Nourishing New York's Cultural Roots
As the home of salsa and jazz legends, the dazzling West Indian Day Parade, and the birthplace of hip-hop, our City has deep African, African-American, Caribbean, and Latin roots. The arts, tastes, traditions, and languages of these intersecting cultures have shaped our neighborhoods, and two recent grants are helping to preserve and celebrate these facets of our heritage.
For 35 years, the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute has been sharing with New Yorkers the arts, culture, and living traditions of African descendants who came as workers, slaves, or immigrants to the Americas. This summer, the group is working with Hermanos Fraternos de Loiza, one of the last Puerto Rican “hometown clubs” in El Barrio, to hold its traditional street festival. “Tradition is a way of keeping communities together—we want cultural traditions to remain vibrant—not to become stagnant or fossilized,” says Dr. Marta Moreno Vega, founder and president of the Institute. Continuing the dialogue spurred by the recent death of Trayvon Martin, the Institute’s next exhibition, Haunted, will feature testimonials of local black and Latino young men on being racially profiled and discriminated against.
Recently, the City’s Economic Development Corporation awarded a landmarked 1888 Romanesque Revival firehouse to the Institute for renovation as a LEED-certified green building. A $50,000 grant will support the architectural planning for the extensive interior renovations. The 9,600 sq. ft. space will include a community gathering and exhibition space, classrooms, a resource center, office space, archive, and a café.
The Institute’s move to 125th St. from its substantially smaller home on West 58th St. will further the revitalization of East Harlem. “Our being able to locate ourselves at the crossroads of African diaspora culture will be phenomenal because we will be in the communities that we serve,” continues Dr. Vega.
Celebrating the Rhythms and Legends of the Bronx
Grandmaster Flash, Tito Puente, Herbie
Hancock—all musical pioneers—are all one-time residents of the Bronx. Salsa, mambo, jazz, doo-wop, funk, and hip-hop grew up in the apartments, clubs, cafés, and concert halls in this borough’s diverse neighborhoods—but large swaths of this musical history are not well documented or celebrated.
Women’s Housing and Economic Development Corporation (Whedco), which runs housing and economic development programs throughout the City, is planning on changing this. A grant of $50,000 will help it create the Bronx Music Heritage Center.
The future Center will sit inside a 10-story, 360,000 sq. ft. mixed-used development, called Bronx Commons, which is scheduled to break ground in Melrose next year. The complex will house 293 affordable apartments, with 10 to 20 percent set aside for older musicians; a public school focused on the arts; a community performance and event space; a hydroponic rooftop garden; and sports facilities. The Center will house archives, recordings, educational events, and, of course, host concerts.