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Cultural kaleidoscope

Mel “Melo” Dominguez, who grew up a street artist in Los Angeles, invites people to join her in creating a mural during the Summer Celebration of the Arts July 11 at Tower View.

By Ruth Nerhaugen, contributor

A collision of cultures is in store when Mel “Melo” Dominguez sets up shop at the Anderson Center’s Summer Celebration of the Arts on July 11.

Dominguez, who began her career in art as a street painter in Los Angeles, is traveling from her current home in Tucson, Arizona, to Red Wing to participate in the annual event.

She’s never been this far north, she admitted. “That’s why I’m so excited to be able to do this. I’m a people person. I like experiencing things. It’s like a big adventure for me.”

Dominguez, whose trip north is sponsored in part by local artists and organizations, happily anticipates “Meeting other people. The art. The weather. The trees and flowers.”

She knows that all those things she experiences will be reflected in her future work. “That’s what I live for as an artist,” she explained.

While at the Summer Celebration, Dominguez will exhibit at least five new works and plans to paint a mural on-site. People who come to the show will be invited to join her in creating the mural, probably on a large canvas.

“I will need a lot of their help. That’s what I love most — experimenting,” she said. She especially likes involving people who think they can’t paint in her mural projects.

That’s how she got her start.

“Living in L.A., you see so much artwork,” she said, especially on the streets. She met those graffiti artists and befriended them. “They were a lot more interesting.”

Soon she was painting in her own neighborhood, experimenting with her own style and enjoying the camaraderie of artists.

“It was pretty awesome,” Dominguez said.

She and her partner moved to Tucson in 2007. Tired of the hustle and bustle of L.A., they wanted a place where they could feel fulfilled and experience life; where she could create her personal art rather than work for other people.

Dominguez still creates outdoor murals, especially as projects working with young people there. But it was logical, she said, to move indoors and paint artwork that people can take with them.

“There is such a joy in the desert, in the landscape,” she said. “There is magic in the soul and in the spirit.”

Her artwork today is “a direct expression of her Chicano/a culture, political issues, social issues and envi-ronmental issues,” according to an artist description: “Mel enjoys using creativity and activism to create a difference throughout the Tucson community.”

She is known particularly for “Dia de los Muertos” (Day of the Dead) and skeleton images.

“Coming from the melting pot that is Los Angeles, I had worked many trades and jobs with migrant workers,” including many who were in the United States without papers, she explained in her art blog (

After moving to Arizona, she became aware of the deaths along the Sonoran Desert border, and became in-volved in a human rights organization concerned about those deaths.

“Witnessing the struggles endured for a better quality of life, the number of deaths, marketing of the Day of the Dead and selling of the culture all sank with me,” she said.

“It felt so wrong to know that there were deaths taking place just 20 minutes from Tucson. So, I decided to share the stories for those lost in the Sonoran Desert. I did this in hopes that the viewer would see the story and be moved by it.”

Some scenes of skeletons, she added, “represent people I knew, met, shared fun times with and of time gone by. These images are of enduring love in the afterlife, never forgetting and always enjoying our time here on earth with one another.”

While in Red Wing, Dominguez also plans to visit with the local Hispanic Outreach organization “to learn about the migrants who live here and are able to work.”