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Puerto Rican Arts Initiative enters second phase

More artists, more funding, new partnership for PRAI

  • PRAI receives a new $750,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation 
  • More than 100 artists expected to be helped across the island
  • New phase designed to help artists sustain their practices and to encourage them to become curatorial platforms that help other artists
  • Northwestern's PRAI forms new partnership with the University of Texas at Austin
  • Ramón H. Rivera-Servera available for interviews
  • Download images from artist performances

Evanston, Ill., June 2021—Northwestern University’s Puerto Rican Arts Initiative (PRAI) is tackling environmental politics, rights to the city, and community affects and infrastructures in its exciting second phase, which kicked off in spring 2021. This next iteration of the residency program, which includes a new cohort of Puerto Rican artists creating work and sustaining artistic practices, comes with sizeable funding, more workshops, and a partnership between Northwestern’s School of Communication and the University of Texas at Austin’s College of Fine Arts.

The Puerto Rican Arts Initiative was launched in 2017 to help artists rebuild and develop new work after hurricanes Maria and Irma devastated the island. Made possible by funding from the University and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, founder and outgoing professor and chair of the Department of Performance Studies, Ramon H. Rivera-Servera, expanded the program to include more artists and opportunities.

 “We're interested in artists who are working with their communities and organizations to build up their collective efforts,” Rivera-Servera said. “This includes a number of artists who take decommissioned or abandoned schools or residential or commercial buildings and reactivate them by creating cultural centers, artist studios, galleries, theaters, and so on. We attached that infrastructure to affects because those buildings provide space for gatherings but also allow for the emotional commitment to the collective.”

With a $750,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation, the project’s second phase will sponsor 10 new performance and ephemeral practice platforms to be led by 11 Puerto Rican artists. Each may invite between four and 10 additional artists to assist with or collaborate on their work. The new funding also supports six short-term projects involving a lead artist inviting two partners into collaborative practice. A series of workshops designed to advance knowledge and technique around performance art practices and other ephemeral arts will also be integrated into the offerings. With Rivera-Servera’s move next month to become dean of UT Austin’s College of Fine Arts, PRAI will become a joint initiative between Northwestern and the University of Texas. This is expected to yield another productive collaboration across the two esteemed universities.

“What Ramón and I were able to create at Northwestern was just a microcosm of a broader collaborative community of artists of color, scholars of color around the arts, and the black diaspora,” said E. Patrick Johnson, dean of the School of Communication at Northwestern. “UT has also been an institution with which Northwestern has collaborated over the years. With Ramon becoming dean, there's a natural synergy there that will make that collaborative spirit even more formal with the College of Fine Arts and our school.”

The artists selected to lead PRAI’s second-phase platforms are: Eduardo Alegría, Edrimael Delgado, Sofía Gallisá Muriente, Jorge González, Teresa Hernández, Lydia (Puchi) Platón, Rubén Rolando and Carlo André, Gisela Rosario Ramos, and nibia pastrana santiago. The new group of artists will work with the Puerto Rican Arts Initiative through the end of 2022 and will receive over $40,000 in support, including $20,000 in sustenance stipend and $17,500 in project support. This entails a micro-residency program to activate additional artists and additional support for travel to advance their work in collaboration with university and surrounding communities in Chicago and Austin. 

The artists selected to lead PRAI’s projects are Vanessa Hernández Gracía, María José, Alejandra Martorell, Kairiana Nuñez Santaliz, Awilda Rodriguez Lora, Lío Villahermosa. The projects will receive $9,000 in support each, including support of two micro-residencies for artistic collaborators within each of the projects.

Artist Biographies

Platforms (two-year residencies)

Eduardo Alegría is a multidisciplinary artist working mainly in the medium of music. Currently, he is the artistic director, composer, and singer of his band Alegria Rampante. The band, whose live shows are known for their theatricality, released its first album, Se nos fue la mano, in 2015. A two-act theatrical concert based on the themes of the first album was presented in 2016 at the Teatro Tapia, a historic music hall and theatre in Old San Juan. In 1998, Alegría founded the band Superaquello, the electro acoustic indie act which produced an iconic five albums and a sustained performance schedule until 2010.  He is also a member of Taller de Otra Cosa, an experimental dance and theatre group founded by Viveca Vazquez in 1988. With this group, he has worked as a dancer, actor, and collaborative artist in sound design, lighting design, and stage direction. During the 1990s, Alegria lived in New York, where he presented his theatrical and dance works in spaces like Performance Space 122 and Danspace Project and was a featured dancer in works by choreographers Jenifer Monson and Sally Silvers. Currently he is working on finishing Alegria Rampante’s second album, tentatively called Nueva Musica Puertoricana.

Edrimael Delgado Reyes is an interdisciplinary artist, cultural manager, and dancer. Since 2016, he has collaborated with the collective PISO Proyecto on performance practices that merge movement with interventions in everyday spaces and life. He has trained and presented his work in diverse places of the Caribbean including Cuba (2016), Dominican Republic (2017), and St. Croix, USVI (2019). His projects explore, principally through performance, ways to reconcile queer and Afro-Caribbean identities. He produces interdisciplinary events and spaces for the LGBTQ+ community in Puerto Rico through LaBoriVogue, an experimental vogueing laboratory that uses movement as an agent of individual transformation and collective justice.

Sofía Gallisá Muriente is a visual artist working in video, film, photography, and text. Through multiple approaches to documentation, her work deepens the subjectivity of historical narratives, examining formal and informal archives, popular imaginaries, and visual culture. She earned a BFA in Film & TV Production at New York University (2008) and has participated in experimental pedagogical platforms led by artists like Anhoek School and Beta-Local’s La Práctica, substituting graduate studies with a collaborative process of learning and unlearning. She has been a resident artist of Museo La Ene (Argentina), Alice Yard (Trinidad & Tobago), Solar (Tenerife), and Catapult, as well as a fellow of the Flaherty Seminar and the Smithsonian Institute. Her work has been featured in Art in America, Terremoto, Hyperallergic and other publications, and earned her grants from TEOR/éTica, NALAC, and Foundation for Contemporary Arts. She has exhibited in the Whitney Biennial, the Queens Museum, the Getty’s PST: LA/LA, ifa Galerie in Berlin, San Juan Poligraphic Triennial, MALBA in Argentina and CCA Glasgow, among others. From 2014 to 2020 she served as co-director of the artist-run organization Beta-Local, dedicated to fostering knowledge exchange and transdisciplinary practices in Puerto Rico.

Jorge González’s artistic practice serves as a platform for the recuperation of Boricua material culture in an attempt to create new narratives between the indigenous and the modern. In 2014, he founded Escuela de Oficios in response to omissions of dominant histories and deteriorating academic spaces. Proposing recovery through community regeneration, Escuela de Oficios creates spaces for collective learning and promotes self-directed education. Its activities include mapping, documenting and employing artisanal techniques, and creating a mobile program that includes conversations, workshops, and exhibitions. His work has been exhibited internationally, including solo presentations at Embajada, San Juan; New York; and Roberto Paradise, San Juan. His work also has been included in exhibitions at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and in documenta 14. In 2017, González was awarded the Davidoff Arts Initiative grant to be part of Escuela Flora in Bogotá. Currently, González is a 2020-2022 fellow of Jane Lombard Fellowship, at the Vera List Center for Arts and Politics.

Teresa Hernández is a transdisciplinary artist (theater-dance-performance) based in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Her works have focused on the investigation of issues around the transversality of issues of gender, sexuality, class, and race within the colonial condition, oftentimes exploring these through archives of social and domestic violence. Over the past three decades, she has developed a practice that challenges the notions of art and its markets through the constant work of reinventing an art that remains unincorporated (in fixed categories, in institutions, in colonial discourses). As a pedagogue, she designs courses and workshops within heterogeneous social-cultural spaces. Her works have been presented throughout the Americas and the Caribbean and her writings have been published in university magazines in the country and abroad. She has received scholarships from Sally Van Lier (1993), the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture (1994), USA Foundation (Rolón Fellow 2011), Art Matters Foundation (2018), and the non-profit organization, Beta Local (2017 and 2020).

Carlo André Oliveras Rodriguez’spractice links documentary photography, historical records, and current urban development problems in relation to the environment, the sustainability of neighborhoods, and the design of public spaces and homes. Oliveras Rodriguez graduated from the University of Puerto Rico Río Piedras Campus with a BA in psychology and later studied at the UPR Medical Sciences Campus. In 2016, he founded BARRIOization, a platform established in Manatí, Puerto Rico, his hometown, for the investigation, management, and facilitation of social justice projects that contribute to the development and conservation of the historical-architectural heritage, the environment and de-metropolitan neighborhoods. In 2017, he was part of La Práctica in Beta Local. He has been coordinator of multiple local and international initiatives focused on research, participation, and access to health services for the LGBTIQ community, children, and young people living with HIV throughout the global south. He has worked to support and develop several networks of activism and community outreach such as the Adolescent Treatment Coalition from the International AIDS Society and UNAIDS. Currently, he is part of the Just Recovery Curriculum from Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico and executive director of La Maraña, an initiative working around the archipelago to promote and build through participatory design, sustainable community development, and territorial memory.

Based in San Juan, nibia pastrana santiago develops site-specific “choreographic events” to experiment with time, fiction, and notions of territory. She is co-director at Beta Local and also serves as the Dance Program Academic Coordinator at Universidad del Sagrado Corazón, the first of its kind in Puerto Rico. Currently, nibia is co-editing an anthology on Puerto Rican experimental dance with dance scholar Susan Homar, to be published in 2021. Her work has been supported by Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña and Fundación Puertorriqueña de las Humanidades. nibia has performed widely as a solo and ensemble dance artist, including collaborations with Jennifer Monson, Viveca Vázquez, and Miguel Gutiérrez. She is a 2019 Whitney Biennial artist.

Lydia (Puchi) Platón Lázaro is adjunct professor of the English Department at the University of Puerto Rico at Cayey. She is one of the founding members of Taller Comunidad la Goyco, a cultural and community organization operating in the once-abandoned school Pedro Goyco on Loíza Street. She has published two books: Defiant Itineraries: Caribbean Paradigms in American Dance and Film (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015) and El cuarto acto (Ediciones Callejón, 2005) with visual artist Paloma Todd. In 2019 she launched one season of the podcast Itinerarios Sonoros about Caribbean sound for Radio San Juan, sponsored by the Puerto Rico Foundation for the Humanities (NEH). She was awarded the Andy Warhol Curatorial Fellowship in 2019 for the project Novenario, an exhibition and programming project about art and mourning, stemming from the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and María, to be held in 2021 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Juan, PR. Between 2018-2020, she collaborated in the coordination of Phase 1 of the Puerto Rico Arts Initiative, sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. For more than twenty years she has worked in independent performing and community arts initiatives as performer, producer, and collaborator, as well as publishing performance related articles in journals and anthologies.

Pó Rodil is a transdisciplinary performance artist from Ponce, Puerto Rico. Their practice is based on problematizing and researching queer life and views on-and-of otherness of the body, identities, and mental health. They take from many disciplines as theatre, visual art, writing, performance, and drag/gender performance to build auto-ethnographic and self-referential works. Rodil has done multiple collaborative works, such as Asuntos Efímeros (2015-2016) a monthly performance art venue in San Juan, Puerto Rico; and they also belong to an experimental theatre company, La Bicicleta (2016-current), that bases their work on the dramaturgy of the actor; and is a founding member of De Show Puerto Rico (2015) a queer drag venue in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico. As an independent artist, they have developed works such as “Verde sucio” (2016-2017) , “Comí”(2018), and “Me resbala’ (2019). They’ve also been a recipient of the La Espectacular art residency with their performance collective “No Entiendo Nada” (2016). Rodil was also an artist-in-residence at the Fogo Island Arts Residency program (2019) and the KNASTER artist -in-residence at Tufts University.

Rubén Rolando is atransdisciplinary artist, cultural manager, and activist, native of Borikén. He graduated from the Escuela de Artes Plásticas in Puerto Rico in 2014. In 2015 he participated in an international course on geography and political training for popular educators at the Escola Florestan Fernandez in Sao Paulo, Brazil. In 2017 he completed a master's degree in Cinematographic Direction and New Media at the Transforming Arts Institute in Madrid, Spain. He was awarded Best Cinematography at the Puerto Rico Queer Film Festival for his short film Maceradas. He founded Sin Binario Films, an LGBTTIQ + audiovisual content production company based in Manatí, Puerto Rico and participated in the artistic residency, La Práctica, at Beta Local. Currently, he is the cultural coordinator of the urban planning project BARRIOization and serves as creative director and content creator for various community-based collectives and organizations in the Caribbean. His queer artistic practice links human and environmental rights to cultural production and the recovery of colonial territory with gender equality.

Gisela Rosario Ramos is Macha Colón, an undisciplined artist currently based in Puerto Rico. She studied Black and Puerto Rican Studies and Film and Media Studies at Hunter College, NYC, where she also worked as a documentary editor, and was part of Eduardo Alegría’s performances at PS 122. Upon returning to Puerto Rico, she worked as Artistic and Programming Director at Casa de Cultura Ruth Hernández, organizing cultural events while continuing to edit and direct films. Her award-winning short documentary El Hijo de Ruby has been shown in international festivals and her feature narrative film, Perfume de Gardenias, premiered at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival, produced with support from Ibermedia and Tribeca Film Institute. She performs rock/pop music with her band Macha Colón y Los Okapi in alternative venues since 2008. They released their first album Tanquecito de amor (Little Tank of Love) in 2016 and performed in NYC at the Loisaida Festival, La Marqueta Retoña in El Barrio and the New Museum. Recently, she won an international documentary competition to film Love Letters to an Iconess, a documentary about a Puerto Rican queer diva who’s now in her seventies. She’s an Art Matters Foundation and NALAC grantee and received the first Resiliency Award through the Arts from the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture in Chicago. In 2020, received the inaugural William Greaves Fund for mid-career filmmakers from Firelight Media. Also, she is a 2021 USA Artist Fellowship recipient.

Projects (three-to-six-month residencies)

Vanessa Hernández Gracía is an interdisciplinary artist, independent curator, and co-director of El Lobi, an independent art space in Santurce, Puerto Rico. She completed her MFA in public art at the Universidad Politécnica de Valencia (2012). She has completed residencies at MASS MoCA (2019) and Résidence Internationale, ISBA in Bezanson, France (2012). She obtained the NALAC (2019), El Serrucho de Beta Local (2017), and Art Matters (2015) grants. Her work is part of the collection of the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de PR. She has given talks, symposiums, and workshops in Martinique, Honduras, and Puerto Rico. She has presented her work in Puerto Rico, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Spain, France, United States, and Colombia. Her curatorial projects include: El espacio común (2020), Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico and the 4th Trienal Poli/Gráfica de San Juan, Latin America and the Caribbean (2016). She was instructor at the Escuela de Artes Plásticas y Diseño de Puerto Rico and the University of Puerto Rico.

 María José (she/they), was born in Caguas, Puerto Rico, and is a multi/trans/interdisciplinary artist whose creative practice is mainly based in photography, poetry, and performance – with a bachelor’s degree in Photography from Parsons The New School for Design. Additionally, she is founder of House of Grace, a movement of and for black, trans, feminine, and non-binary people of diverse intersections that fights for the healing of its black, indigenous, poor, and queer members through the implementation of artistic practices, the nurturing of political awareness, the development of non-hierarchical structures, economic justice, mutual aid, and individual/collective healing. At the moment, the themes that inhabit their mind are decentralization, critique as love, the balance in between public/private, relationship anarchy, and self-care.

Alejandra Martorell is a dancer and educator currently engaged in a research performance project called MAPA (“mapping”). Her work is rooted in movement improvisation, in collaboration with visual and sound elements. With MAPA, she looks at the web of practices, relationships, conditions, and people that have produced multidisciplinary performance works in Puerto Rico since the late 1970s. These works concern themselves with aesthetic issues as well as political socialist agendas and partaking in anti-establishment and anti-colonial movements within the island and from the diaspora. The project has involved community workshops, public interviews, written essays, and performance practices, with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, among others.

Kaririana Nuñez Santaliz is a Puerto Rican actor, athlete of the stage, and theatre teacher. She graduated from the Drama Department at the University of Puerto Rico and is a founding member of the street theatre group Jóvenes del 98, under the direction of Maritza Pérez. She worked extensively in Argentina, where she lived for seven years and trained at Sportivo Teatral with Ricardo Bartís. She was part of the theatre collectives Quinto Piso and Colectivo El Rizoma. Among her most recent stage works: Caca, Espírita Santaliz, and Chiquitita. She received the Special Jury Prize at the Mar del Plata International Film Festival as a featured actor in the film El silencio del viento by the Puerto Rican filmmaker Álvaro Aponte Centeno. In 2021 she premiered her solo performance piece, Archivo Santaliz, which engages with the archive material inherited from her uncle, the playwright, director, and founder of El Nuevo Teatro Pobre de América, Pedro Santaliz.

Awilda Rodriguez-Lora is a performance choreographer and cultural entrepreneur. She challenges in her work the concepts of woman, sexuality, and self-determination. Her work promotes progressive dialogues regarding hemispheric colonial legacies, and the unstable categories of race, gender, class, and sexuality. Rodríguez Lora has been an invited guest artist at the Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance (BAAD), New York University, the Art Institute of Chicago, Columbia College Dance Center, and the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor), among others. Her solo work has been recently featured at DEFORMES Performance Biennale (Chile), Posta Sur Performance Encounter (Chile), Independence Dom (Dominican Republic) and the Miami International Performance Art Festival (USA). She is currently a host at La Rosario in Santurce, where she is creating, researching, and producing her life project, La Mujer Maravilla, while developing new strategies for the sustainability of live arts in Puerto Rico. After more than ten years of work as a fully independent artist, she is committed to further studying how artistic economies can be harnessed to support alternative forms of life rooted in communality, creativity, and social justice.

Lío Villahermosa is a visual artist, dancer, curator, and educator whose intuitive work proposes a reflection on fluid identities. Through photography, Lío works with the exaltation of affectivities while questioning how to live in a queer body, cultural traditions, and spaces. As a performance artist he is known for gender-bending renditions of movement and musical traditions like bomba and bolero and for his site-specific tour performances about Puerto Rican popular music diva, Sylvia Rexach, originally developed as part of the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo community art program, MAC en el Barrio. His visual art has been exhibited extensively in Puerto Rico, including recent group shows at Pública and the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo.