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Blooming in the Midst of Gentrification mural in San Francisco, California. Photo Courtesy of Digital Mural Project, 2014.


Ethics of Development: A Shared Sense of Place

Maria Lopez De Leon


This article by María López de León is part of the publication "How to Do Creative Placemaking," an action-oriented guide developed by the National Endowment of the Arts. The full publication is available online.


A Sense of Place in Latina/o Communities


Arts and culture in Latino communities are a manifestation of the values, creativity, visions and aspirations of the people who make those communities their home. Latino families- past, present and future- simultaneously occupy physical and spiritual places that express who we are as a diverse humanity, and as individuals. Very often, the physical layout of our communities is a framework for shared social and cultural activity. This layout, however, is never restricted to solely buildings, parks, centers, material neighborhoods and so forth. It includes intangible or even temporal spaces that may be the result of cultural practices, such as the spaces in which marches, festivities, or ancestral rituals take place. These sites of spiritual and cultural meanings can even easily translate from one physical location to another.


It is through our cultural practices that we have the ability to bridge the ancient with the new in order to advance into a shared future, connecting our ancestors and elders to our youth, to our children and grandchildren. In thinking about best practices regarding the role of the arts in community development, questions arise on how to best engage Latino communities in creative placemaking work. These questions can, at times, appear to pose a one-dimensional, prescriptive answer, as if Latinos are somehow different, suggesting a tendency to stereotype those we do not know. There is nothing different in the way one engages Latino communities- respect and inclusion are touchstones to success in any community.


The character and texture of a community’s cultural life is expressed through artmaking and is often what centers neighborhoods, allowing one to view the inseparability of the arts from education, community development, personal growth and socio-economic equity. Through models of true civic participation, creative placemaking can be approached in ways that celebrate and promote inclusion and vibrancy by way of a more collective effort, wherein the set of stakeholders consist of a whole community participating in defining and shaping the re-making of a place.


Supporting Already Made Spaces


Together in community, it is possible to envision a new future and look beyond purely economic developmental gains by examining the intent to re-create a given place, considering who and what economic and social issues are there already, and then together determining how to help “revitalize” instead of replace the existing community. By leveraging the creative potential already present within a community, one can invest in and valorize the existing cultural life and offerings of residents. In other words, engaging community in respectful, inclusive civic planning processes within their homes and neighborhoods is of utmost importance in order to achieve real, long-term, sustainable outcomes that build equity and capacity within a place.


As the dialogue of creative placemaking initiatives continues to evolve in the larger context of economic and urban revitalization efforts, there is a need for places of being -that is, places primarily determined by our modes of being in them, by how we inhabit them creatively as different cultural groups- rather than places inscribed with directions on how we should inhabit them.


These places of being could also be described as places of belonging, or anchoring and could be compared to what Dr. Karen Olwig describes in her article Islands as Places of Being and Belonging, “Islands may be usefully conceptualized as socio-cultural constructs that constitute important anchoring points as well as sources of identification.”1 Ideally, we can say that these places of being are those anchoring sites where we can map and identify the existing ecosystems of our communities through an artistic and cultural lens. These places should embrace diverse voices and identities, including both individual and collective expression and welcoming both inter-generational and inter-sector dialogues. Building the connective tissue of communities promotes inter-sectorial work and increases access for economic advancement and revitalization based on a strategy of equity and social justice.


Learning From What Works and What Does Not


Fortunately, there exist today many examples of successful creative placemaking models that work with diverse communities. Across the nation, Latino community-based arts and cultural organizations, as Dr. Tomas Ybarra Frausto asserts, “[counter] the prevalent deficiency model that [reduces] Spanish speaking communities to a set of problems with an asset-based model that [fuses] the cultural capacity and agency of the groups as springboards for self-invention and self-determination.”


For example, in Puerto Rican neighborhoods within New York, Philadelphia, and many other locales, there exists the tradition of the Casitas. These are creative, social hubs for the performance of music, dance and other expressions that transmit cultural knowledge to the broader city and engage participants not merely as audiences or consumers, but as interpreters of a shared experience. Creative placemaking practitioners are well placed to strategically focus on the thousands of grassroots arts and cultural organizations, like these, in neighborhoods across the country, and invest in the growth and stabilization of ‘already made’ creative sites and contribute to their growth and stabilization.


Unfortunately, unhealthy models of creative placemaking also exist in neighborhoods across our country, models that result in gentrification and the eventual displacement of the people who call that place home. This work often results in the disarticulation of a community’s cultural practices and its replacement with a culture driven simply by financial imperatives. An example that comes to mind is the ongoing gentrification of San Francisco’s Mission District, where a predominantly Latino working class is being displaced by skyrocketing rents and increased costs of housing. Many Latino artists and cultural practitioners and organizations, such as Galeria de la Raza and the Mission Cultural Center, who have lived and worked in the Mission District for decades have been priced out of their homes and work spaces. The time has come for us to re-examine redevelopment methods that result in supplanting entire communities and find balanced approaches to building our cities and towns.


The ability to learn from these models puts us in a great position to work in true partnerships with the varied communities we serve. As part of this, it is important for us to foster equality as a key component in these partnerships. As a member of the Latino community, I think about the growing young Latino demographic that already makes up 25% of all U.S. school children, and consider what opportunities the future will hold for them to produce culture and integrate who they are into the larger ‘American’ imagination. The creativity of artists transforms places and, for me, artists represent what Pope Francis calls social poets, “those whose energy encourages the creation of work... and give inspiration to communities on the margins.”



1 Olwig, Karen Fog. 2007. “Islands as Places of Being and Belonging”. Geographical Review 97 (2). American Geographical Society: 26073. 

2016 ALI Capitol Steps candid

Above: Alumni on steps of the Capitol in DC, meeting with Elisa Santana and Ana Builes, while we wait for Congressman Lloyd Doggett as he casts his vote on the House Floor. Photo credit: Adriana Gallego


2016 NALAC Advocacy Leadership Institute, Washington, DC

Can you imagine what it’s like to walk through the halls of Congress and the White House, speaking with policy makers about issues that matter to you and your community? Can you envision confidently engaging White House officials, Congress, federal agencies and national arts leaders regarding matters of equity, education and social justice through an arts and culture lens?



We can. And we invite you to link into the movement of artists, administrators, and culture bearers that have joined forces with NALAC to advance Equity through the Arts.



This year marked the 6th edition of the NALAC Advocacy Leadership Institute (ALI) featuring ALI Fellows from California, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Texas, as well as Honorary Delegates from District of Columbia, New Jersey and Connecticut. Fellows met with leaders on the Hill to discuss ways in which we can work together to support families and communities through arts and culture practices that are equitable and reflective of the diverse lived experiences in our nation.


Representing the largest class to date, fifteen artists, administrators and educators participated in a two-month preparatory curriculum that culminated in Washington, DC, May 17-19. Throughout the rigorous virtual and in-person leadership training, Fellows worked closely with 38 highly effective advocates, faculty, strategists, organizers, alumni, scholars, curators and peers that shared years of experience and tools to use on the home front and on the national playing field. Lead faculty Rosalba Rolon (NY), Abel Lopez (DC) and Maria Lopez De Leon (TX) were key mentors that originated the effort and have provided instruction and guidance for generations of Latino leaders. As part of the webinar series, ALI Alumni Angie Durrell (2014, CT) and Victor Payan (2013, CA) presented their success stories and strategies that evolved as an outcome of their ALI training. Similarly, Brandon Gryde Director of Government Affairs, Dance/USA and OPERA America reported critical and timely information regarding current and proposed policies that affect arts and culture.


“It was an amazing experience and opportunity. Made so many nice, new #advocacy friends and it was such a great platform for honing our skills.  The conversations were honest and meaningful and the access to leaders was astonishing.” Jon Hinojosa, (Texas, ALI Fellow)


The sum of these experiences positioned Fellows for successful meetings with leaders from the White House, the National Endowment for the Arts, Americans for the Arts, National Museum of the American Indian, Performing Arts Alliance, Chorus America, Pew Research Center, Smithsonian Latino Center, Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, and Smithsonian Archives of American Art. Representatives from our partner organizations not only generously imparted knowledge and resources, they also actively sought and received insight and solutions from Fellows, fostering dialogue and relationship-building founded on reciprocity.


"The Advocacy Leadership Institute was not just an opportunity to learn and exercise direct policy tools; it was also a time to meet other leaders at a national scope.  These are imperative times to strategically coalesce across disciplines and priorities–the ALI is a response and an asset to the future of Latino Arts and Cultures." J. Gibran Villalobos, Illinois ALI Fellow


White House Invit cropped 2On Wednesday, May 18, the full delegation was briefed by the White House Office of Public Engagement. The White House Briefing included conversations with Julie Rodriguez, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Deputy Director of Public Engagement; Alejandra Ceja, Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics; Mike Griffin, Chief of Staff with the National Endowment for the Arts; Eva Caldera, Assistant Chairman for Partnership and Strategic Initiative with the National Endowment for the Humanities and Ginette Magaña, Associate Director of White House Office Public Engagement.


“The message that resonates most for me was a simple and clear reminder that LATINO ART IS AMERICAN ART and as practitioners and advocates we are immersed in the politics of value and worth. The work of artists, cultural workers and arts educators is so bold and brave and has such incredible value to this country, especially in light of the demographics, particularly at this critical time before upcoming elections. So proud to be a part of this talented group of advocacy fellows.” Rebecca Nevarez, California ALI Fellow


The following day, participants received frontline insight and advice from key Hill staffers Elisa Santana, Legislative Assistant in the Office of Representative Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) and Veronica Duron, Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) and President of the Congressional Hispanic Staff Association (CHSA). Equipped with facts, vision, strategies and allies, the ALI Class of 2016 confidently navigated Capitol Hill and met with Congress, effectively reaching across the aisles. Fellows expertly engaged staffers and legislators, providing reliable information and resources that correlated with each district’s priorities and highest aspirations.  One such example was when Texas fellows met with Senator Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) office, underscoring the value of arts education, the economic impact of the arts, and the transformative power of arts in addressing veteran military health issues. Collectively, the ALI cohort attended more than 20 bipartisan meetings with Congressional officials, where Fellows presented their priorities with a unified voice, yet articulating nuanced solutions that were unique to their respective communities.


Amidst the buzz and hustle outside the steps of the Capitol, where key votes were taking place inside the House floor, NALAC’s host and representative, Congressman Lloyd Doggett attentively made time in between votes to meet with our delegation and express his regard for Latino arts and culture. As per tradition, Congressman Jose Serrano (D-NY) welcomed the Class of 2016 at his offices, where he listened to priorities and imparted wit and wisdom, with just enough time to cast his vote on the House floor. Congressman Joaquin Castro’s (D-TX) Chief of Staff, Carlos Sanchez engaged the group in dialogue and addressed opportunities, questions, and concerns.


“The NALAC ALI was an intense experience that elevated my entire view of support for the arts and opened for me a new window on how to drive and pull positive change towards creative arts work nationally and in my community.” Sandra Andino, Pennsylvania ALI Fellow


To mark the occasion, on the final day of the DC journey, the ALI contingency hosted the annual Latino Arts Leadership Reception in the Rayburn Gold Room. There, Fellows greeted and networked with staffers, members of congress, national arts leaders, artists and the community at large.  Featured performances with Fraternidad Alma Boliviana, Mariachi Los Amigos, and spoken word artist Michael Reyes aesthetically channeled the flow of energy produced that week. The evening was topped with an awards ceremony, gratitude, a serenade, and more music.


With this new generation of advocates, the momentum to build on proposed initiatives, nourish new relationships and follow up on articulated priorities is entrusted to the Class of 2016 ALI Fellows Alumni. As stewards and leaders in their communities, we anticipate inviting them back to share their success stories and strategies with future generations of ALI Fellows.


Join us in congratulating the Class of 2016 Alumni, by downloading the NALAC Priorities card and advocating in support of more equitable arts and culture practices in your communities!



ALI Class of 2016
Rebecca Nevarez | Executive Director | Latino Arts Network of California | Pasadena, CA
Anthony Rodriguez | Producing Artistic Director | Aurora Theatre, Inc. | Lawrenceville, GA
Gibran Villalobos | Arts Administrator, Adjunct Faculty | School of the Art Institute of Chicago | Chicago, IL
Jackie Arakaki | Chair of Art & Culture | Foundation for Latin American and Latin@ Culture Arts | Lexington, KY
Rossana Espinoza | Program Manager | Latino Economic Development Center | Silver Spring, MD
Susana Quintanilla | Director | El Ballet Folklorico Estudiantil | Flint, MI
Vagner Mendonça Whitehead | Associate Professor and Department Chair | Oakland University | Ferndale, MI
Michael Reyes | Michigan Program Associate | NALAC | Detroit, MI
Sandra Andino | Associate Director, Latin American and Latino Studies | University of Pennsylvania | Philadelphia, PA
Stephen Ingle | Creative Director + Co-Founder | Creative Kids | El Paso, TX
Mari Hernandez | Visitor Ambassador | Blue Star Contemporary | San Antonio, TX
David Lozano | Executive Artistic Director | Cara Mia Theatre Co. | Dallas, TX
Jon Hinojosa | Artistic/Executive Director | SAY Si | San Antonio, TX
Alberto Mejia | Manager, Dougherty Arts Center | Parks and Recreation, City of Austin | Austin, TX
Abigail Gomez | Owner, Artist, Art Instructor | Pretty Girl Painting | Winchester, VA


With Gratitude
This rich array of experiences was a reminder that advocacy is not a spectator sport. A strong network of partners, funders and supporters were instrumental in realizing the full potential of the Advocacy Leadership Institute. The stellar team in Representative Lloyd Doggett’s office, with special thanks to Elisa Santana, secured that we had fruitful learning environments on the Hill. Southwest Airlines ensured that all of our participants arrived safely and on time to their destinations. Our hosts, Nina Ozlu Tunceli and Keevin Lewis of Americans for the Arts and the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian respectively, provided accommodations that inspired creative thinking and dialogue. Generous support from the Ford Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Surdna Foundation, The Nathan Cummings Foundation, NALAC members and individual donors made it possible to convene the 2016 Class of the NALAC Advocacy Leadership Institute.


Advocacy Leadership Institute Core Faculty


Class of 2016 Advocacy Leadership Institute


2016ALI FellowsGrid


2016 At a Glance

38 National Presenters

20 Congressional Visits

15 Artists, Administrators and Educators
14 Congressional Districts 

13 Performers (3 Performances)

11 Sessions and Site Visits

7 NLI Alumni
4 Preparatory Webinar Sessions

9 States: CA, GA, IL, KY, MD, VA, PA, MI (3), TX (5), 

1 White House Briefing





The National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC) is a legacy organization investing in the Latino heritage of this nation. For over 27 years, NALAC has built a strong foundation for the promotion of Latino arts and culture and its advocacy efforts have advanced issues of cultural equity and raised the visibility and understanding of Latino artistic and cultural expression. The National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC) is the nation's leading nonprofit organization exclusively dedicated to the promotion, advancement, development, and cultivation of the Latino arts field. In this capacity, NALAC stimulates and facilitates intergenerational dialogues among disciplines, languages, and traditional and contemporary expressions. NALAC serves thousands of Latino artists and hundreds of organizations representing a national and international community of multiple Latinidades; a network that crosses many cultures across the Latino Diaspora.  


For more information visit our website at or like us on Facebook at

NALAC 20150122 MIami Regional 0052 EditAbove: Sonia Hendler, Armando Huipe, Alma Herrera-Pazmino, Adriana Gallego, John Jota Leaños, Casandra Hernandez and Jason Aragon at the NALAC Regional Arts Training Workshops in Miami, FL


Latinas in the Workforce


What would it mean to look at Latina participation in the workforce through the lens of equity? Perhaps the first thing we’d want to do is unfold our idea of equality to see what other important themes, topics, and aspects of our labor force it’s connected with. Most likely, these connectors will relate to a range of pretty distinct spheres of activity: from aesthetics to politics, from culture to ethnicity, and from classrooms to class status. The fact that our understanding of work or labor isn’t bound to any one particular experience within our lives is a big giveaway too, suggesting that whatever productivity may be or possibly mean is less of a fixed matter and more of a dynamic result.


So let’s start big. Is gender a property we possess –that is, a quality of our bodies- or is it instead a function that we perform? Is it something we are or something we do? These questions are frequently the result of our interchangeable use of the terms sex and gender, even though they each refer to very distinct things. On the one hand, standardized definitions state that sex refers to biological characteristics through the binary of male and female. On the other hand, oversimplified definitions of gender are a way to describe our behavior within a given society through the binary of feminine or masculine. In short, sex is about physiological appearance and gender is about social activity.


It doesn’t take much for us to see just how different these two concepts are from each other nor to catch the major generalizations they can account for by using an “either/or” method of description: female/male, masculine/feminine. Let us now also state the obvious by underscoring just how deeply flawed such an indication of sex and gender is. By reducing the expansive, thriving realities of sexed and gendered experiences to this archaic and draconian binary, we –all of us- are left with two limited categories that primarily serve to diminish, regulate, and exclude immeasurable areas of our human journey.


To be sure, describing things through the use of binaries (i.e. black/white, us/them) is a great way to reduce any complex matter down to only two camps, which, almost always, end up in an oppositional relationship with each other. And so for example mainstream discussions on sexual difference may revolve around the anatomical or medical features of our bodies and their purposes in reproduction. Conversations about gender, though, might be more varied. To cite merely one example in connection with our topic, the discussion might be about how women perform most of the childrearing and domestic work, which is aside from carrying pregnancies and birthing human beings or, as most people call it, going into “labor.” By the way, isn’t that a curious choice of words? Furthermore, the discussion could be about hard-won voting preferences or the miniscule percentage of female CEOs in the tech field. The point being that our understanding of femaleness or femininity isn’t biologically determined or solely connected to parental roles -as if it was possible to define an entire human group as the source of reproduction- and indeed has more to do with the (re)production of cultural norms and cultural behaviors. In other words, when dealing with any such categorizations, we must always look for the blind spots. After all, we are talking about over half the population.


One of the interesting things to notice anytime we begin to research a topic like workforce equity as it relates to women, for example, is how the vast majority of the material we find has to do with other nations and their corresponding cultures, particularly with cultures that are located in that famous postwar category of ‘third-world’ countries. This merits commenting because not framing specific topics or issues of social justice as immediately part of our American experience does a couple of things. First, it almost naturally sets up a spectrum of ideas and conditions we can automatically recognize as part of our national identity (or consciousness), which are usually curated along the lines of whether these are unresolved social conflicts or not. Any ongoing social tensions will tend to primarily exist elsewhere. Secondly, it also locates that particular theme out there which, again, would make it an uncommon occurrence within our established networks of institutions, communities, and overall live/work environments. The impact of this curious feature will become more evident as we continue on. At any rate, the many inequalities faced by women in ‘third-worlded’ countries are viewed as a form of social injustice by the dominant order, whereas in our country they tend to be deliberated through the lens of property (social identity) or labor (the workforce).


But let’s start by looking at specific population percentages just within our own country. It’s also worth mentioning that our population tends to increase, on average, by just under 10% each decade. Now, according to our last 2010 Census, the population of our country was 308.7 million people and within that “…157.0 million were female (50.8 percent) while 151.8 million were male (49.2 percent).” At this point, and, although it might seem trivial, we might want to consider what purpose this kind of information or statistical breakdown serves for our government. Is the tracking of gender binaries meant for internal governmental use only or is it a public service provided for larger usage, including our vast private sector? The answer is both. Our system of governance utilizes data on gender along with age at multiple levels: 


“…to implement and evaluate programs, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Act, the Civil Rights Act, the Women’s Educational Equity Act, the Older Americans Act, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, and the Job Training Partnership Act. Age and sex data are used by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, among others, to aid in planning and development of services. Other equally important uses for census age and sex data are in planning adequate schools for the school age population and to determine funding distributions for schools and planning for numerous social services such as highways, hospitals, health services, and services for the older population. Census age data are also an important source of information on population aging, such as measurement of people eligible for Social Security and Medicare benefits. In addition to these public uses of census data, census data can also be used by private organizations. For example, census data can help researchers studying trends related to mortality and population aging or help small business owners in planning where to best locate their businesses to fit the needs of the community.”


In other words, gender data (along with age data in this case) serves to guide the more common or public operations that are endemic to our nation-state –the “for the people, by the people” portions- and they also help our government meet its responsibilities as functionary in aiding the development and stabilization of our private industries.


With this in mind, let’s consider such dynamics within the labor market, where 57% percent of our female population along with 69% of our male population participate in the labor force. And, again, these numbers may come across a bit tricky given that the vast majority of domestic work and childrearing, for example, are not considered part of our labor market. That is, women are not paid for raising and taking care of their children which makes this a form of labor that exists outside the market (although some women may have the choice and ability to “go into labor” and contribute to our ever-expanding labor force). But, within the official markets out there, this is the most current ratio of active workers out there. Nonetheless, 70% of women with children under 18 participate in the labor force. Of the most common occupations for employed women, secretaries and administrative assistants, elementary and middle school teachers, and registered nurses rank as the top three.


From the latest research in 2014, around 10.7 million Latinas formed part of our civilian labor force, making them 1 in 7 women in that labor force. Furthermore, according to the Department of Labor: “As a group, Hispanic women tend to have less favorable outcomes than Hispanic men and nonHispanics, outcomes that could be improved by raising the minimum wage, closing the wage gap, ensuring adequate working conditions and expanding opportunities for higher wage occupations.”


The data also shows that Latina’s share of the labor force has also pretty much doubled in the last twenty years (going from 7.9% in 1994 to 14.7% in 2014) and, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Latinas are projected to be 17.3 of the entire female labor force by 2022. Yet even within such a promising scenario, there are many questions that come to mind, many of them revolving around wage gaps, our participation in certain fields of work, and the role that education plays for our communities as well. Let’s go with education next.


Just recently, our E-Boletin highlighted Fulfilling America’s Future: Latinas in the U.S., a recent report by Patricia Gándara, Professor of Education at UCLA and Co-Director of The Civil Rights Project and The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. The 2015 report indicates how “One in five women in the U.S. is a Latina. One in four female students in public schools across the nation is a Latina. Projections are that by 2060, Latinas will form nearly a third of the female population of the nation. Thus, the future of the nation is very much tied to the future of these women and girls.” This premise alone is enough to garner our collective attention and support, yet there are some interesting conditions brought to light that fall outside of gender identity and speak to more systemic flaws. These include the fact that “One-fourth of Latinas live below the poverty line and more than half are living in near-poverty,” which means that academic goals (or consequent professional aspirations) are jeopardized by the direct effects of economic asymmetries. Another revealing aspect of Latina lived-experience is that their access to healthcare is lowest for any group of women –“In 2011, 37% of Latinas were uninsured compared to just 14% of white women …the situation is even more severe for immigrant women.”


If education is the modern world’s vehicle for sustained forms of economic and cultural impact, then its relation to the work women do is of key concern for us all when it comes to social justice. For example, the minimum requirement for entering our civil labor force is a high school diploma, which one in five Latinas between 25 and 29 years old does not have –for all other ethnic groups it’s one in twelve. To further comment on high school completion, a 2010 study by the National Conference on State Legislatures “found that 36 percent of Latinas who dropped out of high school claimed they did so as a result of a pregnancy… this was 6 percent higher than all other female dropouts.” One can’t help but wonder what the dropout ratio for soon-to-be fathers is? Graduate studies are another academic area where Latinas hold the lowest amount of degrees than women in other ethnic/racial groups, despite the statistical increase between 2002-13, which went from under 2% to 4%. Because graduate degrees are most widely understood as the key necessary requirement for entering into a professional practice –professions being credited as “positions that require specialized knowledge and long and extensive educational preparation” (i.e. business administration, medicine, law, teaching) - then making this terminal facet of education a realistic choice for Latinas rather than a distant dream is one way that we can move towards a more just society.


In the arts, of course, most individuals who pursue a graduate degree do so with the intention of teaching at a college or university level, even though the opportunities for obtaining a tenured position nowadays –in particular for artists of color- are less than dismal. Furthermore, it’s important for us not to blur a beneficial and rewarding creative career with being a teacher, as many artists enjoy highly successful careers altogether outside of academia. The point is, however, that there are many areas in the field of arts and culture that continue to have a direct connection to higher education, such as more intellectual-based jobs in museums, multi-performance arts venues, and cultural centers which continue to display a significant absence of people of color along with an abundance of men in directorial or leadership positions. For example, in a previous E-Boletin we touched upon the specific findings of an Art Museum Staff Demographic Survey from last year by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation which serve to underscore the present status of ethnicity and gender within our dominant museum network. The results of their research indicate how "Non-Hispanic White staff continue to dominate the job categories most closely associated with the intellectual and educational mission of museums, including those of curators, conservators, educators, and leadership. In that subset of positions, 84% is Non-Hispanic White, 6% Asian, 4% Black, 3% Hispanic White, and 3% Two or More Races.  With the exception of the Asian demographic category, which makes up 5% of the United States population today, these proportions do not come close to representing the diversity of the American population." Indeed, at the time of this survey’s release, many of us out in the field found ourselves doing a very simple thought-experiment that consisted of merely asking each other how many Latinas in museum leadership or directorial positions we knew about? Talk about a shortlist.


This survey is a tremendous source for encouraging or prompting the kinds of equitable progress we’d like our institutions to embody, and it’s worth including a further excerpt:


“First, progress is likely to be swifter and easier on gender equality than on minority representation.  As museum staff has become 60% female over the past decade or so, there is now also a preponderance of women in the curatorial, conservation, and educational roles that constitute the pipeline for leadership positions such as museum director, chief curator, and head of conservation or education.  With close attention to equitable promotion and hiring practices for senior positions, art museums should be able to achieve greater gender equality in their leadership cohorts within the foreseeable future.”


A few months later, the Directors Guild of America released an inaugural Feature Film Diversity Report analyzing the gender and ethnicity of feature film directors. The study is based on films released between 2013 -14 and includes some notable findings, key among them is how “women account for only 6.4% of film directors –dropping to just 3% for major box office titles.” The majority of film directors “Caucasian males” at 82.4%, followed in steep decline by “Minority Males” at 11.2%, with “Caucasian females” at 5.1%, and “Minority females” at 1.3%. One is naturally tempted to make connections between these findings that albeit come from a more commercially privatized industry and the findings of a (now less and less) public industry that inevitably lead us to wonder if there isn’t some larger cultural cohesion at work within these two partly distinct enterprises.


And it’s important to keep in mind the kinds of economic blurring taking place between traditionally private and public institutions (or institutions meant for the public good) through means of transitional trends that, in the end, mainly provide our common or shared public sphere with fiscally hybrid organizations. To put it differently, we must ask ourselves: what are the limits of social justice? Or, although the origins of equality are found in our diminishing public sector, does its future as core social value lie in privatization?


It’s one thing to imagine our roles and functions within previous historic eras, let’s say even back when most of us survived as small groupings of nomadic bands, and quite another thing to imagine coexistence in the 21st century where we are all participants of a much vaster social project as members of a diverse populace. In our contemporary situation, the subject of gender asks “what kind of communities are we trying to build?” The answer to that question depends on whether we are building communities of equality.


Because it’s more than just people that get gendered. We have the capacity to gender language, objects, and even processes. For example, do we hashtag Latino/a, Latin@, or Latinx? The key lies in understanding the effect of attributing ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’ properties onto ourselves, each other, and what we do. As cultural and artistic practitioners, the ethics or justness of such an effect proves incredibly significant when we are tasked with imagining not only what is in our midst, but what is to come. Curiously, although gender begins at home, the process of gendering (or sexing) travels and operates throughout a much broader bandwidth that deciphers and names cultural facets around the globe. 





The National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC) is a legacy organization investing in the Latino heritage of this nation. For over 25 years, NALAC has built a strong foundation for the promotion of Latino arts and culture and its advocacy efforts have advanced issues of cultural equity and raised the visibility and understanding of Latino artistic and cultural expression. The National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC) is the nation's leading nonprofit organization exclusively dedicated to the promotion, advancement, development, and cultivation of the Latino arts field. In this capacity, NALAC stimulates and facilitates intergenerational dialogues among disciplines, languages, and traditional and contemporary expressions. NALAC serves thousands of Latino artists and hundreds of organizations representing a national and international community of multiple Latinidades; a network that crosses many cultures across the Latino Diaspora. 

For more information visit our website at or like us on Facebook at

NALAC 2015 Pods AZ 0014Above: Casandra Hernandez and Gabriela Muñoz present at the inagural NALAC Pod gathering in Phoenix, AZ


Moving Forward: an experiment in self-organizing


At a most immediate level, organizations –like individuals- are able to perceive and survey changing conditions in their environment through the passage of time. Given that NALAC is now in its 26th year, it is a natural phase of development and self-awareness to reflect critically on the kinds of growth we’ve experienced as well as the learning that has taken place during such time in order to plan effective ways of moving forward into our next 26 years. It’s therefore not difficult to see how participating in EmcArt’s  Innovation Lab for Arts Development Agencies –which is part of their continued work with the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation- would yield a tremendously beneficial opportunity to reexamine our core values alongside any underlying assumptions so we can then continuously adapt our practices in ways that indeed achieve our goals: to better serve our community of Latin@ artists and arts organizations, and further cultivate the Latin@ artistic and cultural field. The correlation was there, especially when considering the Innovation Lab “was created to assist nonprofit organizations in designing and prototyping new ideas and to launch real-life projects that address complex challenges facing their organizations and the arts and culture field at large.”


So how can NALAC continue to explore and improve our efforts to better serve, reach, and engage a growing Latin@ arts field as we move into the future? Questions of this nature guided our work throughout EmcArt’s Innovation Lab. And these can be deceptively simple questions for reasons we will come back to further ahead. Going into this exploratory process though, NALAC was able to do so inclusively, with the involvement of truly dedicated individuals and generous members of different organizations from around the country. So, in that same spirit of inclusion, we’d like to share parts of this journey and some of the things we’ve found along the way that help us continue to serve our constituency in our best capacity.



Transformation and Future Challenges



Let's start by first recognizing that we are always in the midst of change(s) and that, a lot of times, these changes themselves can help us outline both the emerging challenge(s) alongside its solution(s). Furthermore, all organizations face challenges. We could even say that an organization is, essentially, a responsive relation to a certain challenge or set of challenges. But what happens when –inevitably- changes begin to occur in that scenario? And this could be changes in the organization itself, changes in the nature of the challenge(s) or, more frequently, in the environment that sustains either of these. As it happens, this situation is fairly common –whether you’re an artist, a cultural center, an offshore bank, or even a state agency- and part of what really matters has to do with how we can adjust to and approach the shifting meridians of the environment(s) we’re in.


But what are some of the most consistent markers of change being faced by Latin@ artists and organizations today? Are we able to identify the sources for some of the corresponding challenges and, if so, how does our ability to articulate the nature of such reconfigurations help us approach them with solutions in mind? One thing’s for sure: the environment that sustains both our artists and organizations along with the obstacles they meet is not necessarily a stable one. That is to say, the environment that our work takes place in now at the beginning of the 21st century is, in a lot of ways, different from what it was like during the Civil Rights Era, for example. This just means that social challenges, just like the people who face them, don’t remain identical as time goes by.


One example of a transformation that has taken place -and continues to take place- with the passage of time has to do with the demographic shifts our country is experiencing as a result of our increasing Latin@ populations. In a previous E-Boletín we looked at U.S. Census Bureau projections that expect our population to grow by 86% between the years 2015-2050 and, furthermore, how newer projections suggest our population will reach 119 million by year 2060. This steady shift in our demographic landscape brings about a complicated set of issues and opportunities not only for the more dominant or mainstream social order but for the internal dynamics of our own different Latin@ communities, which is precisely why NALAC sees it as a positive challenge -one that’s able to further actualize our approach to serve our broad field of artistic and cultural production. In other words, this particular changeability prompts our organization to be further effective in just how we work towards our goals to support and be more inclusive of our constituencies –through dialogue, trainings, grantmaking opportunities, and other programs.


Now, before touching upon a temporary-pilot approach that we’re exploring to help us better meet our goals, let’s consider an interesting challenge that further speaks to the effects of our growing demographics and, at the same time, places those effects within the context of our larger cultural networks -in this case we mean the increased diversity that the significant population growth of our Latin@ communities will bring about. Through the course of its work and most recently through the Intercultural Leadership Institute (ILI) pilot at the end of last year, NALAC has been able to underscore the immense value of working, creating, and imagining interculturally. Driven by a similar ethical belief, our ongoing work advocates for and promotes an understanding of our multiple communities as multiple Latinidades. Together, these principles amplify the function of Diversity & Inclusion when it comes to a future that brings continued and welcome difference to our various communities, because, even though population forecasts announce the predicted increase of a Latin@ demographic, what is often left unsaid is just how diverse that forthcoming demographic will be. Quite simply, the future brings Latinidad, which has always been intercultural.


To be sure, these are but just a few of the unfolding narratives that organizations and artists are responding to precisely because the momentum of these forthcoming narratives can alter the course of our work. But that just means that calculated inflections on our behalf can help yield more sophisticated and coordinated responses. An initial modification could be for us to create a forum where it’s possible for us to engage our members and constituency in a different and more significant way, where it’s possible for them to go from being recipients of programs to being the driving force behind broad policy change and advocacy efforts. We can also approach things from a different point and focus on shifting the dialogue with which current and prospective stakeholders in the Latin@ arts field are engaged. One easy and immediate step would be further emphasizing the fact NALAC is not invested in merely raising support for NALAC as a single institution, but rather for the interconnected field of Latin@ arts our institution itself supports. In other words, our perspective leans towards movement-building.



Exploration and Testing Strategies



Upon initiating our process with EmcArt’s Innovation Lab, it was necessary to first articulate prominent challenge(s) to then convene a diverse group of individuals and members of different organizations from around the country in the form of an Advisory Working Group. Together with EmcArt’s Facilitator and NALAC staff, members of the Advisory Working Group met to identify these markers of change, to question any underlying or corresponding assumptions, and to chart a course of inquiry and research to address those issues. Soon after, the Advisory Working Group met to review consequent findings and recommended specific exploratory work to launch a broader community campaign –a pilot campaign modeled on localized advocacy efforts, such as organizational satellites or pods, and very much chartered on forms of inclusivity and belonging. The sequence of our process then brought forth and convened an Innovation Team to plan an adaptive response to and a concise strategy for our complex challenge(s). The Team itself consisted of a diverse group whose participants represented an intergenerational, multidisciplinary, intercultural, multi-gendered, and geographically diverse social body.


As a result of this inquisitive and collaborative process, our Innovation Team arrived at a crucial temporary strategy to explore and test: the activation of two regionally-allied NALAC Pods to co-design and generate forms of local activity, networking, resourcing, messaging, advocacy and peer to peer mentoring. The idea is to intentionally activate, help train, and resource already existing NALAC regional networks undergoing different stages of development. This, in turn, may better amplify NALAC’s ongoing efforts in empowering the overall field, broaden communication between different communities, and foster support for Latina/o artistic and cultural production. The spirit of this approach holds that our greatest shared resources as a field of artists, arts administrators, and cultural practitioners are the human relationships and networks that have evolved through careful and intentional cultivation. In short, the maturity and resonance of meaningful relationships built for over 26 years indeed positions the greater NALAC base itself to further mobilize independently and collaborative, with an ethics of reciprocity at the forefront.


But what is a pod and why does it matter? Well, we could see them in two ways, both of which help inform and sustain each other. At a level of thinking, organizations –like organisms- have a tendency to arrange themselves in the form of a network, that is, as a set of different points that are connected around shared ideas or shared goals or even shared obstacles despite the fact that these points may each be in a very different location or region. This connection (connectedness) between each of the different points allows mainly for communication, which no longer requires being part of a cumbersome infrastructure or relies on cost-prohibitive engineering and so it’s become a bit more liquid. Once a point belongs to a bigger network of communication, it’s able to interact with other points through the exchange of ideas and information: movement-building. The term “pod” is just a name for an interactive point of said creative network.


We’re all completely familiar with the overt importance of network-building as a practice through which we create and nurture personal relationships that are generally based on shared professional affinities or projects, disciplines, and causes that each individual is engaged with. Yet what happens if we rotate our perspective a little so that we’re able to see the purpose of interpersonal networking as a way of bringing our many ideas together so they can network with each other? The function of that very interaction between different people is to create a platform where our own thoughts and perspectives get to network.


The second way to look at pod structures would be like a set of stations on a dial. This view suggests each station is a member of an overall spectrum or environment that not only helps make each individual station possible in some way but also provides an interface that lets us come into contact with or reach that station/pod. This is important because belonging to a bigger spectrum which includes the activities of other pods doesn’t dictate, micro-manage, or diminish the specific autonomy of any one pod. So let’s consider a couple of examples that are part of this social experiment.



Testing Pilots: Platforms for Dialogue & Innovation



The prototypes for testing our Pod strategy involve Pod liaisons within each community, which means both of the NALAC Pod Prototypes have a few things in common as well as a strong uniqueness that results from their organizers, their geographic regions, and their vital cultural ecosystems. Let’s start with some of the commonalities. Each prototype is designed to convene different individuals around key ideas and values that hold meaning for the region they’re taking place in. Because both revolve around the act of convening, they are very much an exercise in self-organizing meant to foster and increase relationship-building among artists, arts administrators, and cultural practitioners from the surrounding communities. Furthermore, the core values helping to guide this exercise are deeply connected to NALAC’s vision and mission statement: advocacy, empowerment, equality, and ethics. These set of values, when taken altogether, seek to refine our constituents’ leadership skills, sharpen our aesthetic/critical thinking, help amplify our community’s exposure/visibility, encourage a sense of advocacy geared towards equity, support paths to economic empowerment, and create as well as promote unified messaging in support of Latina/o arts and cultures.


Our initial NALAC Pod Prototype took place in Phoenix, AZ, at 40 Owls Pop-Up Gallery on December 29th of 2015. The convening was the first of a sequence which will be organized by Casandra Hernandez, Arizona State University Art Museum Curator of CALA Initiatives (Celebración Artística de las Américas) and NLI Alumni, in collaboration with Gabriela Muñoz, Artist Programs Manager for Arizona Commission on the Arts and NLI Alumni/Guest Faculty. The event was hosted in a "nomadic gallery" run by amazing artists and brothers Gabriel & Isaac Fortoul -Gabriel shared a tour of his work which was currently on exhibit. The incredible sound environment that evening was produced by the always phenomenal DJ Musa Mind. We began the evening with a presentation on NALAC’s ongoing work by Adriana Y. Gallego, our organization’s Deputy Director, who was assisted by Claudio Dicochea, our Strategic Communications Associate, and then became a forum where the many individuals present shared the nature of their creative work or the work of the organizations they are affiliated with. In this example, the most prominent feature is how a large gathering of tremendously diverse, talented, and intergenerational attendees organically turned into a platform where so many new relationships were created and preexisting ones were strengthened, where all manner of aesthetic disciplines found ways to converge, where all sorts of viewpoints and social projects were in dialogue, where so many people who didn’t know each other were happy they now did. Simply put, the outcome of this exploratory Pod suggests the emergence of a new and complex network of active Arizona Latin@ artists.


Without divulging any spoiler alerts, the upcoming iteration of our NALAC Pod Prototypes will take place in Bronx, NY, during the first part of 2016 at Pregones Theater. This event will be organized by Lisandra Maria Ramos, Assistant Director of Administration at the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics at NYU, which is a collaborative network of institutions, artists, scholars, activists and cultural creators from the Americas and NLI Alumni, in collaboration with Arnaldo Lopez, Development Officer at Pregones Theater and NLI Faculty. The Pod’s project seeks to activate and organize our NLI Alumni of the Northeast region through a two-tiered process. The initial phase includes surveying participants as part of an asset-mapping and resourcing strategy intended to make Latin@ arts and artists more adaptable, effective, and successful with the work being done in the field of arts and culture. The second component consists of a first-time regional peer meeting that will help connect, organize, and energize alumni as well as NALAC and potential partners around actionable strategies that would propel the efforts of the group forward and influence the national agenda.


In the end, these are but two examples that speak directly to this idea of an emergent network of artists, arts administrators, and cultural practitioners working within very different and separate regions throughout our nation yet in conversation with each other. Is the possibility of all of us belonging to a much vaster platform based on communication and interaction somewhat aspirational? Sure. And that’s precisely the point. We are at our most creative, thoughtful, and sentient when our ideas or yearnings can circulate and exchange freely, when they learn from models and struggles from other regions, when they recombine in some unforeseen way to solve something we didn’t know how. Of course, all pods on such network won’t be the same -by that we mean they're not identical and so very much possess their own identity. What they can be is a hub for the distribution and production of knowledge –a clear point of contact between all the crucial work and policy approaches generated here, there, and elsewhere through alternate strategies and other localities.



The National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC) is a legacy organization investing in the Latino heritage of this nation. For over 25 years, NALAC has built a strong foundation for the promotion of Latino arts and culture and its advocacy efforts have advanced issues of cultural equity and raised the visibility and understanding of Latino artistic and cultural expression. The National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC) is the nation's leading nonprofit organization exclusively dedicated to the promotion, advancement, development, and cultivation of the Latino arts field. In this capacity, NALAC stimulates and facilitates intergenerational dialogues among disciplines, languages, and traditional and contemporary expressions. NALAC serves thousands of Latino artists and hundreds of organizations representing a national and international community of multiple Latinidades; a network that crosses many cultures across the Latino Diaspora. 

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