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Alumni Stories: Ernesto Cuevas '98

Drawing on Experience by Lisa Birzen '03

Ernesto Cuevas ‘98 uses his own first hand experience of being a Latino student on a college campus to help others in a similar situation.

Fortunately, for this Studio Art major, “as far removed as Dartmouth was as an institution of higher learning from other cities, it was more prepared to deal with Latino students than some schools here" in Atlanta, he says.

Sadly, however, in Atlanta, Georgia, where he now lives Cuevas discovered, “the concept of Latinos in higher education is brand new here."

“Atlanta is a border town that is not set on a border: the Latino population is amassing rapidly but the political, economical and social presence is not being addressed by the greater Atlanta community," he further explains.

Being a long term advocate for Latino students, Cuevas was unsatisfied by what he saw around him and set to remedying the situation in the best way he knew how: with a brush and palette in hand.

As a high school senior applying to college, Cuevas was deciding between the Rhode Island School of Design and Dartmouth.  In retrospect, Cuevas knows that he made the right choice despite not realizing it at the time.

“Dartmouth exposed me to political and social references which would go on to shape how I approach art," he says.

In addition, “Dartmouth put me in the center of a political and social climate that makes a young Latino Chicano think," he adds.

“There is always the initial culture shock of climate and geography but your classes and interaction with others put you in a situation to consider issues of self, identity and belonging," he explains.

Cuevas’ surroundings brought out “what I wanted to address in my art and reaffirmed why I was choosing art," he says.

In the end, “Dartmouth provided a much bigger exposure than just the arts," he says, “and pushed my art in a new direction."

“There were certainly others at Dartmouth with great talents at public speaking but, by the end of my senior year, I was able to use art to make similarly powerful statements."

“Traditionally art has been used in Mexico and South and Latin America, for example, to record history and social climate."  Similarly, Cuevas aims to achieve a “cultural reconnect" through “icons and images representing struggles, visible in my own artwork."

His personal art contains autobiographical elements, recently focusing on his years as a young boy, growing up in Florida to parents who were migrant farm workers from Mexico.

The unfortunate realization that “Latino students are not being taught who they want to be and what they want to do fueled a lot of what I want to reconnect with in my artwork," he says, and, consequently, opened the door for “using the arts to create a voice and expression."

Having “reached a comfort level as an artist" when he relocated to Atlanta in 2000, Cuevas began visiting schools and campuses and meeting with students.

Today, schools across the country invite Cuevas to hold identity workshops on their campuses.  In these gatherings, Cuevas addresses issues facing the students and, through collaborative effort in creating a mural, hopes students “become accepting of each individual’s place on campus."

“There are mediums of expression out there. Issues that people are facing do have outlets," he emphasizes during his visits. 

“Maybe you can’t solve these issues but you can address them internally," he adds.

In one particularly memorable workshop at University of Michigan, two participants who were best friends, “opened up to each other in ways they hadn’t done before."

Cuevas shows students the importance of “developing a sense of self."

A typical student workshop contains four elements.  First, the group deals with issues at hand.  Then, they collectively create an art piece, which is consequently displayed to the larger community. The hope is that this work will “dispel any myths or stereotypes that may exist on campus," he explains.

In addition to showing student murals, Cuevas also displays his own work at some of these same universities. Georgia State University, University of Georgia, George Washington University and Dartmouth College have all exhibited his work, as well as other venues, such as Cafe Tu Tu Tango, Coca-Cola Company, Hispanic Heritage Celebration, General Mills: Hispanic Heritage Celebration, and the Chateau Elan Winery.

Cuevas’ knowledge of art has distinguished him not only as an educator and an artist but as a designer as well.

Cuevas has not had any difficulty splitting his energy between art in a traditional and a corporate design setting, a dilemma occasionally faced by other art students considering the same option. “In fact, I did not make a disconnect from art," he states. “The corporate side developed after I left Dartmouth." 

While Cuevas was a student, design courses were not offered on campus and he taught himself all the various programs that he now uses in his work, such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, Quark Express and Macromedia Flash.

Cuevas’ first job out of college “allowed me to hone a lot of the skills I was teaching myself at the time," he says.

Luckily “a job opened up at the C. Everett Koop Institute on campus as soon as I graduated and I recognized it as an opportunity to learn more of the tools that I needed in my field," he explains.

Cuevas remained on campus for two more years and, within this capacity, worked on the 3D animation called ‘Smoky Lies,’ maintained the graphic imagery on the organization’s website and developed marketing materials, among other responsibilities.

In 2000, his next job at Enterprises Computing Services took him to Atlanta, Georgia, where he developed a corporate image for the company, which “maintained [him] in a creative avenue" as well as provided more exposure and experience in digital design.

Unfortunately, Cuevas found his time here to “not be emotionally satisfying," he admits.

His experience nonetheless had positive repercussions, “spearheading growth into an independent firm."

In the context of his own independent design firm, RedCielo, founded in 2003, Cuevas explains, “Now, I can choose my own clients and work with non-profit or educational organizations or anything else that I am passionate about."

RedCielo operates on the notion that “Art is design and design is Art,�? fusing, “the selling of design services and the brokerage of traditional forms of art." 

In Cuevas’ own words, RedCielo creates “anything that communicates a client’s identity."

The firm develops a close relationship with its clients to better understand their needs and provides a range of services, from corporate identity, such as logo design, to website design, and print or multi media.

RedCielo’s already extensive client list includes University of Chicago, American University and Dartmouth College, as well as La Unidad Latina Fraternity, Rutgers Law School and the Georgia Hispanic Network.

Cuevas cautions that, in the vast field of design, “anyone can learn the tools and programs but they do not have a grasp of composition or a concept of line or color," he explains.

For that reason, “people like to work with me because of my traditional art background," Cuevas explains.  According to one satisfied client, Cuevas’ artistic eye allows him to “capture accurately the client's wants and needs."

Consequently, the feedback couldn’t be more overwhelming.  Clients appreciate RedCielo’s dedicated approach and one client says it “will definitely outsource future marketing, advertising and design to RedCielo, LLC and highly recommend this firm to friends and colleagues."

Xavier High School, a private Jesuit high school in New York City, New York, for example, contacted RedCielo to develop an Admissions Prospectus aimed at attracting a high caliber of students from diversified backgrounds.  RedCielo’s product “developed a powerful image for Xavier High School and has improved recruiting."

Cuevas infuses a corporate environment with a personal feel and the attention he gives to clients’ needs produces effective results and keeps customers coming back.

Despite the growing success of his firm, Cuevas says, “I am a designer, a painter and, on some level, I hope, an educator," he says.  But, as a designer, that’s not the most fulfilling part of my career," he honestly admits.

Cuevas regrettably discovered rather recently the beneficial effects of art on community service.  “Had I known that I could do outreach and community development, I don’t know that I would’ve gone into design," Cuevas admits, perhaps opting to pursue social services instead, he adds.

Reflecting on his career path thus far, Cuevas advises others to "know what you enjoy most."  "If I had known that I enjoyed the process of painting and the effect it has on people, that would’ve made the transition into life after Dartmouth easier."

Last Updated: 6/21/12