María del Mar (Yes! It’s all her first name) is filling a brand new, one-year position at the ACLU of Utah as our Community Outreach Fellow. She assists in advancing our strategic priorities at the state and local levels while strengthening community connections and supporting local coalitions. You may have seen her on the streets at one of the many recent demonstrations or heard her speak at an event. Even after only a couple of months on the job, there is no doubt that María del Mar is making an impact on our work in Utah.
What is your background?
I grew up bi-cultural, living the first years of my childhood in Columbia, Missouri, later moving to Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, where my parents and brother still remain. I attended the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez for undergraduate work in studio art. I then went on to attend Indiana University-Bloomington and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for my M.A. and Ph.D. in art history, respectively. In my academic work, I focused on modern and contemporary art history specializing in the intersection of art and politics in Latin American and Latinx art. During that time, I was fortunate to have worked in institutions of higher education, art museums, and nonprofits including the California College of the Arts, University of Utah, Getty Foundation, and Smithsonian National Museum of American History—all of which are committed to the advancement of the arts through education and collaboration across communities.
My work and activism are informed by my experience as a Latina and interest in social justice, equity, and access to educational resources. As an educator and arts advocate, I focused on bridging the gap between the academic and public communities. I believe that we become stronger when we bring traditionally marginalized voices into larger conversations. This led to my involvement in local Utah organizations such as Artes de México en Utah and Mestizo Institute of Arts and Culture that establish accessible pedagogy, cultural programming, and interdisciplinary collaborations with underrepresented communities.
How did you first become involved with the ACLU?
I moved to Utah in September 2016. Over the course of the past year, my focus went from higher education complimented by activism and advocacy to the reverse. This included working on voter registration drives and leadership roles in nonpartisan action groups, Utahns Acting for Change Together (UACT) and Action Utah (AU), while also collaborating with other grassroots organizations in Utah. That’s how I first met ACLU of Utah’s Marina Lowe (Legislative and Policy Counsel) and Anna Thomas (Strategic Communications Manager). Through my interactions with them, I began to learn more about the amazing work they were doing in the state of Utah. This led me to helping with disseminating calls to action and raising awareness about their work and eventually signing up to organize the launch of the ACLU National’s new volunteer driven grassroots initiative: People Power. This past March, I, along with Jeremy Davies, organized the launch of People Power in Salt Lake City for an audience of over 220.
Why did you apply for the Community Outreach Fellow position?
When I decided to transition out of academia to focus on activism and advocacy, I knew that I wanted to work at an organization that I knew did meaningful work, preferably with a focus on social justice. I wanted to work for an institution that had a mission that I truly believed in. My activism and advocacy led me to establish a network of relationships with other nonprofits, grassroots groups, and coalitions throughout the state—one of the most significant being the ACLU. I’d also already met Marina, Anna, and Reinard (our office manager), and knew that they’d be an incredible team to work with. For these reasons, the Community Outreach Fellow for the ACLU of Utah sounded like a dream job, so of course I applied!
What do you like about working with the ACLU?
I have been with the ACLU of Utah for two and a half months and I have loved every day. I am surrounded by a staff that is passionate about their work, who are in the frontlines fighting for civil liberties and rights. We are a small, tightly knit team that gives me hope.
What projects are you working on that you feel passionate about?
I have been meeting with partner organizations and community leaders to discuss strategic partnerships and foster connections on issues that I care about. I am excited about continuing to build networks to expand the role and accessibility of the ACLU of Utah. I am also working with a coalition on several initiatives for our local immigrant community and DREAMers. I’ve been planning events with several community partners, including documentary screenings and panel discussions for “Lady Valor: The Kristin Beck Story” and “13TH”.
I’m also very excited to be organizing our 2017 Membership Meeting, which will include a panel of Utah activists discussing how the landscape of activism has changed since the November 2016 election. Save the date for November 16th! Finally, I’m really looking forward to the work I’ll be doing with Marina Lowe during the 2018 Utah State Legislative Session.
What are your hopes for the next year?
My goal for the next year is to strengthen and expand our network outside Salt Lake County and develop relationships and programming that empower our community and engage our membership, while making a more approachable institution. It is my hope that this work will have a lasting impact in the state of Utah.
What do you like to do when you are not at work?
Believe it or not, I remain active in my academic field of art history, publishing scholarly articles and to a lesser extent, still present at conferences and guest lecture. For fun, I enjoy cooking—I absolutely love cooking traditional Puerto Rican dishes and testing out new recipes—thrifting, scouting the downtown farmers market for produce and pastries, finding the perfect cup of latté in Salt Lake City (I’m partial to Publik and Blue Copper), as well as travelling and visiting art museums.
This article was first published in the Liberty Reporter: 2017 Fall Newsletter >>