Meet Sheila and Andres, a young couple from Spain. Coming to Berlin as artists they now use their creativity to build a place for teenagers to unleash their potential and flourish as they develop into the leaders of tomorrow.
Two Spanish artists on the fifth floor of a Berlin apartment. How did you guys end up here?
Sheila: The first time we were in Berlin was in 2007, during a big art exhibition. We loved the city, but moving here was not on our radar back then. We had our life in Spain. We had our families there, were putting on exhibitions and had only just finished studying art. However, in the midst of the economic crisis, we were looking for new opportunities. A door in Berlin opened, so we left everything behind and moved here…
Andres: …with no concrete plans, barely any money, no job and no apartment. Seriously, we arrived with nothing but two bags. To be honest, we had quite a rough start here. The money we had saved up was only enough for three months, so we had to find a job within this period, or else go back to Spain. This was quite challenging, especially not knowing any German.
That sounds intense. Why did you decide to stay in Berlin anyway?
Sheila: I think, it was because of the people we met. After staying in Berlin for a month, our neighbours invited us to come to church with them. It was so different from the picture we had about church up until that point. It was very modern with lots of young people, so we immediately felt at home and started getting involved.
Andres: We started to learn German whilst working at a café. We ended up running it after the owners left unexpectantly (laughs). We started to invite the youth of our church over to hang out. One day we were asked to lead the youth group – we had no idea what that meant.
Andres:“Art taught me to see the opportunity, not the problem. There is not just one way of doing things.”
Have you ever worked with young people before?
Sheila: After finishing my art degree, I continued studying for another year to get a teaching degree. I remember absolutely loving working with kids. It was so rewarding to see them flourishing. However, life went on and I kind of forgot about that passion. Now it feels like it has come back to life.
Andres: All we knew was coming together around food, music and creativity. We started hanging out on Fridays to explore different areas of creativity; creating t-shirts, organising photo shoots, making music and anything the youth came up with (laughs). We realised how much creativity resonated with young people, helping them discover a purpose for their lives.
It sounds like you guys use what you learned at art school in a different way than expected.
Sheila: Yes definitely. If I hadn’t gone to art school, I probably wouldn’t have met and married Andres who is my biggest encourager, constantly pushing me out of my comfort zone. It taught me how to be innovative in the way I think. We taught ourselves how to design and print to be able to create things; we even drew portraits of strangers in the streets to make money (laughs).
Andres: True. As an artist, the pressure is all on you, the label and the work you create. You are your product, your product is your identity. Coming to Berlin and becoming part of a local church completely changed our mindset. We learned what it means to not only live for ourselves, but to serve others and be part of a much bigger picture.
What is your biggest dream?
Sheila: We want to build something for the next generation that hasn’t been built before in Berlin. In the age of social media, it’s easy to compare yourself to others, looking for acceptance in the wrong places and receive your value from external things. My dream is to see the young people of this city repaint their unique picture for their lives – confident in who they were made to be.
Andres: We would love to see that what we are doing is going to take roots, add value and shape the future of the city. Last year we started “Collision”, a monthly event that we see as the start of a youth movement that will impact this generation. A healthy environment, where we can speak to the potential of the youth and empower them with vision.
Sheila: “For us something changed the moment we realised it’s not about our artistic career. Our purpose in life is to use everything that we have and learnt to build something bigger than ourselves. There is so much more to life.”
What is key for such an environment?
Sheila: To be consistent. Many of the teenagers come from broken homes without any consistency in the family. Our youth hangouts are a healthy environment where they can find role models for their lives. We also want to help them practically how to do life well – which often ends up changing the story of the whole family.
Andres: It’s interesting to look at the whole picture here. My mother lived in Berlin as a young adult and had quite a challenging time here. It’s such an honour for me to change that story and build a safe space for young people, where they can find their identity and express what is on their heart – through music, fashion, art, fun, games, and simply spending time together.
As artists, you two must have your sources of inspiration. Share them with us!
Andres: Well, inspiration is a funny thing. It is definitely something that helps you to start – but it is vision that actually keeps you going. When you turn vision into a conviction for your life, you will need less inspiration as fuel. It’s the same with art. What happens when you are not inspired? Do you just stop doing art? Practice is sometimes even more important than inspiration.
Andres: “In the end the biggest artwork we’ll ever create is our life – what we do with it, how we let others influence us, what colours we choose.”
What does unfinished story mean to you? How did Berlin change you?
Andres: For me, ‘unfinished’ means that each day of our life is a work in progress that fits into a bigger story. Being part of a church community enlarged my life and moved my focus from just creating art for myself to using that gift to empower others.
With the Easter season coming up – what are your thoughts on Easter?
Sheila: Easter is a radical love story. Jesus has done everything for us, He laid down his life for humanity. When I found out that this is the meaning of Easter, I couldn’t help, but be so thankful! Someone dying for me, so that I can live. Enough reason to be thankful for the rest of my life. I don’t need anything else to happen, because I have everything already.
Andres: Easter is a powerful story of redemption. It is about making all things new, raising from death to life. And there is quite a strong tension found in this redemption story: there is something to win and something to lose. We can all fit our stories into a bigger story. Easter is never about how good we are or about our behaviour. In fact, it’s not about what we do at all, but about grace – and grace alone.