ART-cle: La Comunidad exhibit at the Alice C. Sabatini Gallery

© Submitted Teresa Cueas by Jennifer Randall

This month is Hispanic Heritage month, and many communities are hosting events to celebrate local Hispanic culture.

One such celebration is being held in Topeka, Kansas. 

From Sept. 3 to Nov. 21, an exhibit of art is open at the Topeka and Shawnee County Library. The exhibit is called La Comunidad, and I am honored to have art displayed in the show as my painting of Mariachi Musician Teresa Cuevas is in the gallery. The painting now belongs to the Cuevas family, and they made sure to enter it in the exhibit to honor Teresa and the history, passion and creativity she shared with her community.

Community is often bigger than simple geography or immediate family. It can be about shared experiences, struggles, triumphs, and interactions that weave our lives together. 

Born in 1920 to parents who fled the Mexican Revolution, Teresa Cuevas grew up in Topeka, Kan. Playing the classical violin by age eight, she was invited to play in the Topeka High School Symphony.

Graduating high school in the 1930s, Teresa found no opportunities. A young, talented, smart Latina had little chance of finding a good job. She married, had a troubled relationship and had five children. She rejoined with her music and played in the church choir.

She later divorced her husband and became more involved in her music. She discovered a love for Mariachi music, which she called “Mariachi Fever”. She developed an all-female Mariachi band in an era of all-male dominated Mariachi music. Her group, called Mariachi Estrella, became a hit in Topeka and began branching out and playing in other cities. The turn of events when they arrived in Kansas City to perform proved fatal to the group of women just getting started in their music career.

At 7:05 p.m. on July 17, 1981 as they walked along the second story skywalk at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, the skywalk above them suddenly collapsed and brought all of them down. Four of the members of Mariachi Estrella died in the accident, which killed 114 people and injured 200 others. Teresa Cuevas recovered from her crushed vertebra, concussion and severe bruising.

The music helped her recover as she focused on teaching mariachi to her grandchildren and continued to play in the church choir.

Mariachi is kept alive and new all-female groups are forming in Topeka still, in the tradition of Teresa Cuevas’ group Mariachi Estrella.

Zan Popp, curator of exhibitions at the Alice C. Sabatini Gallery, explains, “The goal of the exhibit is to highlight Topeka’s Hispanic arts and the larger community. This was an opportunity to recognize the divinity of Topeka, and the role the Hispanic community has played and continues to play. We wanted to focus on the arts and culture.”

Visit the Alice C. Sabatini Gallery at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library to experience murals, paintings, sculptures, dance, music and costumes from Topeka Latino artists. By mixing cultural traditions with contemporary stories, this group of artists showcases the depth of talent and vision in the community.

© Submitted La Comunidad exhibit at the Alice C. Sabatin Gallery in Topeka.


‘La comunidad es más grande que la geografía o la familia, es acerca de compartir experiencias — la experiencia compartida de La Comunidad.

Desde las artes visuales a las artes escénicas, murales, pinturas, esculturas, danza, música, disfraces y coches modificados (lowrider cars), los artistas latinos en Topeka están creciendo. Mezclando tradiciones con historias contemporáneas, este grupo de artistas muestra talento y una vision profunda de la comunidad.’


Artist Michael Chavez, who is showing a painting called “In Transit,” explains the dynamic of his work. 

“The prevalence of migration is worldwide,” Chavez said. “Reasons include social, religious, ethnic, political, and natural disasters. The barren landscape and tumultuous clouds (in painting ‘In Transit’) represent the arduous journey yet offer enough glimpses of promise to continue. Contrastingly, the fence partially in front and partially behind the girl presents the greater challenges of assimilation and acceptance for both migrants and natives. The sign translates ‘Abandon hope all ye who enter,’ the inscription over the entrance to Hell, taken from Dante Alighieri’s ‘Divine Comedy.’”

Other artists participating in the events that span over 2 months, include Jamie Colon, Mario Garcia, Osbaldo Gonzalez, Huascar Medina who is the 2019-2021 Poet Laureate of Kansas, Vivian Moser, Stephanie Munoz-O’Neil, Joey Rocha, Luke Rocha, and Andy Valdivia. 


Lowrider Car Show: 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 18 at the Library’s east parking lot

This fabulous lowrider car show will feature cars as well as bikes. Local airbrush artist Jeff Hisey will demo his various techniques. Don’t forget to spend some time at our craft corner!

Artist Talk: Joey Rocha, 7-8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 23, Alice C. Sabatini Gallery

Local visual artist Joey Rocha will discuss his painting process and his work.

Salsa Dancing: Dance for a Sunday Afternoon, 3-4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 26, Marvin Auditorium

Watch Kansas dance troupe Viva Social Dance Studio showcase their salsa moves. Then we’ll all follow their instructions and join in the fun. Bring your dancing shoes!

Donna Rae Pearson Oral History Workshop, 7-8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 29, Marvin Auditorium AB

Local history librarian Donna Rae Pearson will show you how to gather oral histories from family and friends.

Artist Talk: Jamie Colon, 7-8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 7, Alice C. Sabatini Gallery

Local artist Jamie Colon will talk about his paintings and murals.

Mexican Folkloric Dancing: Dance for a Sunday Afternoon, 3-4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 10, Marvin Auditorium

Watch local dance troupe Ballet Folklorico de Topeka perform Mexican Folkloric dancing. The troupe was established in 1976 under the direction of Ediberto Gonzalez Sr.

Beginning Hispanic Genealogy Workshop, 6-7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 4, Reed Studio

Genealogy Librarian Sherri Camp will show you how to research your Hispanic heritage. Learn how to build a family tree and get tips on library resources available to help you tell your family’s story. Registration Required.

Flamenco Dancing: Dance for a Sunday Afternoon

3-4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 14, Marvin Auditorium

Watch live flamenco music and dancing. Featured artists included guitarist Beau Bledsoe, singer Antonio Rojas, percussionist John Currey, violinist Coleen Diekerand, and dancer and choreographer Milinda Hedgecorth. 

Popp also hopes that by presenting the art and the various cultural events, a better understanding of the role Hispanic artists play in telling the story of their community. 

The Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library is located at 1515 SW 10th Ave, Topeka, KS 66604-1374.

Look for more information about the events and venue online:

This article originally appeared on The Hutchinson News: ART-cle: La Comunidad exhibit at the Alice C. Sabatini Gallery

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