2015 Distinguished Alumni

RUBY CHACON

Ruby Chacon

Chicana artist Ruby Chacon was told by an advisor that she would never finish high school and that she should just drop out. Even as she was walking for commencement, she thought it might be a mistake that she was being allowed to graduate.

Despite being dogged by stereotypes and low societal expectations, Chacon became the only one of six siblings in her Salt Lake City home to finish high school. Her first college classes were in California, where she met a Chicano counselor who gave her the confidence to pursue a higher education. Chacon returned to Utah, attended Salt Lake Community College and eventually graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Utah, becoming the only Salt Lake City-area Chacon to earn a college degree. Chacon grew up in a small “chaotic” house in Salt Lake City and didn’t have her own bedroom until she was a teen. She had to take turns with her younger sister sleeping on the sofa. “Artwork just kind of helped me escape from all the chaos,” Chacon said. “Drawing was my privacy.” In a way, she said, art “chose” her, and it would one day become a “language” for her to give voice to and make sense of a world that, in her view, didn’t accurately represent her family or portray her heritage.

After college Chacon began researching her family history as a means of developing a counter narrative to the damaging one that she says informed her identity while growing up Hispanic in a mostly homogeneous Salt Lake City. That path led her to central and southern Utah, where she heard about two aunts who were miners, how one of them opened her own restaurant and how a majority of her first cousins graduated from high school and in some cases college. Chacon learned about how her relatives were segregated in schools, told to drink from separate fountains and were hit for speaking Spanish in school. “I realized that the further away you are from knowing your own story and your history, the more it gets informed by someone else and the more devastating an impact it has,” she said.

Chacon took that realization and a reformed identity and poured it into her artwork, gradually making a name for herself in the Utah art community. She and her ex-husband Terry Hurst founded Mestizo Institute of Culture & Arts (MICA) in Salt Lake City to “enrich and celebrate” diverse cultures through the arts. Today MICA’s partners include the University of Utah’s University Neighborhood Partners, NeighborWorks Salt Lake, Gallery Stroll Salt Lake, and the Mestizo Coffeehouse. Chacon now lives in California and is working with a mentor who is teaching her the art of silk screening.