Paola De La Cruz  

Paola De La Cruz (she/her/ella) spent her most impressionable years in the Dominican Republic alongside the warm sun and singing wind. Upon moving to Boston at the age of nine, she was inspired by the activist movements happening around her. Paola interweaves digital and analog media, patterns, stitching and shape-based illustrations to evoke intimacy while challenging the themes of groundedness, cultural identity and coming of age. Paola has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Illustration under Communication Design from the Pacific Northwest College of Art.

Lillyanne Pham 

Lillyanne Pham (they/she/chị/em) is the child of a single Vietnamese refugee mother. They grew up in Columbus, Indiana and eventually made their way to Portland, Oregon. To wayfind, she explored survivorship and child/mother/sisterhood through spoken word poetry, creative nonfiction, and digital illustration. They have a B.A. in Sociology from Reed College. Fall 2021 will be her first year as an MFA student in PSU’s Art and Social Practice program. She currently organizes in East Portland where she actively participates in public placekeeping. Their worldbuilding projects have revolved around personal storytelling, playfulness, and transformative justice.

In 2020, APANO was selected to participate in the Public Art & Civic Engagement (PACE) Capacity Building Initiative led by the Mural Arts Institute, a program of the renowned public art organization Mural Arts Philadelphia. Through this initiative, we are working closely with the Mural Arts Institute to build the capacity of local artists in working with the community to produce two socially-engaged, participatory public art projects from 2021-2023. We are pleased to announce that the selected artists for the first Artist Catalyst Project are Lillyanne Pham (they/she) and Paolo De La Cruz (she/her/ella). These selected artists will receive technical support and participate in deep learning opportunities with Mural Arts Institute as part of its Artist Catalyst program. Before they begin their project in August, we wanted to give you an opportunity to get to know them a little bit more: 

Hi Lillyanne and Paola! Thanks for joining us. We want to hear more about you both, can you tell us about your art and why you make it? What inspires you?

L: Since I was a teenager, I’ve dabbled in many making mediums such as creative writing, filmmaking, and tattooing. Then I shifted to community organizing and art therapy in college. I didn’t consider myself as an artist or my work as art until this year. Creating was/is my survival tool. Once I was exposed to art activism, cultural work, and social practice, my whole world shifted and my sense of self became clearer. The pathways to and possibilities of dismantling the gatekeepers of the art world is at the core of my work.

P: I have been intentionally practicing art for over eight years, and my inspirations are ever evolving. In the past year, I have worked on challenging and exploring the meaning of self abundance while also practicing selflessness during a global pandemic. I feel connected and inspired by the idea of groundedness and finding enlightenment through nature and interconnectedness.

Amazing, for this project specifically with APANO and Mural Arts Project, what made you want to apply or work on it? 

L: I’ve been organizing as an intern then a volunteer with APANO and Roshani Thakore’s O82 Curatorial Committee project since February 2020. I also live and work in East Portland. I applied because I saw a chance to deepen my relationships within my community and explore my working identity as an artist.

P: I have worked with APANO and other community groups throughout Portland as a Freelance Illustrator consistently for about two years. I applied to the Mural Arts Project because I have found these partnerships incredibly meaningful, and I am looking to further the weaving of community advocacy and public art.

And you both have a connection to East Portland? 

L: I serve youth of color and those unsheltered for Historic Parkrose, a Neighborhood Prosperity Initiative from 99th-121st on Sandy Blvd. I also live in Montavilla!

P: I work with the South East Portland community through my day job as a Communications & Outreach manager for a non-profit. I work directly with six neighborhoods including: Laurelhurst, Sellwood Moreland, Buckman, Mt. Tabor, and Brentwood-Darlington. I also partner with local community organizations as a freelance illustrator and designer.

Great, and this is a community collaborative project as well. Can you talk about what community means to you both?

L: Community for me is safety, knowledge, and connections. I especially gravitate towards the knowledge aspect of community. I grew up in a Vietnamese refugee household in a very white small town without any local enclaves, peers with similar experiences, and elders. Since working around the West Coast, so many people, even strangers, have constantly gifted and supported me by teaching me about my ancestors.

P: As a queer Black Latina, I associate community with resilience. Community – specially non cis white communities – embody taking up space and uplifting one another.

Who do you want to work with from the community and why?

L: I’ve mostly worked with and want to continue working with youth. I went through a lot of hardships as a child without resources that gave me agency. Creating was the only thing that gave me power. I’d like to work with youth because I’d like to be someone who I needed during those times.

P: I would also like to work with youth. I hold a lot of respect for young people who are often underestimated and left out of conversations.

Do you have a favorite place in East Portland? 

L: Luuwit View Park is my go-to place! It’s the first bowl that I skated in.

P: Mount Tabor Park! Since moving to Portland from Boston, I have found Mt. Tabor is an amazing place to enjoy the view and tranquility.

Thanks for sharing! And our last one, just for fun – tell us an artist you’re really into right now? 

L: TikTok-er @alexisnikole is my inspiration right now. She’s a Black forager from Ohio who shares knowledge on gathering and cooking along with how those in power deprived Black, indigenous, and low-income communities from gathering food too.

P: The one and only Loveis Wise has been a great inspiration. Their art is ethereal and comforting.

Thank you so much for sharing with us! For our readers, please check out more about Lillyanne and Paola on Instagram!

IG @lillyannepham 

IG @happynappystudio

This programming message brought to you by APANO Communities United Fund, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.