Recap | Notes from the Performing Arts Panel in Spanish

Recap | Notes from the Performing Arts Panel in Spanish

“Don’t think, ‘the door is closed because I’m Latino.’ Many doors are open because the artist is Latino.”

On June 13, a group of performing arts professionals gathered at The King Juan Carlos I of Spain for a panel discussion in Spanish. Great insider advice was given regarding opportunities as well as common challenges that exist for Spanish-speaking artists and arts organizations in New York. Remarks were given by the Consul for Cultural Affairs, Juan José Herrera de la Muela.

Topics of discussion included:

  • Cultural context: What was the art scene in New York when the panelists first began their careers; how has it changed since then?
  • Challenges: Attracting audiences, what to produce.
  • Fundraising: How to fundraise; where to find fundraising opportunities.

The panel was moderated by Claudia Norman, founder of Celebrate Mexico Now Festival. She is a cultural consultant and an artist project manager based in New York. The panelists included Director/Producer Estefania Fadul; Roberto Federico, Executive Director of Repertorio Español; Jan Hanvik, co-founder of Crossing Bridges LLC and Executive Director of ONG PAMAR (Pan-American Art Research Inc.); and Arnaldo J. Lopez, Development Officer at Pregones/ Puerto Rican Traveling Theater.

Claudia questioned the panelists on many aspects of their careers, including the hardships of fundraising and attracting people to the theater. Estefania Fadul discussed the benefits of creating a non-profit organization and using fundraising websites to pay for larger productions. She explained that by using websites like Kickstarter she was able to fund her production company’s first project. That larger staging helped introduce the company to the public, which allowed them to focus on smaller community-based projects. By involving the community, she was able to reduce costs, since its members were more willing to help them by providing a venue, volunteers, and material.

Although she was successful in this strategy, Arnaldo Lopez discussed the challenges he has faced when trying to get people to attend the theater in the Bronx. According to him, people’s perception of the Bronx generally prevents them from seeking the theater there. There’s an assumption that the theater does not thrive in that neighborhood, therefore people do not attend performances there. It is for this reason, he argues, that it is important for artists to create their own space and produce work that will enhance the perception of the area.

This line of thought led audience members to consider the target audience of performances. The topic arose in the conversation regarding Latino artists performing for specific audiences and the importance of knowing that audience. According to one of the panel’s attendees, there are three types of Latino people in America: those who were born in America to Latino parents, those who immigrated to America, and those who are only in America for a specific time and reason. The guest then asked for advice on how to integrate these three types of Latinos in America and how to work with production companies of culturally diverse Latinos.

In response, the multiculturality of the Latino community was extensively discussed. The problem, as explained by Roberto Federico, is that people do not know about works from other Latin American countries other than their own. As a result of this, if a production company produces a play by a Puerto Rican artist, then the audience will be composed of mostly Puerto Ricans; if the work is Salvadorean, the public will be from El Salvador as well. One of the ways to avoid this problem in the past was by producing Spanish works, which are well known throughout Latin America. They also recognized the need to educate Latin Americans about different cultures, and to create works in mixed communities. Jan Hanvik illustrated this by telling a tale of an Uruguayan pianist, who could play the classics very well, but thrived when collaborating with other Latino artists to create original works.

The panel was followed by a short reception outside the hall, at which the panelists and the audience could continue conversation in a more informal setting. During this brief gathering, it was made clear that conversations like this are very much needed, and NYFA looks forward to further fostering and nurturing the Latino community through future events and programs held in Spanish.


We were also able to chat with some of the panelists after the event. Here is some of what they had to say:

NYFA: What are the biggest challenges faced by Spanish-speaking or Latino artists? What is the best way to confront those challenges?

Roberto Federico: From my perspective, I can only speak specifically of Hispanic or Latino artists that work in the theater (actors, directors, set designers, etc.). The biggest challenges are not so different from those faced by American-born artists: the inclusion in a limited labor market, and the possibility of turning a passion into a way of life. For Hispanic artists (which includes Latinos), these challenges are made more acute due to the language barrier, papers to work legally in the country, and the underrepresentation of this particular group of people in the theater, much like in movies and in TV.

Second generation Hispanic artists have an advantage over first-generation Hispanic artists since they are, generally, bilingual and have American citizenship. This provides them with more possibilities when the time comes to obtaining jobs. In American (or, rather, North American) productions, which can count on bigger audiences and critics, roles for Latino artists are very limited and generally stereotyped (drug dealers, maids, Latino lovers, etc.). Despite the constant fight against this type of limitation, little has been done to change it, which is why Hispanic actors have to prove their worth by learning to speak fluent English (accents are generally accepted and can help, depending on the role), obtaining work papers as soon as possible, and maintaining an active status in production groups in Spanish and in English.

Arnaldo J. Lopez: There are multiple challenges and they correspond to both the level of professional development achieved by the artist (or the one he/she is trying to achieve) and the amount of time they have been in the city. Obtaining sponsorship for a work visa, for example, is not an easy task for the artist, and the current political climate does not help. Gaining access to additional training programs and to opportunities are also challenges because there is not a strong, centralized source of information. To face these challenges, the best thing to do is to make a habit of networking. I believe that, in theory, social media has made this easier. It is putting together a practical map of people in theater that are Spanish-speaking and Latino, so that we can meet as groups of particular interests that already exist. You should let people know what you are looking to do. It takes time, yes, but letting people know you is the best way to open doors.  

Jan Hanvik: Sometimes it seems that many things have gotten better for Latino artists in the U.S., and sometimes it doesn’t seem that way. I am on a funding panel which reviewed an application from an Anglo-Saxon-run organization that patronizingly said, “we will help poor disadvantaged Latino artists arriving in New York to orient themselves.” Many Latino artists are not poor nor disadvantaged. A major New York City orchestra in a Latino Music Series last winter said in the program, “it is amazing that there are so many not-very-well-known Latino composers.” They are very well known! It is just that the Anglo-Saxon powers haven’t been out there in the field doing their research. Another organization asked me (an American) to assist them in outreach to the Latino community for conference panelists and attendees. The organizer said, “we don’t know how to reach out to them, and they don’t know how to be reached out to.” At the same time, there is a fear among Latinos to reach out to non-Latino organizations. For example, I offered a scholarship to a Puerto Rican dancer to study in Colorado. She refused. She said, “I don’t think they like Puerto Ricans out there.” I said, “I don’t think they know what a Puerto Rican is out there.” The Department of Cultural Affairs is doing a pretty good job at crossing borders. A countermovement, an Association of Cultures of Color, organized a meeting at which almost no Anglo-Saxons appeared. More techniques at conferences for mixing up attendees so they interact with people with whom they would not easily be drawn to or feel comfortable with is an underused tool.

Claudia Norman: The biggest challenge faced by any artist when they first arrive in New York is getting to know the artistic circuit in the city, and it becomes even harder to navigate if they can’t find it in Spanish and the artists don’t speak English.

NYFA: Based on your experience, what is the best way to introduce yourself (or your work) in the world of performing arts in New York?

RF: The best way for an actor is to get an agent. Agents do not work with actors that are not permanent residents, and only a few will accept an artist visa. Fortunately, the internet offers more options, such as websites where actors can upload their resumes, photographs, and other information, and which manage information regarding auditions. Directors and designers must keep their website up to date and work even in small productions to obtain their first credits in the U.S. Previous work as a director or designer in other countries counts for very little when looking for work here. There are foundations that offer opportunities for theater residencies for directors and designers. Keeping oneself informed about them is one of the best ways to eventually introducing oneself in the business.

AJL: To make yourself known I recommend attending activities that are already on the bill. This is a kind community! Come and say hi. There are many free events held throughout the year. There are also multiple established networks that periodically announce meetings and dialogues. Theaters from the Latino Theatre Alliance, La Cooperativa of NYC Latinx Theatre Artists  and the Festival de Teatro Hispano del Comisionado Dominicano de Cultura are a few examples.

JH: Crossover! Crossover! Crossover! I have presented spectacular Mexican modern dance in New York City. Modern dancers don’t go because they think “it’s Mexican.” Narrow-minded! Ballet and folk dance people don’t go because they think, “it’s modern.” Perhaps a campaign called something like, “Don’t be Narrow-Minded! Try Dance/Theater Outside Your Comfort Zone!” There could be more bilingual public relations people, or more scholarships to place Spanish-speaking interns with public relations agencies so all materials on all arts go out to all media, Spanish and English. “Speakers get out of your box!” or “Salga de tu cajon!” could be the most important message to get out.

CN: The best way to make your work known and to present it in the world of the performing arts in New York is to attend cultural events in the city, and to meet other artists dedicated to the same thing. Also, looking to make live presentations, which can be done in small venues, and announce them in social media.  

NYFA: What kind of opportunities should artists be focusing on?

RF: At the beginning, on everything. The artistic medium in the Performing Arts in New York is not as big as it appears. Contact is, as always, very important. It is important not to trust that social media is enough to make contacts. Interpersonal relationships are much more important in this type of work. Everyone wants to work with someone they already know. Once introduced to the medium, artists should concentrate on opportunities that offer the most exposure in their area. It always depends on the relationship between economy and art. There are productions that are more commercial, and there are those that are more artistic. Sometimes they are inverse and sometimes they are directly proportional to one another.

AJL: Nowadays it is worth it to concentrate in more than one opportunity. I think that it is wise to look for spaces of creative interaction, formal and informal, so that other artists can know about you; readings, lectures, workshops, and exchanges. I also think that it is important to get involved with everything that has to do with scholarships and ways to fundraise for projects. For this last part, I recommend considering orientation, training, and awards given by arts councils in your area. In the Bronx, for example, there is the BCA.

CN: Artists should concentrate on all types of opportunities; the most important thing is to know how to take advantages of them, especially artists that have just started their careers in New York. These opportunities will permit them to widen their network in the performing arts world in the city.

NYFA: Any comments or advice you wish to share with our immigrant artists?

RF: Make yourself seen. Work as much as possible; at first with whoever you can, and later with whoever you want. Build up your portfolio, website, network (interpersonal, not only virtual), and, above all, never stop growing, studying, and attending workshops. The medium is very competitive and the more value you have to offer, the more value, especially monetary, is received. It is a hard path, but not impossible. If working full-time in the arts is not a possibility, or if you don’t have a generous family that can support you, you have to find a job that allows for flexibility in your schedule. It is important to always have a reputation for being trustworthy and professional.

AJL: This city is a living and growing organism. It takes time to learn how to navigate, listen, and add your part to it, but this should not stop you!

JH: Crossover! Don’t think, “the door is closed because I’m Latino.” Many doors are open because the artist is Latino.

I am working on a network of artist residencies in Latin America, including 7-9 in indigenous communities in 7 countries. Our deep, deep hope is that these will be meeting grounds for deep, not superficial, exchanges among people. As City Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez said when I asked him at his Summit on Latinos conference at Hunter College last month, “what is the place for Anglo-Saxons at conferences like this?” He answered, “there is a place for everyone in this New York that we love.”

Among all races and ethnicities, there are people who welcome “the other” and people who don’t. To identify and convene those who are welcoming could be powerful. Knowing that race and ethnicity will be difficult to talk about and make harmony with as long there are humans and borders and skin colors and language and educational and economic differences. But life is a million times more about encompassing those differences than trying to shut them out, which has always been, and will always be, in vain.

CN: 1. It is very important that artists attend cultural events. These cultural events are the best way to make their work known, and to learn about cultural offerings of the city.

2. Artists should have their promotional materials up to date.

3. Artists should constantly be looking for where to present themselves and collaborate with other artists, in group exhibitions, or in performing arts festivals.

Para leer el artículo completo en español por favor presione acá.

– Written by Alicia Ehni, Program Associate and Cristina Garcia, IAP Intern

Las Artes Escénicas en Nueva York, in Spanish, is possible thanks to the support of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA) in collaboration with the New York City Council. NYFA thanks Council Member Stephen Levin, for his support.

This article is part of the ConEdison Immigrant Artist Program Newsletter #95. Subscribe to this free monthly e-mail for artist’s features, opportunities, and events here.

Images: Panel Artes Escenicas en Español, King Juan Carlos I of Spain, Photo: NYFA

Amy Aronoff
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