CMA Stories

“When I came to the USA and took my first photography class, I knew that I had to make images from that moment on” — 5 Minutes with CMA’s Raquel Du Toit

This August, each CMA Live!  class is dedicated to imagining the future, exploring such themes as character exploration, portraits of our future selves, monuments of the future, and envisioning new environments. Read below as CMA Associate Director of Programming Raquel Du Toit reflects of last month’s theme of superheroes, her Club CMA class, as well as her artistic journey from Mexico to Washington to New York City.

“Mopping an Ocean”

Can you tell us about your art practice and how working with children inspires you?

When I was about twelve years old, I had a moment of panic that I was turning thirteen and about to become an adult. I remember crying on my mother’s shoulder and asking her if I could remain a child. She smiled and brushed away my tears and said, “Well, you can be like Peter Pan and Tinkerbell and not have to grow up as long as you have your imagination.” Then I became an artist.

Working at CMA, I have had the pleasure of being surrounded by children’s’ imagination on a daily basis. Walls or “art rules” that we construct as adults about our own artistic practice are torn down when I engage with children in making art. My work expands on a daily basis and I find that I am experimenting more than ever and letting my imagination go wild.

Tell us about your journey to CMA.

It’s a long story, but in a nutshell, I knew I wanted a change and I knew it had to be in art administration. One late night in December (it was literally 2:00 am) I saw this posting on Word of Mouth (a great place to find art-related jobs!) and I applied. When I went in for the interview I knew I was home.

Before CMA, I earned an MFA at Pratt Institute and helped advocate and develop a Masters in Performance Art with Martha Wilson and Franklin Furnace. I curated international art shows between Mexico and the USA, Detroit, Chicago, and Upstate New York. I worked in the Lower East Side as Program Director at the Lower Eastside Girls Club for five years, where I created and designed many sets for photographers, fashion shows, and music videos in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Oh! I also owned four restaurants in Manhattan … but like I said, it’s a long story!

“Yellow Brick Wall”

CMA Live! classes during the month of July were dedicated to the theme of superheroes. Why is the superhero theme relevant to children in this present moment?

Personally, I like to concentrate on the antihero, I’m a big fan of Don Quixote or Grendel the Monster. “Essential” workers are our anti-heroes — they cleaned our offices when we left work, packed our groceries for us, and brought us deliveries at midnight. We always had those heroes among us, but they were not seen as that until the pandemic hit.

Who are your real-life heroes, and why?

My sister — she is the complete opposite of me. She is one of those people who protects and defends our nation and has given up a lot of personal comfort for our safety and security. She has faced a lot of tribulation being that she is a Latina and a woman, and yet she stands tall and is “all in” in her actions. Between her training and work duties, she still has the time to listen to me talk about my art projects and believe in what I do. #ForeverMySista

Your weekly CMA Live! class, Club CMA with Raquel, is a hit with families. Can you share a favorite art project or memory from one of your classes?

It’s hard to say, because each class I have a special encounter or experience. One of my favorites was doing a large scale “mural” inspired by Keith Haring. It was fun watching everyone rolling around on the floor and making giant portraits with their body. The colors and patterns they made were outstanding, plus they got to dance to MC Hammer while they made art — that  made my day!

August’s theme for CMA Live! focuses on Envisioning the Future. Can you tell us how this theme will be incorporated across the various class offerings?

I am using this theme in my Club CMA classes. We will be looking at the painting masters and recreating some of their paintings techniques with new tools and a new perspective. One of my favorites is painting your future self-portrait. I can’t wait to see what the children come up with.

“Clean Money”

What advice would you give to young artists who wish to pursue an art practice?

Do it! I might sound like a Nike commercial, but it’s true. The more you practice, the more you know what your work is about, and the more you create, the more people will know what you are doing … it becomes second nature.  

Why is it important to make art accessible to all children and families?

Because I was one of those kids. Growing up in Mexico, I didn’t know you could have a career in the arts. When I came to the USA and took my first photography class, I knew that I had to make images from that moment on. It changed my life. Thank you, Ms. Drumheller at Kent-Meridian High School in Kent, Washington… you may not remember me, but I remember you!

“WeWork Sticker Collection”

Do you have a favorite memory of making art as a child?

Books! I made my own zines and would also write stories about being a detective with my sister. I used to make giant installations in our “barrio” —  I would install cardboard boxes in the trees and connect our garden hose to spray kids as they tried to collect golden coins (which were leaves that I sprayed painted). I loved creating environments we could play make-believe in, and in this case, we were playing the Super Mario Bros Live version.

Can you share a work or artist that inspires you to make art?

Take a look at CMA’s Flickr page — those are the young artists that inspire me the most.

Top Image: Raquel Du Toit, Coffee Break

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