Eight years ago, René Soto left his native Guatemala for the United States to experience a bigger world. Some back in his homeland laughed at his plans, but René was undeterred.
“I was working as a teacher back in Guatemala, but I didn’t feel valued in that role,” said Soto. “I realized that if I stayed, I would be stuck in that role until retirement and it was not fulfilling for me. I tend to do things with my heart. If I’m not enjoying something, I move on to something else.”
René came to the U.S. because he was seeking the diversity, art, culture and events that take place here in the States.
“Some people back at home kept bringing up the barriers that I would face in moving to the U.S., but I never put up a barrier in my head,” he said. “I didn’t let anyone or anything stop me because I believe that you have to dream big and keep striving and trying to achieve.”
René moved to America and worked in many different roles as a means to support his big dreams. He was a dishwasher, bus boy and server at a restaurant. He painted houses. He worked as a landscaper. He cleaned windows and cleaned offices after hours.
“I never thought all the jobs that I had to work,” he said. “I was just so proud to learn more things and get more experiences. To me, life is all about experiences. I always had a vision while I was working all of those jobs. I always knew where I wanted to go.”
But as he was gaining a foothold here in Connecticut, tragedy struck back at home. René’s mother and brother died. He turned to art and painting as a way of releasing his pain. After coming to an understanding of the impact that this artistic outlet had on his life, he felt that others could benefit in the same way. This revelation also motivated him to be more proactive in his community.
“At a certain point, I became really motivated to impact my community,” Soto said. “I want to make people’s lives easier. I realized that many people, Latino immigrants, didn’t have all of the information they needed to make their transitions here as smooth as possible, so I started a magazine to help educate them. I realized that local artists didn’t have the outlets that they needed to display their arts, so I worked toward opening a gallery. I just want to keep giving back.”
Despite working multiple jobs and volunteering for many local non-profits and causes like the Ronald McDonald House, Caring With Grace, the Stamford Senior Center, the Domestic Violence Crisis Center and Stepping Stones Museum for Children, René started publishing LatinColors Magazine and worked to open a local art gallery.
After many struggles and sacrifices, he inaugurated the René Soto Gallery in May 2018. Located at 1 Wall Street in Norwalk, the Gallery has become a home to local and international artists, poets, dancers, and many other nonprofits that had been looking for a place to connect, communicate, display, express and share their love for the arts.
“I’m just trying to give people a better view of life,” he said. “Through art and through working with different groups to make a difference, I’m just trying to make things better for our community.”
Outside of the gallery, René promotes the arts by having displays in Norwalk Town Hall, Stamford Old Town Hall, and by beautifying the City of Norwalk with paintings on electrical boxes. His love for teaching continues with “Kids Draw Free,” an art activity in Stamford for children and families.
This year, the Connecticut Office of the Arts recognized all of René’s contributions in our area to the arts and honored him with a Connecticut Arts Hero Award. He was one of nine individuals honored this year at a ceremony in Hartford earlier this month. Despite receiving this huge honor, René remained as humble as ever.
“It’s really not about me,” he said. “I don’t really want recognition for me. I just want all of the causes I support to be recognized.”
To that end, René Soto will be hosting a One Year Anniversary event for the René Soto Gallery on Thursday, May 30th from 7:00 – 10:00 pm at Stepping Stones Museum for Children in Norwalk. Part of the proceeds from the event will go to support the museum’s Global Connections Initiative, whose goal is to better serve Spanish speaking audiences through regular programming and special events so that children and their parents experience different cultures through stories, food, art and performances in a bilingual format.
The event will be a unique experience for guests. After a red carpet entrance, guests will enjoy:
l An open bar entertainment by the by The Cup Bearer mixologists
l Gourmet hors d’oeuvres by New York chef Juan Castillo
l Door prize giveaways and drawings
l Live body painting demonstrations
l The Love of Art Fashion Show featuring wearable art
l A silent auction of local and international art, gourmet experiences and more, and
l A live art auction featuring contemporary and traditional art by local and internationally-known artists.
The live auction will also include Rock & Roll memorabilia, including vintage Beetles Posters, and guitars inscribed and signed by Willie Nelson, Charlie Daniels, and James Taylor.
The Love of Art: René Soto Gallery One Year Anniversary event takes place at Stepping Stones Museum for Children in Thursday, May 30 from 7:00 – 10:00 pm. The VIP experience takes place from 6:00 – 7:00 pm. General admission tickets are $50 per person and VIP tickets are $100 per person. For tickets or more information, visit www.Renesotogallery.com or call René Soto Gallery at 203-609-5024.