From Fiesta to Fiesta, the 2010 Uptown Arts Stroll Climbs the Neighborhood

By Daniel P. Bader. Reprinted from The Manhattan Times.

From its June 3 kick off at the Hispanic Society at W. 155th Street in Washington Heights, to its wrap party at the Garden Café on W. 207th Street in Inwood, this year’s 2010 Uptown Arts Stroll literally covers all of Northern Manhattan.

“We’ve been developing relationships with institutions in [the Southern Heights] area,” said Sandra Garcia Betancourt, the executive director of the Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance (NoMAA), which organizes the annual arts festival. “We thought it’d be a good idea to start there and work our way up.”

The Uptown Arts Stroll is an annual celebration of the arts of Northern Manhattan. Begun nine years ago by a collection of local artists, the stroll is now run by NoMAA and has grown from a one-day event to a month-long celebration with events that showcase local talent, and where artists open their studio doors to curious strollers.

The kick off will actually be on the pedestrian path of Audubon Terrace, the landmarked block-sized Beaux Arts plaza that is home to the Hispanic Society and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

“[The Hispanic Society] is a museum, it’s a space people are not familiar with,” Betancourt said. “They’re important, they’re historical and we should know about them.”

The Hispanic Society is celebrating the May 8 return of Joaquin Sorolla’s “Visions of Spain” — 14 massive oil paintings the 19th century artist composed while touring Spain. The works themselves retraced their creator’s journey with a three-year tour of the artist’s home country.

“Visual artists still look at his stuff because of his portrayal of light,” said Betancourt.

The Stroll will start with a party, including a stage and live performances, like Latin jazz, outside the museum.

“We’re happy to do the kick off of the Stroll,” said the Hispanic Society’s Mencia Figueroa. “It’s always important to reach out to the community.”

Also part of the Stroll is the Dia Art Foundation, the organization that is housed at the Hispanic Society and brings contemporary work to the museum. During the June 3 kick off, Dia will keep its exhibit, “Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, chronotopes & dioramas,” open late for strollers at the event to see.

Every year NoMAA uses the Stroll to honor artists from the community. Last year, two jazz musicians, Marjorie Elliot and Miguel Zenon, were recognized. Elliot is the founder of Parlor Jazz, a weekly Sunday concert held in her historic Sugar Hill apartment. Zenon, is a saxophonist and a recipient of the 2008 MacArthur Genius Grant for his work fusing jazz with traditional Latin American music.

This year’s honorees, Ted Minos, Patricia Eakins and Dr. Ana-Ofelia Rodriguez, though artists in their own rights, are being recognized for their efforts to bring arts events to Northern Manhattan.

“Last year we focused on individual artists,” Betancourt said. “This year I thought about honoring people who provide services.”

Keeping with a neighborhood-wide theme, the honorees each work in different areas of the community.

Minos is the founder of the Moose Hall Theater Company and the Inwood Shakespeare Festival, which for its 11th season of presenting free theater in Inwood Hill Park, is putting on a “Season of Guns and Proses,” two plays performed over several weeks. The first is Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors” and the second will be “Tombstone Saga of the Americans – the west.”

Eakins is an author and the curator of the Sunday Best Reading Series held on the first Sunday of every month in the lounge of Hudson View Gardens in Hudson Heights.

“She brings great, great literary figures to the community,” Betancourt said.

Rodriguez is the community development director of Broadway Housing Communities, and the founder of the Rio Galleries, two galleries in the low-income apartment buildings she manages, one of which, the Rio II, was the first public gallery in Washington Heights.

“She’s committed to helping and promoting artists,” Betancourt said, raising money for local artists to exhibit in her galleries and to hold opening and closing receptions.

As part of the Stroll, there are 104 live performances, lectures and installations on display throughout the month. One performance is “Somewhere Towards the Center,” held June 24 to 26. It’s a site-specific multimedia dance installation inspired by the aesthetic appeal of labyrinths and their history in public spaces.

Another is the Symphony Chorus Concert on June 21 in Isham Park in Inwood and on June 23 at Good Shepherd Church on Broadway and Isham Street. The chorus, under the direction of Henric Idestrom, will present an evening of Broadway favorites.

Honoree Patricia Eakins is arranging and participating in “Uptown Voices: Writing Across Our Cultures” on June 19. “Voices” is a bilingual reading in various languages works from writers like Eakins, Betancourt, who is a poet, Paquita Suarez-Coalla, and Lola Koundjakian.

For an afternoon on June 13, 16 artists will open their studios and show each other and the community where they work and what they do the rest of the year.

“Some artists said they didn’t want to do an open studio because they wan to see other artists’ open studios,” Betancourt said with a laugh.

NoMAA’s gallery at the Cornerstone Center on Bennett Avenue and W. 189th Street will be the location to see the work of some of the 55 artists and six institutions that were recipients of NoMAA’s $68,000 in grants this year.

The stroll comes to an end in Inwood, at the Garden Café on Broadway and W. 207th Street. Jazz artist Annette Aguilar will perform and there will be an open mic session.

“We begin with a fiesta, we end with a fiesta. We love fiestas,” Betancourt said.

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