June 2024

alumni stories Where are they now?

EDITION 48 — Victoria "Tori" DelValle

written by Loey Waterman

Victories Redefined

AFH Alumni and Artists Fellowship Victoria "Tori" DelValleTori alongside her creative storyboard for “Thirteen Victories.”

Victoria “Tori” DelValle is a storyteller at heart. Finding community art programs at age 14 helped strengthen her voice, but she is clear that her story began well before herself.

As told by Tori, when her grandfather emigrated from Puerto Rico to Boston, he lived in a community called Parcel 19 in the South End. Shortly after he arrived, the City proposed an urban renewal project that would displace all of the neighborhood residents, the majority of whom were immigrants. After organizing against the proposed home demolitions, the community members won control over their neighborhood and it officially became Villa Victoria or simply, “the Vill.”

Representing Villa Victoria by name and by spirit, Tori brings the community that raised her into every space she enters. “We had everything we needed,” she recalls while talking about growing up in the Vill. She describes this Puerto Rican enclave as small but mighty, where her neighbors were like family and her teachers were the stories told by those around her.

Though she grew up in Boston, the first time Tori truly left her community was her first day of seventh grade at Boston Latin School (BLS), which she describes as a complete culture shock. She reflects on her time at BLS as an isolating experience where hyper-individualism reigned and students were valued based on their professional prospects. Tori had loved being creative when she was a young girl in the Villa, but she channeled her talents into engineering when it was presented by her school as a more notable path to success.

“I didn’t understand how much I really liked art because I was in such a different mindset.”

AFH Alumni and Artists Fellowship Victoria "Tori" DelValle“The Playground” by Tori DelValle (2020, acrylic and marker on canvas).

It wasn’t until joining the Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción (IBA) Youth Program that her artistic spirit was allowed to grow. Now in a community where she felt represented and safe to explore her interests, she began drawing again and reciting poetry. During this time she was torn between two separate lives: attending BLS where professional and financial success was valued most, and participating in IBA where she could be herself.

Despite developing her passion for the arts, Tori surrendered to her school’s vision of success and planned to study aerospace engineering in college. But, the universe had different plans for her. When she was offered a full-ride to NYU Tisch School of the Arts with a major in Interactive Media Arts, she felt validated and empowered to pursue a career in the arts. After graduating in 2022 with a newfound confidence in her work, she was ready to return to the communities that raised her, which is what brought her to Artists For Humanity (AFH).

Working as a mentor in AFH’s Creative Technology Studio, Tori wanted to give the teens the same experience she was provided when she was young. As someone who had experienced the pressures of traditional schooling, she understood how mentorship and support from organizations like AFH could change a young person’s life. For her, if art is a form of storytelling, mentorship can help young artists develop their voices.

Tori recalls fondly the work she was able to accomplish with teens during her time as a mentor. Reflecting on a specific project, she describes the frustration a teen was experiencing while trying to create a digital product for a client. After breaking down each step and using a patient and supportive approach, the two were able to find a solution. In times like these, Tori deeply appreciates the bonds she made and trust that was formed.

AFH Alumni and Artists Fellowship Victoria "Tori" DelValleTori (center) working with a teen as a mentor in AFH’s Creative Technology Studio.

“You can’t raise a kid alone, you need community. Having places like AFH or the community organizations I grew up with is giving these young people a place to express themselves, to ask these questions, to make mistakes, get guidance…that’s everything.”

As a young artist who still wanted to develop her own voice, Tori decided it was time to commit all of her time to her art. She became a full-time freelance visual artist and designer and held her first solo-exhibition in 2023, all while continuing to look for additional opportunities to develop her confidence as an artist. When she heard about the AFH Artists Fellowship, she knew she had to apply. Knowing AFH’s values aligned with her own, it felt like the perfect next step.

Her decision to return to AFH as a Fellow was guided by her desire to learn more about herself as an artist.

“It’s more selfish [focusing on myself], not in a bad sense, but I’m doing this [fellowship] so one day when I do return to being a mentor I have more experience to share.”

As an AFH Artist Fellow, Tori already feels the impact of mentorship, learning from the other Fellows, and meeting local artists. She also looks forward to revisiting some of her former mentorship responsibilities by facilitating a workshop for AFH teens. She plans to lead a personal development workshop that helps the teen artists define their values and boundaries, since she herself is in a similar developmental process.

Under the Fellowship, Tori continues her passion for storytelling and bringing community into everything she does. She has chosen to title her Fellowship project “Thirteen Victories” — a claymation fashion show that highlights the stories of 13 distinct models she casted and interviewed. She assigned an original article of clothing to each of the models, signifying their stories and resistance to popular ideas of success. Tori shares, “Throughout this collection, we’re not only thinking about how to redefine success in our own terms, but push the gender norms and beauty standards.”

The project aims to exemplify not only the community values of Villa Victoria, but the women in Boston who each have their own ideas of success and identity.

“In Villa Victoria…their definition of success was claiming the rights to build their own community, but I know the more dominant definitions of success make it all about wealth, status, individuality…that’s two very different definitions.”

AFH Alumni and Artists Fellowship Victoria "Tori" DelValleTori enjoying her space in the AFH Artist Fellows’ creative studio.

From the age of 14 when Tori reignited her artistic spirit, storytelling became her foundation for creating art and this claymation is an extension of just that. Her Fellows project is a way to tell the story of her community, the individual models, and larger structures she wants to expose. Whether it is through drawing, painting, graphic design, or apparel design, she continues to use her experiences to inspire others.

“It’s always bigger than me, but it always starts with me.”

Tori looks forward to sharing her project and stories during the Fellowship’s culminating exhibition at AFH’s Open Studio on October 29, and hopes to see you there! Follow Tori and her creative journey @thirteenvicarchive and on her website.

Thank you to our supporters, including:

The Lynch Foundation
National Endowment for the Arts
Sustaining Grants - Cummings Foundation - Cummings Foundation
State Street
John Hancock - MLK Scholars
Stavros Niarchos Foundation
Mass Cultural Council
NEFA
The Wilson Sheehan Foundation
Wellington Management
Liberty Mutual Insurance
Ann Theodore Foundation
edvestors - Driving Change in Urban Schools