To call the newly-opened, Latin-inspired Plaza Mariachi in Nashville, Tenn. “stunning” would be the understatement of the decade.

Simply walking through the “streets” (which are actually hallways named like streets) of the establishment is a rare cultural experience to be had in Nashville. The décor borrows its style from traditional old Mexico marketplaces.

Patrons who visit Plaza Mariachi experience interesting varieties of art, culture, history, live entertainment, fashion and retail – all under the confines of a single roof.  There is an assortment of restaurants and shops, as well as a stage and two radio stations. It’s quite an upgrade for a building that was once a Kroger grocery store.

Among the cool and eclectic things to be found at the plaza is the small, elegant Ceiba Art Gallery, which serves as a temporary home for the works of local and international artists.

Jorge Yances

Jorge Yances serves as the curator and director of Ceiba. Yances is a visual artist from Colombia, who arrived in Nashville as a 13-year-old in the 1960s.

When the gallery opened in May 2017, it launched with an exhibit of Yances’ Colombia-inspired architectural paintings that pay homage to his home city, Cartagena, as he fondly remembers it as a child. The year 1966 specifically makes multiple subtle appearances in his work to mark the year he came to Nashville. A depiction of ropes and cables also play significant roles in this collection, which ultimately represents how all human beings are connected – our stories all roped and tied together.

The collection, which is used for teaching about Colombia, has traveled all over the world and been shown locally at the Parthenon and Fisk University.

Aside from his own art, Yance is armed with a mission to show the best art Latin America has to offer, with plans to bring in pieces from Colombia, Mexico, Cuba and Argentina. However, Yances makes it clear that, though the main concept is to share Latin American culture, the gallery will have a broad reach. There are plans for expanding to other countries and cultures next year, in fact.

Yances says running an art gallery isn’t easy, but running a good art gallery is even harder.

“Artists are everywhere. Finding the right art and the right people to share the work of the culture, that’s the challenge,” he says.

After running two art galleries and curating more than 200 shows in the past, Yances seems like the man for the job. It’s no mystery why the Plaza Mariachi owners chose to partner with him.

“I’m passionate about arts, about culture,” says Plaza Mariachi owner Diane Janbakhh, “and I wanted to make sure people in the Nashville community got a different take on art. I wanted Latino art and Latin-inspired artists to celebrate and expose their work so that it would be a part of the larger artistic community.“

Janbakhsh says she wants to use the gallery to tell stories and inspire the artist in all of us.

“I think everyone is an artist,” says Janbakhsh, who is also a musician and dabbles in painting. “There should not be hidden artists. I think everyone should get time to exhibit their work and teach others, and inspire that love of art.”

For Janbakhsh, this also means teaching children and “raising that ceiling of awareness.”

Janbakhsh admires Yances for his ability to create powerful, thought-provoking art, and his strength for bringing ideas together to “create a space where people are free.”

Of the gallery and vision she shares with Yances, she says,  “You leave the world behind and you’re transported into such a peaceful place, where you are free to dive into each painting, each work of art and let your imagination run wild.”

“Art is freedom,” she says.

Yances, who is responsible for making the magic happen at Ceiba, has a long love affair with art that started even before he came to Nashville. Though he never received what would be classified as “formal” art training, Yances claims to have been molded by the special, unique and talented artists that were put in his path. This includes an aunt who painted with her hands and made brushes out of her hair. She taught him how to mix colors.

Recognizing that he comes from a family of artists, “Somehow, maybe it’s in the blood,” he says.

An installation that sits in a corner of the gallery is a particularly eye-catching piece that was originally inspired by Yances’ journey from Colombia to his current life. However, the work morphed into something more universal, becoming about everyone’s journey in America.

“We are all immigrants, even those we call “natives,” he says. “We all come from somewhere else.”

Included in the installation are bags, boxes and suitcases that represent moving. The boxes are red, white and blue, which represent the American flag. There are also hanging pieces of red, white and blue glass that represent the blood, sweat and tears of those who have inhabited the land. There is a mirror so that those looking at the installation can see their reflection, thus making them a part of the piece.

Additionally, there are green, black, yellow, blue and red rings that represent the continents. Then, there are chains that represent the enslaved Africans, who Yances notes are the only people who were forced to come to America. The piece itself is a glorious representation of the American story.

Of the gallery, Yances says his vision is expansive, as he plans to continue showing meaningful art and telling powerful stories on an increasingly broader scale.