Artful Impact

Local Latino artists are showing up and standing out with their contributions in visual art, music and theater.

Using photographs carefully sliced and arranged into eye-catching lines and shapes, artist Goizane Esain creates large-scale cityscapes, like this one of the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park. 

Writer: Jody Gifford
Photographer: Duane Tinkey

Goizane Esain

Graphic By Nature

Goizane Esain has been immersed in art her entire life. 

“My mom was an art dealer, so I was literally around art my whole childhood,” says Esain, now 40. “We had these giant paintings and art all over my house. I would go to artist studios and see all these different mediums and styles. It was definitely a big part of my life.” 

That childhood experience has served her well. After graduating from high school in Colombia, she and her mother moved to Denver, where she studied art and design. She arrived in Des Moines in 2008, graduating in graphic design and communications from Drake University three years later. 

Today, Esain owns her own graphic design business and partners with two other independent consultants to operate RBI Marketing, which serves the likes of United Way of Central Iowa, the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs and the Des Moines Buccaneers. 

When she’s not designing, she’s creating large-scale cityscapes and landscapes for both private and public spaces. Using photographs carefully sliced and arranged into eye-catching lines and shapes, Esain makes art that’s “more alive and interactive” than a painting or a drawing, she says. 

“I have always been very interested in white space and patterns and lines and also highlighting things that you might miss if you look at something that you see all the time,” she says. One example is the Des Moines skyline. “I highlight the firm design elements but give it a different shape so you can … experience it in a different way.” 

Esain has exhibited her work at Moberg Gallery since 2017 (she’s married to gallery co-owner Ryan Mullin). One of her works became a hit during a charity fundraiser. 

“We were hosting an auction for Mercy Hospital and asked Goizane if she wanted to donate something,” says gallery co-owner TJ Moberg. “She put one of her ‘slices’ into the auction and her piece ended up getting more bids than most of the other works. We noticed her work was popular and probably very saleable. We were right.” 

While Esain focuses on architecture and city views, she has begun incorporating more elements of nature into her work. As she starts to travel more, she hopes to photograph places, people and cultures she can turn into one-of-a-kind art pieces. Her ultimate goal? To display them in an exhibit of her own. 

“If it’s not this year, then next year I hope to have a full exhibit,” she says. “I think that will be something that will be very fun and interesting.”

Where’s She’s From: Born in Spain, raised in Venezuela and Colombia. 

What She Does: Artist, graphic designer ( and partner at RBI Marketing. 

Favorite Area Latin Experiences: Parranderos Latin Combo. “It’s my husband Ryan Mullin’s band. They’ve been making people dance and smile for the last 10 years, and they just released their new album.” 

Senor Tequila. “A new Mexican restaurant in Des Moines [that] my friends own.” 

Delicias by Lorena. A catering business focusing on Colombian cuisine that offers a variety of empanadas, baked goods and holiday dishes like Colombian tamales. Find information on Facebook. 

Karin Stein

Diverse Playlist

For Karin Stein, discovering music was the silver lining to an otherwise traumatic experience. 

Stein, a Des Moines-based musician who also manages Artes Latinas, a consortium of Latin American groups that perform here and abroad, spent the first 12 years of her life in the remote rural savanna of eastern Colombia. 

But her peaceful childhood was shattered in 1974, when guerrillas threatened to steal the family’s farm and kidnap her father. Fleeing for their lives, the family settled in San Jose, Costa Rica’s bustling capital city. 

San Jose “was huge for me. I mean, it was a shock,” says Stein, now 60. “It was probably the biggest trauma of my life … because we’d left behind everything I’d ever known.” 

But the move became a blessing, she says, for it was in Costa Rica that Stein discovered her love of Latin music. “I started taking lessons in all these different styles,” Stein says. “Having access to first-rate artists from all over Latin America really launched me,” as artists from throughout Central and South America, fleeing persecution, call Costa Rica home. “I’d say that was the seminal moment in me becoming a professional musician.” 

In 1980, Stein moved to the U.S. to study French and biology at Grinnell College and then agronomy at Iowa State University. She also speaks six languages—English, German, French, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. 

Whatever her focus of study was, though, her passion for music continued to intensify. “Every time I went back to Costa Rica I took more lessons and started performing,” she says. “I always went back to music, mostly out of homesickness.” She eventually turned her hobby into her profession, primarily performing as a soloist. 

In 2000, she and her Waterloo-based business partner, Ed East, started Artes Latinas. The eight musical acts they represent play a variety of genres, including salsa, Latin pop, mariachi and Afro-Latin dance music. Stein performs with several of the acts, and while she is mostly a singer, she also plays Latin American strings, winds and percussion. 

East and Stein met after his Latin jazz ensemble performed at Grinnell in the 1980s, connecting over their mutual love of Latin American music. “When we met, Karin said she finally found someone here in her own backyard in Iowa who perhaps could be a partner in making music,” says East, a native of Panama who teaches middle school band in Waterloo. “We each had an area of the world that we were both very familiar with and we had our own experiences, but we balanced each other out very well. We still do.” 

Like the rest of the music industry, Artes Latinas has faced bruising challenges since the pandemic hit, but Stein says they’re starting to book live shows again. Bringing people together through music “is what keeps us going through these tough times,” she says. “It’s astonishing how motivating it is when you find that you touched somebody with a song they hadn’t heard in 20 years or that got them thinking about home.”

Where She’s From: Colombia and Costa Rica.

What She Does: Singer/songwriter and manager of Artes Latinas (

Favorite Area Latin Experiences: Festival fun. The second annual Des Moines Latino Film Festival, which the Latino Center of Iowa will present Sept. 30-Oct. 1. In addition to film, the free event celebrates Latino culture through art, live music and food. Check for updates, including the location, at

Traditional foods. “I just love being able to find pupusas (thick griddle cakes), patacones (fried plantains) and arepas (cornmeal cakes) in Des Moines.” Look for these culinary specialties at local Latin restaurants, supermarkets, festivals and events, as well as through vendors at local farmers markets.

Javier Anselmo

Culture Onstage

You can tell by the look on Javier Anselmo’s face that he’s excited about the future. Eyes bright, smile wide, his energy is infectious. 

The 19-year-old Drake University sophomore knows exactly where he’s going and what it will take to get him there. Hailing from suburban Chicago, Anselmo is majoring in theater, writing and directing with the hope that one day you’ll see his name in lights. 

“I have a whole journal in my Notes app of things I want to pursue,” he says. “I want to take advantage of every opportunity that’s put in front of me.” 

Anselmo was inspired by the Latin music recording artist Selena. “She inspired me at a young age to be a performer or pursue something in the arts,” he says of the artist who is still celebrated by Spanish- and English-spreaking fans 27 years after her tragic death. “I remember watching stuff my mom showed me and I was like, ‘Wow, she has inspired so many people to just keep going no matter what.’ ” 

Beyond Drake, Anselmo has performed at Des Moines Community Playhouse. In the December 2021 production of “The Sound of Music,” he played Baron Elberfeld and was a natural onstage, says Katy Merriman, the Playhouse’s artistic director. 

“I remember he had a really calm and positive energy at his audition,” Merriman says. “It’s always nice to have a variety of different energies when filling out a cast, but Javier had a good singing voice, too, and was so easy to work with.” 

At the Playhouse, “I was surrounded by a bunch of [diverse] actors, and it was great being able to say, ‘Hey, it’s not just white, it’s full of color. It’s full of minorities,’ ” he adds. “I felt less alone being there and I didn’t feel like there was a quota I was supposed to fill. They cast me because they liked what I brought to the table and they thought I was a good fit for that role. That’s how it should be.” 

Anselmo appreciates the opportunities for people of color both onstage and off in Des Moines. “I’ve been exposed to experiences that I never dreamed of [here],” he says. “And it’s just insane the amount of talent I’m surrounded by every single day.”

Where He’s From: Cicero, Illinois, a Chicago suburb.

What He Does: Actor and Drake student.

Favorite Area Latin Experiences: Mojito’s Mexican Grill. “Hearing the Spanish music and eating the food reminded me of the restaurants from my hometown. I loved being surrounded by people that looked like me, but most importantly, it reminded me that our culture holds no bounds, and there’s endless ways to celebrate it.” 

Des Moines Community Playhouse. “From the minute I walked in to audition, everyone there was so welcoming and supportive. … As a member of the Hispanic and Latino community, it’s important to me to be able to use the stage to inspire others like me.”

Drake University. “There are so many different people [at Drake] from so many walks of life. One of my favorite experiences was watching the POC Cabaret. Watching minority performers sing and act their hearts out was mesmerizing. Being able to see singers from the Latinx/Hispanic community … own the stage and celebrate their ethnicity moved me so much.”

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