Activism, Education & Community with Manuela Guillén

by Jenna Song; Intern


Manuela Guillén is a freelance painter, muralist, and digital illustrator currently living in Philadelphia. Born in Miami to Cuban and Salvadorian immigrant parents, Manuela has always had a love for art. She has collaborated with local, national, and global art organizations such as PangeaSeed, Fung Collaboratives, 48 Blocks, and the Atlantic City Arts Commission. Her murals can be found in both the U.S. and Mexico. Inspired by plants, tropical colors, and her cultural upbringing, Manuela aims to bring awareness to art education, sociopolitical and environmental issues. As a Spanish Art teacher, Manuela hopes to inspire her students to be creative as she continues to bring communities closer together through art.


J: What kind of artist would you say you are? 

M: I’m a freelance painter, muralist, illustrator, and ARTivist (art+activist) who hopes to bring awareness to art education and sociopolitical and environmental issues. I’m inspired by plants, tropical colors, and my Latina roots. As an art and Spanish teacher, I hope to inspire my students and to bring communities closer using art. 

J: How did you get involved with artivism? 

M: In 2014, I painted a series for my senior BFA thesis (art show) called El tiempo pasado/aceptado (the past/accepted). This series focused on the stories of my parents, their immigration  journey to the United states, living in extreme poverty, the nostalgia of their native land, and the healing folk stories that gave them hope to survive. I didn’t realize it then but that was my first artivism work. 

J: You lived in a few different places, how does the art scene differ in each city? 

M: In the Mexican art scene, I noticed that they focus more on murals and paintings. I lived on a tropical island outside of Cancun, so most of the artwork reflected that environment. In Atlantic City, they focused more on community events and murals. Many locals would host community events to give hope to a city that sees a lot of poverty. I also noticed that they made art for both locals and tourists, so a lot of Jersey shore pride and ocean life. In Philadelphia, the street art, graphic art, and DIY art scene is very strong. What I learned was that no matter where you live or where your from, art connects us all together.   

J: What’s your goal as an art teacher? 

M: I want my students to know that art can be more than a hobby, but a career too! While they are in my classroom I prepare them with the skills they’ll need to take the next step in their art journey. 

J: What’s your personal goal as an artist? 

M: The first would be to paint a mural in Philadelphia that celebrates my Latino community. I want my community to feel beautiful, empowered, and represented. It would reflect my love for my culture and mi gente (my people). 

My second goal is artist and educator combined. I want to rent a warehouse for the youth to learn, thrive, and provide the space for them to escape home life and struggles. This space would host workshops and art shows and have new resources for their art. 

manuela guillen

J: Any advice for future artists? 

M: You have to try and make a lot of mistakes to find your style. Speaking for myself, I have hated and loved my art, I’ve stumbled upon so many styles and I am always changing. It’s never a loss but a lesson when you’re creating. 

J: What’s your favorite project of all time? 

M: There’s too many, but my favorite would have to be the mural I painted in Mexico. I was living and working in Isla Mujeres for 6 months. I taught English to a six grade class at a primary school. I wanted us to make a mural that represents the island together. It was their first time painting a mural and my first time taking on a project with kiddos! 

During that time, I noticed one of my favorite nonprofits were in Mexico. PangeaSeed, is a non-profit organization that uses art to help spread awareness in the conservation of our oceans. I reached out and I heard back from the founder. He wanted to collaborate with us! My students got to meet the founder and they learned about  artivism. Together we created the first Junior Sea Walls project that reflected the ocean life of the island and spread awareness to protect its creatures. 

J: Any upcoming project you’re excited about? 

M: I might be painting my first large scale mural in Atlantic City with one of my favorite artists MadgaLove. I will also be collaborating with a Philly-based artist, Keturah Benson who curated PUSH, a moving gallery in a U-Haul truck. She reached out to me because she knows how close I am with the community and wanted me to help.

Sunday, July 7th I will be vending my art in a DIY Pop-up party/fundraiser in West Philly (330 Wiota St from 12PM - 6:00PM). 

Sunday, August 25 I selling art and live painting at the Self Love Mixer at Sunflower Hill (3:00-7:00 PM at 1725 N 5th St.). 


Check out more of Manuela’s work on her website and instagram: / @lazy.beam