Carina del Rosario puts on her teaching artist hat and works with a young student. Photo credit: Shelly Schmidt.

By Christina Twu
IE Editor in Chief

It is not adequate to say the dream Carina A. del Rosario manifests is off the beaten path. In fact, it might just be the opposite. “I think this idea that artists can make it on their own, that we’re independent and we forge certain paths that no one’s held, you know, it’s not true,” she says. “It’s at least not true for me because everyone has helped me along the way.

Del Rosario’s artistry is holistic, striking a balance between community organizing, arts administration, journalism, photography and empowering young people with creative tools as a teaching artist.

Since arriving in Seattle in 1992 as a graduate from Santa Clara University, she’s found enduring support. From photographer John Pai mentoring her to Examiner Arts Editor Alan Lau giving her his Chinese paintbrushes and art books to review, to fellow teaching artists referring her to teaching jobs or her friends raising her thousands of dollars to go on a nine-week digital storytelling project in Guatemala, each friend, helper or opportunity led to other opportunities to enrich her journey.

“There’s absolutely no way I could be doing what I am doing now without the community that has supported me,” she says. “I am really serious about that.” If there’s anything del Rosario would impart to other artists and activists, it’s to “be open to help, acknowledge help and also just keep helping others.”

Her recent major accomplishment is establishing the artist collective and former International District Engaged in the Arts (IDEA) Odyssey Gallery with two friends, SuJ’n Chon and Minh Carrico. When she first started convening community members in 2010 about the idea of starting a gallery and collective in the Chinatown-International District (CID), she wanted it to be an authentic part of the neighborhood and give emerging artists of color a strong platform.

“I specifically wanted artists who were community-minded and care about preserving what’s already there and adding to it,” she explains. Thanks to a Seattle Storefronts business plan and exhibition sponsorship from Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDpda), the IDEA Odyssey Gallery on 666 Jackson Street hosted around eight hopping shows from 2011 to 2012. Though the artist collective no longer has its own gallery space, its members are still coordinating exhibitions and gaining traction in the larger arts community, attracting membership from emerging artists of color who may have never exhibited their work without IDEA Odyssey’s support.

Del Rosario’s work now is a natural extension of what she experienced first establishing herself as an artist in Seattle.She got her start reviewing books for the International Examiner, then worked her way up to staff writer and managing editor — a part-time gig she combined with coffee slinging, then administrative work at statewide advocacy group School’s Out Washington.

“She always had this passion and a sense of justice of doing right by people that I admired,” says Alan Lau, IE arts editor, who started working closely with her at the newspaper in 1993.

John Pai remembers meeting del Rosario around this time. They eventually started working together on video projects when she worked as communications coordinator for Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS) starting in 2002.

During this time she began taking a lot of photos for ACRS, and “was also developing an interest in fine arts photography. She really wanted to explore that,” Pai says, adding: “It’s rare that you find an individual who already has a career, has a medium they already work in and then wants to pursue fine arts photography.”

Del Rosario and Pai over the years talked shop about photography methods, approaches, aesthetics and social responsibility. “She was a major spunge,” Pai remembers, who also lent her equipment and photography books.

“When I was still feeling a little sheepish or shy about saying that I’m an artist, John was the one that was like, ‘Carina, you are an artist. Get over it,’” says del Rosario.

Pai adds that del Rosario wears the mark of a true artist; she earnestly seeks and genuinely receives feedback to improve her artwork. “The whole aspect of taking criticism, challenging yourself, making the vision alive and not getting discouraged and losing focus — that’s a great strength (Carina has),” Pai says.

Though del Rosario’s work takes many shapes and directions, it is all guided by a love and respect for the communities she’s worked in. “As an artist, I have seen her work open up slowly as she explored many different directions on a path to find herself,” says Lau. “But her search was never self-indulgent; she always felt it important to have the community as a touchstone for her work, whether that community was the neighborhood, the Asian-American community or the larger world around her. Her unceasing efforts to form an art collective in the Chinatown-International District neighborhood shows that she understands that art is not created in a void, but surges forward through an interaction with people, society and a community. Carina’s compassion and inherent sense of humanity enriches all the work she does in her art and for the community-at-large.”

Check out Carina del Rosario’s photography and exhibition details at www.cadelrosario.com

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