When Nicolás de Jesús was young, he was eager to learn about the artistic traditions of his community in rural Mexico.
A professional painter and engraver, de Jesús now enjoys doing his part to pass on those customs and his love of art. He found an opportunity to do so Saturday at BREC's Hartley/Vey Park at Gardere during the Art in the Park Fall Festival, an event organized by the Gardere Initiative and the LSU Museum of Art.
De Jesús was visiting Baton Rouge because he currently has art on exhibit at the museum.
At the festival, children crowded around de Jesús to join him in painting designs onto a large canvas. He showed them samples of his work on amate — a textured paper made from tree bark that's central to traditional art in his home community of Ameyaltepec in Mexico.
Reflecting on how adults once took the time to teach him how to paint, de Jesús said he was excited to share some artistic pointers with young people at the event, especially because it was held in a neighborhood with a sizable Latino population. Some children asked him questions in English; others struck up conversations in Spanish.
Art, de Jesús said, has the power to unify communities.
"It's an ultimate way to communicate," said Grant Benoit, an educator with the LSU Museum of Art, which regularly hosts events in Gardere with the goal of making art accessible to everyone.
That is an important mission because "these kids are all searching for a way to express themselves," said Nicole Jones, an LSU public relations student who works with the Gardere Initiative. The organization seeks to address substance abuse and other issues in the community in southern East Baton Rouge Parish.
Activities like those on Saturday help give the children a much-needed sense of being part of a community, Jones said.
"A lot of these kids, there is a lot of upheaval in their lives," said Jason Forcier, another public relations student at LSU. "This is a historically lower-income area with a lot of single parents. Instability is something they're used to. We're trying to provide something lasting."