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April 2014 Grants Newsletter

Taking Back the Bronx

The Bronx is the birthplace of hip-hop and break dancing, but for decades it also has carried the stigma of urban decay and raging crime.

Inspired by Puerto Rican traditions, dancers with Danza Fiesta perform on the South Bronx Culture Trail throughout Hunts Point and Longwood. Photo by Nabil Rahman

Its southern neighborhoods like Mott Haven and Melrose are among the poorest in the nation, with 31 percent of residents living in poverty, according to U.S. Census figures. More than 84 percent of students in 25 of the neighborhoods’ schools are eligible for free lunches, according to the Department of Education.

But now, organizations such as Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education want to change that unsavory image and remind kids their community is a mecca for the arts.

“We want to remind children that the Bronx has a rich history and is home to these artistic achievements,” says Kerry McCarthy, The Trust’s program officer for arts, culture and historic preservation. “They need to know it’s been the home to incredible artistic achievements.”

The Center, founded in 1934, was the first charitable organization to serve the Latino population in New York City. Its alumni include actress and singer Rita Moreno and salsa musician Tito Puente. Moreno won an Oscar for her role as Anita in the 1961 film “West Side Story,” and Puente earned a Grammy and the nicknames El Rey de los Timbales and the King of Latin Music.

Thanks in part to the Casita Maria Center, Moreno, Puente and many others grew up in a safe environment with arts, culture, and a community with a sense of purpose.

A grant of $80,000 will help the Center highlight the South Bronx’s contribution to the arts by building markers along the South Bronx Culture Trail, an online map of significant locations based on the neighborhood’s history and culture. A folklorist with City Lore, a cultural-heritage organization funded by The Trust, will research other sites, such as Casa Amadeo, the first Latin music store in New York, and lead walking and trolley tours to boost tourism.

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