Creating Culture: Drawing on Tradition

Arizona is a one-of-a-kind place. It’s blessed with beautiful weather, awe-inspiring scenery and booming industries. But what makes Arizona truly special is its people and rich culture.

In the heart of downtown Phoenix lies an arts organization with a narrative uniquely its own.

Xico (pronounced “she-co”) is one of the oldest ethnic arts organizations in the United States. Started in 1975 by a group of Chicano and Indigenous artists in the East Valley, the organization’s members sought to showcase their art while keeping the tradition of printmaking alive.

An ancient art form, Mexico was the first Latin American country to embrace printmaking, dating back to the 16th century. The technique involves carving an image on a piece of wood or linoleum, placing ink on the raised edges, and transferring it to fabric or paper, similar to how stamps work.

Xico offers a space for artists to develop their printmaking skills, explore new techniques and connect with other artists. Its mercado, various public exhibitions and Annual Dinner & Art Auction shine a spotlight on their art. It also collaborates with local businesses in need of artwork for promotional purposes.

“We would not exist without our community partners and our artists. Our artists are, obviously, first and foremost, the most important,” said Donna Valdés, Xico’s executive director.

Many of Xico’s printmaking classes are offered free for artists in exchange for a copy of their work. For instance, if an artist produces three prints, Xico keeps one for its collection while the artist retains ownership of the other two. This not only enriches Xico’s collection but also provides valuable exposure for participating artists by showcasing their creations. 

Xico is known for lithography, but its artists create works across various mediums like watercolor and acrylic. Lithography, in very simplified terms, is a printmaking technique that involves drawing on a flat piece of limestone using oil or grease paint, strategically placing chemicals where the ink should adhere, and pressing paper or fabric to the stone — making a print. 

Though very old, lithography is not an especially accessible art form. In fact, Xico is the only public studio in Arizona that has the necessary equipment to create a lithograph. Many college students lose their access to lithograph equipment after graduation. In an effort to make these techniques, and art in general, more accessible, Xico offers a multitude of classes for people of all artistic abilities.

“We offer workshops and classes about printmaking with all these different techniques,” said Agustín Vargas, Xico’s director of cultural services and programs. “We also offer other kinds of classes about watercolor or oil, and we expand our vision for different kinds of instructions.”

What makes Xico stand out is its talented artists and dedicated supporters. It partners with organizations like the Helios Education Foundation to create rotating exhibitions throughout the Valley. These shows not only allow artists to get more eyes on their work, but they create connections and foster mentorship for young artists.

“For me, the most important thing when I organize these exhibitions is to try to give a space for all these different artists,” Vargas said. “For the artists with trajectory, they already have more exposure, but for the new generations, it’s the perfect place to display their work.”

Xico has its eyes on expanding its reach outside of the Valley. When COVID hit, Xico, like most organizations, had to improvise, which meant online classes and social distancing-friendly outdoor exhibitions. Though not ideal, the process gave Xico a roadmap on how to reach people outside of Maricopa County.

“It wasn’t the full printmaking process, but it gave them the community to participate,” Valdéz said. “This allowed people to become engaged, not only locally and not only within the state of Arizona, but from other places as well.”

Xico stands as a testament to the vibrant culture flourishing in the Valley. As it approaches its 50th anniversary in 2025, it embarks on a new chapter: to extend its influence beyond Arizona’s borders. With a vision to create global connections and unite the printmaking community, Xico embodies the spirit of artistic collaboration and cultural celebration. As it continues to evolve and expand its reach, Xico remains a beacon of creativity, innovation and cultural enrichment, leaving an indelible mark on the landscape of Latin artistry in the Valley and beyond.

To learn how to participate in Xico’s mission, purchase artwork or volunteer with the organization, visit

About Abby Petersen

Abby is Frontdoors Media's Digital Editor and Production Coordinator. She has a background in writing, social media management and public relations.

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