Theresa Rosado Journalist, artist, activist
Less than two years ago, journalist, artist, photographer and activist Theresa Rosado turned her historic, 100-year-old house on Mt. Hope near REO Town into Casa de Rosado, a gallery and community hub with a feel completely different from any other art space in town. The gallery feels like home because it is her home. Offbeat exhibits range from art inspired by social justice issues to the forbidden pleasures of velvet art and photographs of male nudes. — LAWRENCE COSENTINO
What made you want to start your own gallery?
I would bring my work to galleries and not get a call back. I walked into one space that had a gallery in west Michigan. The owner said, ‘We don’t take paintings with people in them.’ I had a lot of paintings with people wearing traditional shirts. As a young artist, I was exploring Boricua identity, Puerto Rican identity. A lot of us could get in for Hispanic heritage shows, but for the rest of the year it was pretty slim pickings.
How did you find Casa de Rosado? I lived by the hospital on Greenlawn and I would take my dog walking every evening. I walked by the house a number of times and I’ve always admired it.
It reminded me of a painting I had made of my grandmother, in a very similar house. I painted her in shadows. They represented spirits looking out the window. I lived in apartments for a long time. I wondered how it would feel to have your space, your house.
How do you think of yourself, identity-wise?
I call myself a ‘quarter Rican.’ My dad is from Macedonia and my mother’s father, a hillbilly from West Virginia, married my grandmother, who was Puerto Rican.
What are some of the gallery’s high points for you so far?
This year’s Día de los Muertos celebration was just out of the park, one of the largest we’ve had, both in people building ofrendas [colorful displays devoted to a loved one who has died] and the general public. One particular ofrenda, a young man built it for his mother. His father would come and sit on the couch right next to the ofrenda for hours, just sit there and look at her picture and meet people that knew her. The Nora Chapa Mendoza exhibit — it was great to see the turnout for that. People do want to see paintings that explore identity and meaning.
The black velvet, the rasquache — it was amazing that something as mundane as black velvet would be a draw for people.
That’s what I appreciate from my culture. It’s so vibrant and colorful. In a world that shies away from that, it’s very comforting to have other people gather and appreciate color.
Do you feel that Lansing a welcoming place for diverse kinds of people?
Yes. I’ve lived in a lot of different towns throughout the Midwest, and this is a town I’ve come back to, because of the people and how welcoming they are to people of all cultures and backgrounds. It’s a very unpretentious town.
We have MSU, LCC and the state Capitol. For anybody interested in fighting for civil rights, it’s a town that makes a good platform for it.
What are your priorities in the year ahead when it comes to politics and social justice?
How our community responds to immigration is at the forefront. Minimum wage legislation. Attacks on the LGBTQIA community. On every one of these, the moment we get a few steps ahead, there’s some politician that wants to take away these rights that were fought for. It feels like we’ve been on our toes for a while, but the last two years have been a different level.
You do most of your own maintenance and repair work, right?
I do the things I can handle — roofing, gutter cleaning, some of the plumbing, electrical repair. It’s challenging, but this is a great town with old plumbers in it, and they’ve seen everything. Some of the pipes are too thick for me to cut. They go downstairs and say, ‘Yep, this is about a hundred years of cobbling.’
What’s the scariest thing you’ve run into?
Not a lot of the doors have knobs on both sides. If you close it, there’s no way to get out. I have to remember not to close the doors until I put knobs on them. I’ve been trapped in the basement for an hour. I had a doorknob fall off on the upstairs while I was working outside and I was trapped on the roof for a while. I have some friends with keys in case I need help. They come and rescue me. I have my cell phone on me at all times and the batteries charged.
Do you ever regret taking on the house or the gallery?
Not at all. It’s very challenging but I love every minute of it.