The latest from our series highlighting extraordinary people on the Northwest side of Chicago that are true local heroes, as nominated by their neighbors. This hero was nominated by Jefferson Park resident, Maria Serbia.
Janice Aponte is a local artist and resident of Portage Park who recently founded a nonprofit called Arte al Rescate, (Art to the Rescue) after the devastation of Hurricane Maria to “help rebuild Puerto Rico one art piece at a time.” Since last October, her group has raised over $28,000, and every penny of it has been used for relief efforts and arts programs on the island.
“Many of us had not heard from family members after the storm hit so we were looking for a way to deal with the stress. It started as a small art fundraiser. In a matter of a few weeks, we had a sponsored venue and 100 pieces of artwork coming from artists all over, from L.A. to New York, from England, Spain and Argentina. We raised $18,000 in that first event.”
Through the sales of donated art pieces, Arte al Rescate has repaired roofs, bought beds for families sleeping on the floor, and sponsored artists to get them back on their feet and creating again. In the coming months, the nonprofit will sponsor specialized arts programs to women and seniors traumatized by Hurricane Maria.
“I know it’s cliché but art really does make the world go around. It brings people together. What we’ve done with this organization makes me very proud. It has been a team effort for sure, it’s taken an army of really good people.”
Together with cofounder Erica Sanchez, advocate Miguel Vasquez, and corporate sponsorships from HSA Commercial, CP2 Management, and others, Arte al Rescate has made a huge impact through a grassroots network and word of mouth both here in Chicago and in Puerto Rico. Aponte is just wrapping a massive school supplies drive that was buoyed by support from Chance the Rapper and his youth empowerment charity, SocialWorks, which donated 600 backpacks.
“It was a happy accident. We were only going to sponsor one town and we ended up bringing school supplies to 23 municipalities. Our goal is to touch all 78 towns on the island. I read that it could take Puerto Rico 20 years to recover to where it was before the storm. We are nowhere near done.”
Aponte was a long time Hermosa resident until last November, when she moved to Portage Park here on the Northwest side. Her two boys, ages 24 and 25, “are now men,” so she decided to downsize.
“It’s been a hard transition for me, but in a way I’ve come full circle. I first learned about oil painting at Rico’s Music Center at Six Corners 17 years ago. That was the first time I touched a palette with oil paint.”
After many years painting and honing her craft, she is now an artist-in-residence at Workshop 4200, where the nonprofit is based. But home is Portage Park and she hopes to own her own art space someday.
“I like the area—Six Corners is becoming very artsy. My dream is to own a gallery someday and it could very well end up here. I hope to have a space that not only serves as a community gallery that would offer workshops for all ages and promote the arts in Chicago, but would also be the center of operations for Arte al Rescate, sponsoring exhibits for artists from Puerto Rico who have been displaced and no longer have a studio. This is the dream! I have to put it out there in the Universe.”
After witnessing the reach of Arte al Rescate in a short time, Aponte has big goals, and she could use your help. Donations are accepted at the charity’s website, which posts information about current and future fundraisers.
One thing is clear; Aponte is in it for the long haul.
“I’ve always thought my purpose in life was to be an artist. It’s nice when someone buys a piece of your art. But through this organization, I’ve learned there is a higher purpose out there: to help people suffering from this disaster and reach those who have not received help. This touches me not only as an artist, but as a human being.”