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Men & Women of the Year 2018

We honor eight individuals who have served the community with such distinction.

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Juan Diaz

His name is on the tips of many tongues as of late, regarding his impressively researched and designed proposal for a mural celebrating our area’s history, meant to grace the Gordon River bridge underpass. But chances are you knew of Juan Diaz before this push for public art (even if from his inspiring 2017 mural that brightened up a period of construction on Fifth Avenue South). The young artist has made quite the impression.

In person, Diaz conveys positivity, awareness, ceaseless curiosity. On canvas, paper, metal, fabric and wall, his themes of unity, preservation and balance ring clear. “I am not here to tell anybody that they’re wrong, or that I’m right,” he says of his color-rich and stirring works, which range from fine art to light performance. “I am just trying to interpret things as I see them. My hope is always for the best.”

Diaz has not limited his contributions to provoking joy and contemplation through an ever-evolving world-class portfolio. The Colombia native planted his roots in Naples more than 20 years ago, and he has worked to deepen his connection to the community since.

With a focus on organizations serving children and education, he has lent himself to Barbara’s Friends, Collier Child Care Resources, the Naples Art Association, Saint Ann Latino Contemporary Art Auction and the Holocaust Museum—to name just a few. He has begun to lay the groundwork for future area artists, too, helping provide opportunities at resources and advancement. And you can bet this recent proposal to enhance the cultural experience of our city will not be his last.

“I understand the responsibility an artist really has,” he says. “We could do things for ourselves, or we could be a voice of the community. Be a voice of humanity.” 

Related: See photos and video from our 2018 Men & Women of the Year ceremony

Quirk: I’m a night owl. Many times I’m up when the sun is coming up. Biggest influences: I’ve talked a lot about my (late) dad because he was an artist, he was my father, he was a good man. He was my first mentor. But in the last few years I’ve learned so much about my mother. I knew a lot, but I have a greater understanding of my mother (now), and all my sensibility comes from her. Motto: I try to live how I think. Hobbies: Playing drums. And recently I got a camera; I’ve been doing a little video; and I’ve been teaching myself techniques for 3-D projection. Quality admired most in others: I like genuine people. I like passionate people, too. On the bucket list: I want to see and experience as much as I can. To see, to hear to smell different places. I’m looking forward to it. Would like to be remembered: As somebody that tried to be a positive force, positive influence, in the community. In society. Ideal dinner party guests: It would be a very eclectic group of individuals.

On his artist quirks

“Because I spend so much time by myself, sometimes, you know, my brain works differently. So there are some situations where people are like, ‘OK…’ But I’ve already gotten so comfortable with just who I am and accepted who I am. … As I get older I continue to see that artists in general, we have our ways, but we don't even recognize that we have our ways.”

On helping budding artists

“Sometimes people just become what they have to. Society can become heavy. When all the members in the community are not being who they (really) are, or closer to who they are, I think it can just become heavy. So why not try to help future generations, to make things a little easier in some ways?”

On knowing he’s on the right path

“When I was a little kid, I do remember instead of getting toys I used to get an easel, a drawing table, a drum set. I can remember thinking, ‘I want to grow up to be an artist and a musician and that's it.’ I love learning. I love to feed my brain and have a better understanding of things. I never even missed a day of school. Now that I’ve been 17 years a full-time artist—I chose it because that's what really has brought me joy.” — Cayla Childs 

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