Charleston County's population is 5.2 percent Hispanic, according to 2013 Census data. That's 0.1 percent less than the state of South Carolina as a whole, and in a city where race is often compartmentalized as a black-and-white issue, it may be hard for Latinos to find their own space here. But thanks to the work of Maribel Acosta Gonzalez, an artist and arts educator, the Hispanic experience in Charleston is a little less lonely.
Born and raised in Cuba, Acosta is a painter, a playwright, and the host of two radio shows. Her paintings have been exhibited at West Ashley's now-defunct 827 and the Charleston County Public Library's Saul Alexander galleries. Her play, Aramos en el Mar? (Shall We Plough Through the Sea?), was inspired by stories of the Hispanic experience; it was performed by North Charleston's Olla de Arte theater group in May. And you can hear her weekly on Radio El Sol (980 and 1480 AM) during her "Comunidad a Las 3" talk show.
All of the mediums coalesce into Acosta's multidisciplinary MAG Art project. MAG Art is Acosta's arts education organization, which offers workshops, educational theater experiences, presentations, and graphic design. But it's more than that: it's also Acosta's attempt to build a more diverse and accepting community through art. The reason she works through so many channels is she wants to reach more people, in whatever way might appeal to them the most. "When you take your job seriously as an artist, as a teacher, or even as a parent, you have to do many tasks at the same time," she says. "You have to be immensely creative so that what you want to teach or transmit stays in the memory."
After relocating to Charleston from New Jersey in 2010, it wasn't long before Acosta began exhibiting her own work throughout the Lowcountry. Then she met Lydia Cotton, the City of North Charleston's Hispanic liaison. "We started community projects together in the Hispanic community, and I understood the necessity of creating a space of approaching art in my community," Acosta says. "It was a space that didn't exist."
Because there were so few outlets for Hispanics in Charleston, Acosta couldn't limit herself to just one medium. But working through so many channels means having to learn new skills as much as you rely on the ones you already have. It's exhausting work— and Acosta loves it.
"There is no time to be bored," she says. "One thing follows and motivates the other, and all of them relate to each other because they all fulfill the same objective: to boost change, throw ideas, motivate, search to understand and integrate with each other, and, the most important for me, to be creative when looking for solutions."
As she continues to build community, Acosta has plenty of plans for the future: writing and illustrating a bilingual children's book, presenting her plays in English and Spanish, and, most importantly, establishing a Hispanic cultural center in Charleston, complete with a theater. By building new institutions, she hopes she can inspire new artists and open doors to other organizations in the Lowcountry.
She's already found support from the City of North Charleston, the Charleston Regional Alliance for the Arts, and the S.C. Arts Commission.
"Art doesn't have borders," she says. "The beauty in art is that it lets you reflect from the enjoyment of its delicacy or of its moment of interchange in ideas. It pushes you to think and have fun while you learn and it takes you farther from what you thought at the beginning or what you consciously accepted."