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Leslie Elsasser - Introduction
Christian Cortes

Crimi Arrieta - Relative of US Army Veteran
Patricia Colbert - US Army
Gail Cross - US Air Force
Dr. Charlie Ferrer - US Army
Janine Hargrett - US Army
Valerie Larson - US Air Force
Kevin Lipton - US Army
Dolores Matteo - US Army
Karidad Ramis-Hartman - US Army
Roger St. Julian - US Army
Monika Sutton - Spouse of US Army Veteran
Viana L.M. Tavares-Fischer - US Army

Manfredo Bobadilla - US Army
Agustin Collazo Jr. - US Marine Corps / US Navy
Amanda Dodd - US Army
Evan Fountain - US Air Force
Derek Hopkins - US Air Force
Mikko Maki - US Marine Corps
Alicia Morales - US Army
Chris Smith - Spouse of US Army Veteran
Kimberlee Nicole Smith - US Army
RaeAnne Swanson - US Air Force


Leslie Elsasser - Introduction

Congratulations to the 2023 Breaking Barriers artists! This year the workshops focused on “portraiture” and were skillfully led by artist and US Army veteran Christian Cortés. Both workshops, The Formation of a Smile: Breaking Down the Portrait and An Indulgence in Portraiture, utilized cell phone cameras, empowering the artists to be discreet and push the boundaries of portraiture. By rejecting conceptual and visual mediocrity, the artists pushed beyond conventional candid and selfie imagery. Instead, they sought diverse technical and conceptual approaches to capture more than just a person’s likeness or a surrogate representation. 

Collectively, the resulting exhibition titled PORTRAIT, embodies a form of classicism within the ordinary. It offers glimpses into intimate worlds, evoking both bitter and sweet humor, and stirring up generations of memories. Through a range of human stories, this collection of artworks expands the parameters of the portraiture genre and contributes to our understanding of what it means to be a human. PORTRAIT presents these personal and individual voices to both the local and larger civilian and veteran communities. Veterans face many challenges related to war, deployment, and reintegration. As a result, many veterans cope with physical, yet often invisible conditions, which affect not only service members but also their spouses, children, extended families, and friends. It can be difficult to find words to articulate these obscured challenges and to express internal thoughts and feelings that escape everyday language. Breaking Barriers offers participants an opportunity to communicate visually and develop a strong, unique voice through artmaking. 

I am always amazed and utterly thrilled to see what the Breaking Barriers artists accomplish during the workshops. I deeply admire these artists’ courage to move outside of their talents and undertake something new by plunging into the art world and learning a visual language while being both behind and sometimes in front of the lens. I profoundly thank the twenty-two artists in PORTRAIT and this catalog. We are grateful for their expanded visions and commend their bravery in authentically telling their stories.

Thank you to the dedicated USFCAM team for bringing this catalog and PORTRAIT to life. Special appreciation to Margaret Miller, Director of USF Institute of Research and Art, and Randall West, Deputy Director of USFCAM, for their unwavering support. To Christian Cortés for his expertise and artistic vision that led participants to break their own barriers. Gratitude to Don Fuller and Kenzie Ferrell, CAM’s media team, for handling publicity, social media, and especially for designing this catalog. Thanks to Gary Schmitt, Eric Jonas, Alejandro Gomez, and Madison Andrews for framing, label making, and exhibition installation. To Amy Allison, a diligent partner and ally to all participants. Thank you to Noel Smith, for her expertise and curatorial input. Thanks to our community partner, the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital, especially Merrilee Jorn for their support and for exhibiting PORTRAIT in 2024. Appreciation to the USF School of Art and Art History, Amber Toplisek, and Forrest MacDonald for printing collaboration. Special thanks to the USF Office of Veterans Success, including Dr. Wayne Taylor, Renee Amboy-Biller, and Dennis Mont’Ros for their ongoing support.

I am immensely grateful to our funders. Breaking Barriers is made possible by a grant from the Community Arts Impact Grant of the Hillsborough Arts Council, Love IV Lawrence, and additional support from the USFCAM ACE (Art for Community Engagement) Fund Patrons and the Florida Department of State, Florida Arts & Culture.

Curator of Education
USF Contemporary Art Museum



For more information:
Email Leslie Elsasser at

Breaking Barriers is a program by USF Contemporary Art Museum in collaboration with the USF School of Art & Art History, is supported by the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital, USF Office of Veterans Success, Community Arts Impact Grant of the Hillsborough Arts Council, Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners, Love IV Lawrence, USFCAM ACE (Art for Community Engagement) Fund Patrons, and the Florida Department of State, Florida Arts & Culture.