2017 Honorees

For 15 years, outstanding people and organizations have been honored during the Uptown Arts Stroll, and in 2017 the Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance is pleased to recognize the talents and contributions of Patricia Cruz, Executive Director of Harlem Stage; Maggie Hernández-Knight, visual artist, dancer and entrepreneur; Elvis Nolasco, actor; and Elizabeth Lorris Ritter, Community Board 12 Parks and Cultural Affairs Committee Chair.

Patricia Cruz

Uptown Arts Stroll 2017 honoree Patricia Cruz

Patricia Cruz
Photo: Chester Higgins

Patricia Cruz is the Executive Director of Harlem Stage since 1998, responsible for programming, development, finance and administration. Ms. Cruz has secured more than $2 million in endowments, substantially expanded programs and audiences, and successfully completed a $26 million Campaign for Harlem Stage to restore and secure the 30-year old arts institution.

The highlight of her tenure is securing and renovating a historically landmarked 100-year-old gatehouse building of the Croton Aqueduct System, across the street from the current Aaron Davis Hall facility. Following a two-year renovation, The Gatehouse now provides a new state-of-the-art theater and offices for Harlem Stage. The project, completed in 2006, also served as a catalyst for economic and community development for the four-block area surrounding The Gatehouse. All the activities cited above were made possible through public and private partnerships and designed to expand services to artists and communities.

Ms. Cruz was Deputy Director for Programs for The Studio Museum in Harlem, where she directed the planning and management of all programs from 1989 to 1998. She developed the acclaimed Vital Expressions in American Art series, which presented major artists, scholars and performers for more than twelve years. Ms. Cruz started at The Studio Museum in 1982 as Director of Development, supervising all aspects of the organization’s public- and private-sector fundraising. She also served as Acting Director in 1988 and 1994. Ms. Cruz has forty years’ experience in arts management. She serves on the Tony Nominating Committee and is a past President of The New York Foundation for the Arts.

Maggie Hernández-Knight

Uptown Arts Stroll 2017 honoree Maggie Hernández-Knight

Maggie Hernández-Knight

Maggie Hernández-Knight is a local resident, born and raised in Washington Heights and best known for her brightly colored abstract paintings. However, Maggie’s creative life did not begin in visual arts. In fact, over a lifetime, Maggie has used her creativity to reinvent herself many times over. Her first love was classical ballet. Ms. Hernandez started formal training at the age of eight and worked as a student teacher starting at age 15.

Alongside dance, Maggie worked primarily in banks: she was the youngest-ever assistant supervisor at a Venezuelan bank in midtown at age 19. Maggie landed at the Fashion Institute of Technology, where she became an abstract artist, and it was there that she discovered a passion for strong color and movement and developed the iconography of contrasting shapes, bold strokes, crosses, spheres, lines, and drips often visible in her work.

After finding her creative voice, the emotional issues that plagued Maggie throughout her life began to surface. Within a 10-year period, the “tortured artist” transformed herself to wife, mother, and personal development workshop leader. She became a certified life coach and published a book about her healing journey.

In 2013, Maggie left the banking world for good and opened JourneySpace, a studio offering a suite of dance and movement classes at 220 Cabrini Blvd. Ms. Hernández infused her classes with personal development to help students find inspiration and strength. As a result, they transformed themselves into confident, empowered dancers supported by a community that formed within the studio. The arts proved to be a great healer and unifier at JourneySpace.

In February 2017, the studio closed its doors to breathe life into what came next for Maggie, ButterflyMyst LLC, which built upon her foundational experiences and combined her love of the arts with personal development and community building. Maggie offers self-empowerment courses, art-making workshops, and her own brand of ballet barre, boundlessBARRE.

Elvis Nolasco

Uptown Arts Stroll 2017 honoree Elvis Nolasco

Elvis Nolasco
Photo: Emmanuel Abreu

Elvis Nolasco began his acting career in a small theater room at George Washington High School in Washington Heights. Soon after receiving formal training, Elvis was cast in the hit comedy I Like It Like That with Lauren Valez and Rita Moreno. Mr. Nolasco was then cast by Spike Lee for the film Clockers with Mekhi Phifer and Delroy Lindo. From this strong foundation, Elvis started building a line of great performances in several independent hits, including his critically acclaimed role in the film In Search of a Dream, which is the number one grossing independent Latino film.

Appearing as a guest star on many hit TV series over the years, Elvis also had a recurring role in the Spike Lee series Miracle Boys. Mr. Nolasco continues to work on stage, where his performances have earned him rave reviews. Elvis shot a series regular in the HBO pilot DA Brick, directed by Spike Lee and executive produced and written by John Ridley. He had a memorable role in Spike Lee’s feature films The Sweet Blood of Jesus and Old Boy.

Mr. Nolasco was recently cast in the award-winning and critically acclaimed ABC anthology series American Crime by John Ridley, where he was extolled for his performances playing different characters in each season. In season one of American Crime, Elvis played the part of Carter Nix, a lost soul suffering from mental illness and drug addiction, and in the second season he portrayed Chris Dixon, a passionate high school principal. Elvis recently shot a series regular role in the Kathryn Bigelow/Carolyn Strauss–produced HBO pilot Mogadishu, MN and will soon be seen playing a supporting role in the Forest Whitaker and Pharrell–produced Roxanne Roxanne from director Michael Larnell, which premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Mr. Nolasco is currently shooting the recurring character of Papo in the Spike Lee–directed series She’s Gotta Have It (based on the film of the same name) and the recurring character Chip Lauderdale in the TNT series Claws that stars Niecy Nash.

Elizabeth Lorris Ritter

Uptown Arts Stroll 2017 honoree Elizabeth Lorris Ritter

Elizabeth Lorris Ritter
Photo: Barry A. Ritter

Elizabeth Lorris Ritter is a 34-year resident of Washington Heights, and an ardent supporter of the arts. As Chair of Community Board 12’s Parks and Cultural Affairs Committee, Liz has been a powerful voice for arts funding and programming in northern Manhattan, including early advocacy with the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone for the funding that helped create the Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance, and longstanding efforts with the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs to get uptown on the map. (Literally: most maps of Manhattan used to cut off around 96th St, and then around 145th St.)

Ms. Ritter is also the founding President of the Hudson Heights Owners Coalition, the original fiscal sponsor of the Uptown Arts Stroll, which she helped co-found with Martin Collins, Mike Fitelson, Zead Ramadan and the late Homer Young Kennedy. Thanks to that first Stroll, Liz bought her first piece of art, now part of her large and highly eclectic collection of work by local and international artists. There’s hardly an uptown arts initiative or organization in which Liz wasn’t involved in some way, as a contributor, participant, donor, booster, or behind-the-scenes matchmaker. She continues to foster arts and community-building through the publication of a weekly-ish eblast of community events (and occasional activist musings). Liz has used art for political statements, including pop-up theater in the subway, and a rainbow installation on the George Washington Bridge following the suicide of Tyler Clementi.

Ms. Ritter currently serves as UP Theater Company’s Board President and on the Advisory Board of Northern Manhattan Arts and Culture. She is a published writer of essays and poetry, an exhibited photographer, a teacher of improv, a preacher of sermons, an avid crocheter, and a singer in community choirs. Liz’s greatest creative endeavors are her 27-year (and counting!) marriage to Barry, and their two fabulous kids, Tina and David, competent, moral, and civically engaged adults who are gainfully employed in their respective fields of study.