Providence, RI

Contact Name
Marta V Martinez
Project Dates
Phase I from January - June 2014 and Phase II on September 26 and 27, 2014
Workshop Leader
Creative Communities Exchange (CCX) 2015
This program was a collaboration with Lydia Pérez (a NEFA artist) and the Puerto Rican Institute for Arts & Advocacy - PRIAA (a NEFA organization) with the purpose of bringing together two Latino arts organizations to highlight the artistic and traditional art of the Puerto Ricans, the largest Latino ethnic group in RI. The main goal was to educate about Puerto Rican (PR) culture by first offering a Santos carving workshop to high school students who learned the traditional art form of wooden Santos carving, followed by an exhibition, music (with Lorena Garay, NEFA artist) and dance performances meant to honor the "Tallistas" (PR Santos Carvers).
Project Goals
What were the specific goals of this creative economy project? Describe the community development challenge or opportunity that your project was designed to address:
The greatest challenge to us is a very strong “equity gap” that exists in our community between the availability of arts instruction and the richness of course offerings for students in low-poverty schools compared to those in high-poverty schools, leading students who are economically disadvantaged to not get the enrichment experiences of affluent students. Our project set out to offer a rich cultural arts program that represents the second largest Latino group in RI (the Puerto Ricans), but that also provides an opportunity for students and teachers in a high-poverty school to experience the art and dance of Puerto Rico. We strongly believe that art that fosters cultural awareness stimulates dialogue and leads to a better understanding and acceptance of those who are different. Additionally, RILA believes that this type of activity could serve as a necessary component of recognition that encourages self-pride among all Latinos.
If the goals change over time, please describe how:
Our goals were met satisfactorily, but not without some institutional challenges. First, the original launch date of the Santos carving workshops were delayed due to Winter weather and school closings, which not only kept students out of school, but also school department personnel from meeting to review our request and approve our teaching artist to work with the students in class. Also, we discovered that the original site where we had planned the exhibition and musical performances was not fully ADA complient, so we had to seek another location. If not for the support and understanding of the artists involved, the teachers and our partner organizations, all activities and the final event would not have been such a great success.
Who was involved in this project and what did they do? (be sure to include the partners from outside of the creative sector and how local voices were included):
1. Key members of the Providence Public School Department – approved our project and provided full access to school personnel, students, supplies and classroom space as needed.
2. Teachers, administrators and students at the Providence Vocational & Technical Academy (PVTA) - a high school located in a highly underserved neighborhood of Providence.
3. The City of Providence Dept. of Art + Culture - who helped promote the event and also helped resolve some of the challenges we faced.
4. Lydia Perez, Yoruba2 and the Puerto Rican Institute for Arts and Advocay (PRIAA) - helped connect us and promote the project to the Puerto Rican community of RI and New England. They also performed in the final concert.
5. Providence ¡CityArts! for Youth – invited us to use their site for the final music workshops and concerts. Their own students and families participated in the music workshop, and some attended the final concert.
How does this project relate to a larger community development strategy?
This program was in line with RILA’s 5-year strategic plan, which includes organizing & implementing new programs and activities that will strengthen our mission and deepen community connections by building partnerships & developing educational programs. The Santos carving workshop at the PVTA brought a Latin American traditional art form to students in a local urban school, and thus exposed student peers and teachers to the amazing art of Santos carving. The music and dance workshop and performances helped us to further connect with a local arts youth organization, which we’ve partnered in the past. We were able to offer constituents of Providence ¡CityArts! who are located in the neighborhood in which we serve, an opportunity to learn about the PR culture. The overall project took shape from our board’s desire to build closer community partnerships, to offer community programming in line with our mission, and to engage more Latino artists within or organization.
What projects or places, if any, inspired your approach to this creative economy project?
Inspiration came from a close relationship our organization has made with PRIAA and Yoruba2, who are member artists of our organization. During the past two years they have collaborated with RILA to offer brief performances (during the celebration of our 25th Anniversary), advice and support in seeking Puerto Rican artist, and in promoting all our programs through their vast network. RILA and PRIAA are two of a very small number of non-profit organizations with a strong professional connection to Latin American arts and cultures in RI. With the growing Census figures, showing that Puerto Ricans make up the highest population of Latinos in RI, and sharing a deep commitment to enriching and reconnecting Latino young people to their cultural heritage, the two organizations have formed a strong partnership to meet the needs of this highly underserved community. Both share the strong belief that the arts instill pride in local Latino immigrants, help second-generation Latinos connect to their heritage, and engage non-Latinos in understanding the cultural contributions of Latin-American artists.
Project Specifics
Please list the steps taken to implement the project:
As mentioned above, RILA and PRIAA have worked together for over 20 years, and in recent years have partnered in projects to promote Latino arts in RI. The project was first inspired in 2000 when PRIAA brought to RI a traveling exhibition of Wooden Santos carvings from Puerto Rico, and RILA’s Executive Director, who owns several Wooden Carvings from Mexico, learned how similar the history and execution of this cultural art form is to the Southwestern Mexican traditional art of Santos carving. The Santos carvings were returned to Puerto Rico, but RILA’s director always had in mind to offer an educational opportunity for Rhode Islanders to learn more about this tradition. In 2013, during a performance by Yoruba2 at our 25th Anniversary celebration, PRIAA’s Director performed a song that focused on the music of “Tallistas,” (PR Santos carvers), and this reinvigorated RILA’s interested in organizing an activity centered around this tradition. This resulted in a meeting between the two Executive Directors to discuss ways in which they could collaborate to promote Latino culture as a whole, but with a more specific purpose of teaching local artists how to make their own carvings and learn about the musical aspect of this tradition. Because of her strong ties to the Puerto Rican culture not only in RI, but around New England and also directly with the Island of Puerto Rico, PRIAA’s director was instrumental in connecting the PR artists and community with RILA. Further, she stepped forward when a local arts funding organization raised concerns over perceptions of religious overtones of the Santos carvings, by explaining that they are no longer considered religious icons, but rather that the act of carving a wooden Santo is a traditional skill that is learned and passed down from one artist to another. It was at this point when it became clear that the two organizations share similar goals and that working together would raise greater awareness of how art and culture can change lives.
If the project steps changed over time, please describe how:
Further discussion have evolved around combining the two organizations under one roof, as RILA’s board of directors has recently launched a capital campaign to open the first Latin American Cultural Center in RI. RILA is looking for a space where Latino art and culture can be showcased and where artists can expose their work to a broader and more diverse community. PRIAA is looking for a way to expand its programs to young people in Rhode Island and to bring together the various Latin American cultures to show how exciting it can be to fuse dance and music of the various ethnic groups to create a new way of expressing oneself.
What were your major obstacles for the completion of the project?
While we were able to complete the project as planned and on time, the greatest obstacle for our organization has been funding – hiring and sustaining staff while at the same time, providing ongoing, culturally relevant programs. Historically, RILA has focused on a limited number of activities based on the volunteer capacity of our board members. Recently, we hired a part-time Funds Developer who has begun to raise operating funds to help sustain our organization. However, the majority of our funding to date has been for specific projects or programs, and is spent once that activity is completed. By partnering with an organization such as PRIAA, we have been able to gain more exposure and grow our programs, however, funding is still needed to hire additional staff to manage programs as the growing Latino community learns about our work.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
The hiring of a part-time Funds Developer along with the volunteer support of our board members has helped immensely in ensuring that our programs are completed on time. For this particular program, the support provided by PRIAA and Yoruba2 was instrumental in the overall success of making connections in the Puerto Rican community and in bringing top-notch professional artists to work with us.
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
1. Community partnerships cross-sector and cross cultures are vitally important.
2. Volunteers are just as vitally important. Cultivate and reward as much as possible.
3. Be patient and persistent with school and city government.
4. Because of the lack of funding, it’s important to be a strong advocate, take advantage of networking opportunities and ensure that you have strong marketing/promotional support.
Project Impact
How has this project strategically connected arts and cultural activities to social, economic, and cultural issues in your community? What is different in your community as a result of this project?
This project has given RI Latino Arts greater visibility, not only in RI but around the country. It has generated new partnerships that help us support RI Latin American arts and artists. It has contributed to the development of a larger and more diverse network of working artists and civic leaders, has pushed RILA into the role of being a civic and arts leader in Rhode Island, and allowed RILA to take risks in building partnerships within the Latino community that other organizations or government offices haven’t been able to accomplish in Rhode Island.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
In 2013, RILA’s Executive Director was invited to participate in a 10-day Leadership Institute in San Antonio organized by the National Association of Latino Arts & Cultures (NALAC), where she met and was inspired by 12 other Latino artists and arts administrators. Our strong advocacy, outreach and partnership work was brought to the attention of NALAC and as a result, our organization now has been recognized on a national level. Our partnership initiatives with PRIAA has connected us to a strong Puerto Rican community both in the U.S. and in the Island, all of whom share our vision of educating about Latino arts and culture in general. What began as a one-time collaboration to offer an activity has grown to a deeper bond between two strong Latino organizations.
How did you measure this success or progress?
Attendance to recent programs and activities; attendance at the Puerto Rican music and dance performance; media interest not only in our organization, but in promoting Latino arts in general; follow up emails, phone calls and letters by educators and community organizations for more Latino arts programming such as this. And, as mentioned above, the fact the RILA’s director is now involved in many regional and national arts initiatives shows our success.
Please describe any unexpected impacts:
Many Latino artists who are part of our network have reported being contacted to become exhibitors in gallery shows because their portfolios were seen on our website and because they attended our events. More individuals and organizations are approaching RILA to explore programmatic partnerships and collaborations. Artists are now coming forward to become part of our programs, but most importantly to support our efforts in seeking a home for the RI Latin American Cultural Arts Center and to become stronger advocates for arts funding and support in RI.
CCX Workshop Handout