The Word On Art

Curating Change: Michael Swank’s Journey in Elevating Queer Art

By Patric Stillman

“You don’t even have to buy something. Just share something you love. Support your community by sharing the work with other people. Liking it. Making a comment on it. Flip that algorithm. That algorithm is against us all the time. We get blocked on Instagram all the time for content that we post.  And the work is not scandalous. It is just discrimination by the algorithm for queer bodies and queer content. So, by sharing it and disseminating it for everyone else, you are actually supporting your community and the continuation of the artwork being seen.”

In the expansive world of contemporary art, few individuals shine as brightly as Michael Swank. Balancing multiple roles, Swank curates exhibitions in Mexico, juries national shows in the United States, and advocates for LGBTQ+ artists online, making him a dynamic force in the art world.

Currently, Swank is gearing up for a busy summer. As Director of Art Gallery Studios, he recently relocated his multi-purpose arts space from Mexico City to Cuernavaca, the City of Eternal Spring, where he has reopened its unparalleled artist residencies. He’s curating “Pink Tide” at Dama Gallery in Ventura, California, showcasing the work of international queer artists. Simultaneously, he’s partnering with The Studio Door for the seventh annual PROUD+ national exhibition of LGBTQ+ visual arts. “It’s a great opportunity for artists to showcase their work in new locations and connect with other artists,” Swank explains. “PROUD+ has become a San Diego tradition, and I’m excited to be a part of it.”

Swank’s journey in the art world has been nothing short of inspirational. Originally from Indianapolis, Indiana, he honed his skills at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago before pursuing a master’s degree in creating engaging online art environments at Pepperdine University. With a background as an art director for organizations like the San Francisco Examiner and Disney, Swank has always been deeply connected to the education community and emerging talent.

“In 2018, I made the bold move to relocate my art studio, @ChromaticExplorer, to Mexico City,” Swank recalls. “There, I founded @ProyectosDeResidenciaMX, creating a vibrant community for queer artists.” What began as a small studio hosting live drawing sessions and open studio events quickly grew into a bustling community of artists from around the world.

“When the pandemic hit, everything changed,” Swank continues. “But instead of shutting down, we pivoted online. We created a digital space where artists could come together, share their work, and support each other.” Thus, the Bureau of Queer Art was born, a social media and print magazine dedicated to contemporary queer and allied artists. To date, four volumes have been produced. Issues can be purchased through Blurb or downloaded for free from

The success of the Bureau of Queer Art and Art Gallery Studios has given LGBTQ+ artists an international platform to showcase their creative work. With over 80 exhibitions under his belt, Swank has become a driving force in the art world, championing diversity, inclusion, and ethical practices.

In July, Michael Swank will introduce San Diego to the works of two artists he is championing:

Alonso Yañez

Alonso Yañez transforms traditionally closed spaces into platforms of expression. “Each canvas, each photograph I craft, carries the weight and the whisper of untold stories, pushing against conventional boundaries,” he says. His art bridges isolated experiences with communal recognition, highlighting LGBTQ+ struggles and triumphs. “Through my art, I aim to create a bridge between isolated experiences and communal recognition, making the invisible visible and the unspoken loudly heard,” he explains. Committed to social change, Yañez carefully selects themes and symbols to provoke thought and empathy. “My goal is to not only reflect the reality of queer lives but to enrich the viewer’s understanding of what it means to live them,” he reflects. His residency at Art Gallery Studios has refined his voice and connected him with other queer artists. As he prepares for upcoming exhibitions, Yañez focuses on making his work a conversation starter, urging a dialogue that transcends the visual.

Alejandro Herrera

Alejandro Herrera creates intricate 3D boxes, meticulously crafted from found objects and repurposed toys, narrating stories of his life and broader cultural themes. “My boxes…they are like diaries of my childhood,” Herrera explains, with each element symbolizing unexpressed aspects of his past. These dioramas juxtapose playful childhood innocence with poignant social commentaries, exploring identity, memory, and societal norms. “I think of my art as a way to control and arrange my turbulent past into something beautiful, something defiant and hopeful,” he shares, highlighting the therapeutic nature of his work. Herrera’s upcycling transforms discarded items into narratives advocating for diversity and acceptance. “These toys… they are broken, yes, but they are beautiful. They have stories, histories that deserve to be told,” he remarks. His upcoming exhibitions use these boxes to engage in conversations about inclusion, gender equality, and visibility, urging viewers to reconsider societal norms. “With my art, I talk about inclusion, gender equality, and visibility. How can we learn to appreciate the difference if we are all expected to line up the same?” Herrera questions, challenging perceptions of normalcy and acceptance.

For Swank, it’s all about creating a community where artists can thrive. “Art has the power to change lives, and I’m honored to be a part of that,” he concludes. “Whether it’s curating exhibitions, running residency programs, or publishing magazines, my goal is always the same: to support and uplift artists from all backgrounds.”

“This is so important.  (For artists) seeing your work in a gallery space, watching people look at your work, selling your work so that you can afford to make the next piece of work. That’s supporting the queer artists.”

For more information about Art Gallery Studios, visit Applications for residency and exhibition opportunities are open, and Swank encourages artists of all backgrounds to apply.

If you are heading north for Pride Month, visit Dama Gallery (1793 E Main St) in Ventura to see 34 LGBTQ+ artists featured in the latest volume of Bureau of Queer Art. The exhibition will run June 1 – August 3. For more information, see

For San Diego Pride, The Studio Door (3967 4th Avenue) will feature the works of Alonso Yañez, Alejandro Herrera, and local artist Colette Hebert, in addition to the exceptional works juried by Michael Swank in this year’s national PROUD+ exhibit. The exhibition will run from July 2 – August 3, with a reception on Saturday, July 13 from 6 – 9 PM.