WYWH: A Series of Talks and Workshops in Immigration Participation in the Arts
May 10, 2023
By Sophia Williams
In April 2023, to explore how immigration issues intersect with the world of the arts, Center for Art Law hosted a series of virtual events – a clinic, workshop, and colloquium – surrounding the topics of immigration, visas for artists and contribution of immigrant artists. The “Visual Arts Immigration Clinic” paired artists with the Center’s network of volunteer attorneys for consultations on immigrant visas for artists. In a workshop, titled “Being Extraordinary: Crafting an O-1 Visa Petition” participants heard an overview of the process of applying for an O-1 visa for those of “extraordinary ability,” which many international artists use to immigrate and obtain permission to work within the United States. In the colloquium, “Considering Cultural Integration: Immigrant Contribution to the Arts,” an academic shared her research into arts participation in immigrant communities and the social impact of those artists.
The “Visual Arts Immigration Clinic,” on April 12, 2023, began with a keynote address from Edwin M. Hernandez Garcia. Hernandez Garcia, an Associate in the Immigration Group at Tarter Krinsky & Drogin, introduced the O-1 visa, whose awardees are “Individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement,” and the role of the visa in providing a pathway for many talented international artists to petition to live and work within the U.S. Hernandez Garcia highlighted that there are multiple ways applicant artists may present “extraordinary” abilities.
Following Hernandez’ keynote, artists met with volunteer attorneys in one-on-one private consultations, to discuss their circumstances and concerns, and receive guidance on the visa application process. The attorneys addressed individual questions that artists brought to the sessions based on their work and resumes. The volunteer attorneys, with specializations in immigration or employment law, included Cielomar Puccio, an attorney of Brandlett, licensed in D.C. and Puerto Rico, Heidi Son, Senior Counsel, Head of Business Immigration at Murray Osorio, PLLC, and Raquel Linda Trujillo-Oria, Owner & Managing Partner of Tru Law USA.
Elektra Yao, founder and principal attorney of a firm dedicated to international and domestic artists, Yao Group, led the workshop “Being Extraordinary: Crafting an 0-1 Visa Petition,” which took place on April 17, 2023. Tailored toward an audience of artists, and lawyers interested in immigration issues, Yao walked attendees through the process of applying for and obtaining an O-1 work visa. Yao provided a thorough introduction to the requirements, and steps, for the application process for the visa. She presented a checklist outlining the technical components of the O-1 visa, including, for visual artists, a portfolio, an itinerary of the plan for expected work while in the U.S. and any contracts for future projects, and recommendation letters from experts within the field. Yao also shared a toolkit for hopeful O-1 visa applicants, with suggestions of strategies artists can undertake to strengthen their prospect of successful petitions. For example, one way of increasing one’s online presence as an artist, which may be helpful in ultimately generating press materials and examples of recognition of one’s artwork, is by publishing information and writings about artworks on sites like Medium or creating videos on streaming sites like TikTok, where artists may self-publish to the platforms and expand their community of readers and viewers. One crucial point Yao stressed was what the definition of being an “artist with extraordinary ability” entails. Yao shared that she works with a broad breadth of people engaged with artistic pursuits, not only visual artists, but creatives who are tattoo artists, makeup artists, nail technicians, chefs, or OnlyFans models. Art is expansive, and artists need not be traditional to be extraordinary.
Dr. Jennifer Novak-Leonard, author of Considering Cultural Integration in the United States: Empirical Essays on Immigrants Arts Participation gave a lecture on April 19, 2023, “Considering Cultural Integration: Immigrant Contribution to the Arts.” Dr. Novak-Leonard is a Research Associate Professor and Research Director of the Arts Impact Initiative in the College of Fine and Applied Arts, whose work focuses on the social roles of arts, artists, and creativity; how they impact people and communities; and implications for policy and practice. She explores methods of measuring cultural participation in immigrant communities, and how personal and public values develop from creative experiences and in turn can inform public and social policy.
Dr. Novak-Leonard’s talk explored her research into the question, ‘How are immigrant societies contributing to American society at large?’ She noted that an antiquated answer was a theory of assimilation for immigrants to arrive at social cohesion, which emphasized cultural assimilation as a route to upward mobility. Novak-Leonard contrasted this historical perspective with current thinking, which posits that the focus should be on integration, not assimilation, for which new strategies are needed. This new thinking emphasizes that holding onto individuals’ identity, cultural values, and norms is integral to their success and the success of their families. Little is known about creative expression as a strategy for cultural integration, which her work considers.
According to Novak-Leonard, the notion of “arts participation” as a means of civic engagement and cultural integration should be investigated. This could include going to museums, writing, or arts making – these are activities that are understood as positive. Her presentation discussed the numerous benefits arts participation has for integrating into a new society as an immigrant, such as enabling social interactions through dialogue; exposure to new ideas, spaces, and ways of being; and the experience of active participation and creating art as a means of civic engagement. Also, arts participation may enable dual cultural identities and multiculturalism – immigrants can develop, share and express their own personal and cultural experiences.
Sponsored by the National Endowment of the Arts, the Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA) is a key way to measure arts participation in the U.S. and in immigrant communities, which has an impact on policy. Novak-Leonard discussed how changes to the survey may better measure information about arts participation. One improvement she suggested during the talk was for SPPA questions to be more expansive, to encompass the multitude of ways people engage in creative expression. There may be a gap between what people report as ‘arts participation’ and the reality of what they do. For example, gardening, culinary endeavors, participating in parades, and consuming and creating media, may be forms of artistic expression, but survey respondents may not understand and report these activities as ‘arts participation.’ Thus, rephrasing the questions to correspond to a more expansive definition of arts-based activities may better represent how immigrant communities participate in the arts. These changes might ultimately allow researchers to garner more accurate information about how people in the U.S., including immigrants, engage with the arts, which can, in turn, strengthen arts public policy.
The clinic and workshop provided valuable and specific information on the processes for artists to travel to and engage in creative production within the U.S., through both group discussions and 1:1 consultations. The colloquium illuminated important research strategies for understanding how creative activities facilitate the integration of immigrants, and how immigrants contribute to the country’s citizenry. This conversation offered a snapshot of research strategies conducted to learn about this topic and ideas for improving the knowledge of how arts participation impacts individuals within social structures. As the country evolves, and becomes increasingly diverse, it’s ever important to consider, probe, and discuss the presence of creative expression throughout this multicultural country and its communities.
The Visual Arts Immigration Clinic and programming brought in 34 participants and 3 volunteer immigration attorneys from over four countries including the United States, Iran, China and India. The participants and attorneys enjoyed the sessions including the “through and in-depth knowledge” provided during the one-on-one consultations for the O-1 visa. Read more about the Immigration Clinic and associated programming HERE. Contact the Center for Art Law if you would like to become a volunteer attorney or professional or would like to be involved in our Visual Artists’ Legal Clinics.
Select Resources from the Handout and Materials of the Clinical Programming Articles, Essays & Books
- Sunil Iyengar, Taking Note: Immigrant Participation in the Arts, National Endowment for the Arts (2017).
- Jennifer Novak-Leonard, Considering Cultural Integration in the United States, Empirical Essays on Immigrants’ Arts Participation.
- K. Punk Winichakul, Ning Zhang, Enter Stage Left: Immigration and the American Arts, (Department of Economics Discussion Paper Series, University of Oxford) (Dec , 6, 2022).
- The Changing Face of Creativity in New York, Center for an Urban Future (2020).
- U.S. Patterns of Arts Participation: A Full Report from the 2017 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, National Endowment for the Arts (2017)
- Bridging Divides, Creating Community: Arts, Culture, and Immigration, Welcoming America.
- Creative Placemaking & Welcoming: Tips and Tools for Integrating Arts, Culture, and Immigration, Welcoming America.
About the Author
Sophia Williams, Center for Art Law Spring 2022 intern, is interested in legal issues surrounding the commercial art world, artist rights, and illicit markets. Sophia graduated from Princeton University with a B.A. in Architecture and Urban Studies and has since worked in NYC at an auction house and art gallery. In the summer of 2022, she was a post-graduate certificate student in art crime and cultural heritage protection at the Association for Research into Crimes Against Art (ARCA) in Amelia, Italy.