal world, this would all come together as a book tour, with the group recording installments as they go. For now that’s all still ahead of them, but their next podcast episode will be released November 6.
Correction: This article originally misstated the month in which Sweety’s was invited to the §üb∫amsøn residency, as well as the name of the residency itself. It also mistakenly claimed that Sweety’s was interested in including white experiences. These have been fixed.
Update, 12/3: The cofounders of Sweety’s have asked to add clarification on two points in this piece. Their comments are as follows.
Regarding the paragraph that begins, “Outside of the gallery…”:
We worry about the lack of resources for people of color in and outside of the gallery including our own, operating on a nothing budget which includes maintaining ourselves as people in addition to what we put out as Sweety’s. Although our work does come from a place of love, to claim that we are comfortable with not gaining any monetary compensation for our work is inaccurate. Love can also look like us being able to pay the hosts, guests, and DJ for their time, energy, and vitality.
Being in the gallery is not a fantasy space where these real anxieties for our and others’ financial wellbeing fade away. They are part of what we carry every time we step into that door.
We do not claim to be the only artists currently and ever who have worked on the issues we are tackling, or on the lack of communication with audiences in Boston, which we feel this article may be conveying. It is our goal to honor the black and brown artists and leaders who have done the work that has allowed us to be where we are at. In addition, it is also our priority to continue to collaborate and exchange ideas with several groups in Boston and outside of Boston focusing on the work and livelihood of creative people of color in the city.
Regarding meeting at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts:
Just saying that we “met” at that school leaves a lot of room for the misinterpretation that perhaps SMFA fostered Sweety’s. In reality SMFA triggered many of the feeling that pushed us towards starting Sweety’s with ongoing instances of silencing, erasure, and mocking of our realities and the realities of other people of color in an environment where we (should be able to and) are constantly asked to make ourselves vulnerable through creative expression.
That aspect should be clear in the article because emotional, intellectual, and physical violence towards people of color is pervasive throughout all academic institutions. At this moment when many students of color in higher education are bringing to light racism/anti-blackness within universities, we feel that many art schools cover the fact that the same situations are happening within their walls, with the false idea that art schools are a solution to higher education and welcoming to all kinds of people. Specifically at SMFA, there have been a lot of issues arising, from blackface at this year’s Art Sale to a student being threatened with losing their position as student government president for putting up posters about how racist the institution is. The false promise or white new-liberalism that is practiced by both the schools’ administrations (which can sound abstract) and the white student body is intoxicating and dangerous, because it makes it for even students of color find it safer to feel like they are the “exception.”
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