Hispanic Heritage Week: Latino Arts Center Continues Mission On Lower East Side
As NY1 continues its Hispanic Heritage Week spotlighting Latino art and artists around the city, we examine a Lower East Side institution that has been nurturing Puerto Rican and other artistic talents for nearly two decades. NY1's Shazia Khan filed the following report.
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Shrouded in scaffolding, you can easily miss a thriving arts center growing on the Lower East Side.
"I hear people walking by the building saying this is a school, this is a church, this is abandoned. They really don't know what it is," said Clemente Soto Velez Cultural and Educational Center Executive Director Jan Hanvik.
The center is named after the late Puerto Rican poet, visual artist and political activist who supported and influenced Puerto Rican and other Latino artists in the city. In that same spirit, the nearly 20-year-old center has been nurturing artists of all disciplines from the area and beyond.
"The mission grows out of a Puerto Rican, Latino mission but it's really open to all of the multicultural influences that made up the Lower East Side and the city as a whole," Hanvik said.
Inside the former school building, still owned by the city, there are more than 40 visual artist studios and several theatres and galleries. It's also home to 12 dance, theatre and film companies.
Despite the thriving arts scene spanning five floors, it's hard to ignore the years of neglect the building has sustained. Recent multi-million dollar grants are working to change that. By next year, the exterior will have a facelift and the first floor will be undergoing renovations.
The funding will also create a permanent gallery space for puppets and marionettes from Latin America and Spain, as well as the means to expand space for a Latino childrens theatre run by a resident company and featuring performances in both Spanish and English.
"It's a family place and educational space and people will be very pleased with what we are going to be doing," said Clemente Soto Velez Cultural and Educational Center Board President Dr. Manuel Moran.
The center's rich history has been hidden inside some of its cabinets as they're bursting with everything from images of past events to information on artists to financial records. However, the center will soon know exactly what it has been accumulating for the past 17 years. Another grant afforded the center an archivist to uncover and catalogue its history.
"The focus is going to be on what specifically were the contributions of Hispanic to the cultural and the educational life of the Lower East Side," Hanvik said.
Center officials say the soon-to-be archived information will likely help develop another generation of artists.