Conversations | Arnaldo J. López, Development Officer at Pregones/PRTT
“I strongly advise immigrant artists to tap into the City’s many cultural offerings and to cultivate relationships inside and outside of the arts.”
Arnaldo J. López (born in Puerto Rico) is an arts manager and advocate with a Ph.D. in Latin/o American Literatures and Cultures from New York University. As a Development Officer, he plays a key role in the overall planning for Pregones/Puerto Rican Traveling Theater (PRTT). He is also a member and former Vice Chair of the Bronx Council on the Arts, and a frequent collaborator with the National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures.
NYFA: How was it for you moving to the U.S.A. from Puerto Rico?
ARNALDO J. LÓPEZ: Moving to the U.S. was disorienting and exciting. It was a full-on immersion in English and my first language is Spanish. It was only my second time on an airplane, and I had three connecting flights. After landing in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, there was what I remember as an impossibly scenic hour-long shuttle ride to Lewisburg, home of Bucknell University; fields of corn dotted with haystacks and red barns, a resolute air of crops and dairy cattle. It was nothing like the urban hustle of San Juan, nothing like the Caribbean. In the evening, the temperature dipped into the 50s, and that seemed extraordinary to me.
Moving was intentional. I accepted a non-Federal Work-Study scholarship at Bucknell and became fully independent from my family on the island.
NYFA: How did your relationship with Pregones start?
AJL: Shortly after enrolling in the doctoral program of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at NYU, I found myself looking for cultural opportunities to connect directly with local communities. A fellow graduate student at Columbia University got word of a Bronx-based theater that was working on a stage adaptation of a story by Puerto Rican writer and queer icon Manuel Ramos Otero. That company of artists was Pregones, and their show was El bolero fue mi ruina. I saw a developmental preview of it at a daylong CLAGS conference in Manhattan and later saw the full production at Pregones’ 50-seat studio on the Grand Concourse seven times.
After that, I was a volunteer at Pregones working concessions, then documenter of creative projects and collaborations. I wrote about their intercultural musical play Promise of A Love Song, for American Theatre magazine, and crafted a meaty dossier with artist and audience interviews for the Community Arts Network, a program of the nonprofit Art in the Public Interest.
NYFA: How can an artist get involved in the Pregones/PRTT artistic community?
AJL: Pregones/PRTT is the outcome of the marriage of Pregones, based in The Bronx, and the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater, founded by Miriam Colón Valle and based in Manhattan. The creative center of the company is its multigenerational Latinx acting and music ensemble, devoted to crafting and performing original works. Getting involved means connecting in meaningful ways with ensemble directors and members, becoming acquainted with their aesthetic and thematic interests, and keeping an eye out for auditions, readings, workshops, and performances.
Pregones/PRTT also offers artist residencies and teaching opportunities that align with a commitment to engage diverse residents and visitors in The Bronx, East Harlem/El Barrio, Upper Manhattan, and Clinton/Hell’s Kitchen. So another way to get involved is for artists to think up and share projects of value to people in the community. One fun new project, STAGE GARDEN RUMBA: Where Art Meets Green, implemented in partnership with We Stay/Nos Quedamos Community Development Corporation and part of the new Rockefeller Foundation/Lincoln Center Cultural Innovation Fund, brings artists and activists together to address local environmental degradation and collective demands for a better quality of life.
NYFA: Tell us more about Pregones Relief Drive for Artists and the direct impact it has had on the people from Puerto Rico.
AJL: The aftermath of Hurricane Maria throws into sharp relief things that are off-kilter in Puerto Rico and in the United States. Pregones/PRTT stands with the people on the island, and our relief drive is part of a formidable mobilization of grassroots and independent resources that are now bridging the gap between governmental response and humanitarian crisis. We chose to focus on what we know best: the artists.
What we’re doing is peer-to-peer. We’re raising funds through ticket sales and tax-exempt donations in order to put emergency cash directly in the hands of impacted artists. Pregones/PRTT retains zero intermediary costs. Beneficiaries are persons whose income depends on creative work first interrupted by Hurricane Irma, and now without the prospect of resuming that work after Maria. They are theater, music, dance, visual, and literary artists with a history of prior exchange and collaboration with our company, and other artists throughout the island that recipients themselves helped to identify and reach. Everyone receives a micro-grant of $500, no strings attached.
To date, we’ve raised enough to help 60 artist’s households in Puerto Rico. The drive continues through December 31. I hope many NYFA readers will be moved to participate!
Of related interest, directly from Puerto Rico, Pregones/PRTT presents the NYC premiere of [email protected] de La Bernarda in December at our Bronx theater. The show is a resolutely Caribbean riposte to García Lorca’s La casa de Bernarda Alba, all the more biting in light of the situation on the island today.
NYFA: What advice can you give to immigrant artists who want to access opportunities in New York?
AJL: I strongly advise immigrant artists to tap into the city’s many cultural offerings and to cultivate relationships inside and outside of the arts. Inside you can find peers and mentors, outside you can find other valuable forms of cheer and support. Launching or re-establishing your career in the arts requires both. Don’t be shy about knocking on the door of your borough’s arts council, and make sure to add networking events to your calendar.
I also strongly advise immigrant artists to acquire practical financial know-how as part of their professional development. Learn how best to budget, fundraise, and reinvest in your practice. Learn how to do it frequently, and in ways that don’t disrupt your preferred creative flow.
López recommends NYFA’s Professional Development resources, including our publication The Profitable Artist: A Handbook for All Artists in the Performing, Literary, and Visual Arts.
Learn more about The Pregones/PRTT.
This interview is part of the ConEdison Immigrant Artist Program Newsletter #98. Subscribe to this free monthly e-mail for artist’s features, opportunities, and events. The Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program is expanding to Newark, NJ through the support of the Ford Foundation and local partners. Apply by November 6, 2017, 11:59 PM EST!
– Interview conducted by Alicia Ehni, Program Associate, NYFA Learning.
Image: Arnaldo J. López, Photo: Orlando José for Pregones/PRTT