Tag Archives: Taller Boricua

Row over Julia de Burgos Cultural Center in El Barrio, NYC

From the National Latino Institute for Policy

Note: There has been some controversy for some time over charges of the mismanagement of the city-owned building housing the Julia de Burgos Cultural Center in Manhattan’s East Harlem. In a highly controversial move, alleging mismanagement by Taller Boricua, New York City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverto intervened to change the management of the center working through the city’s Economic Development Agency. This has caused major divisions in El Barrio’s artistic community. The latest flare-up is reported below by El Diario columnist Gerson Borrero over allegations that the Councilwoman disrespected elder community leader Yolanda Sanchez at a recent meeting (in which Ms. Sanchez was not present).

Yolanda Sanchez, 78 years old, is an institution in the Latino community who has spent over thirty years in the development and management of diverse human services. She serves as the Executive Director of the Puerto Rican Association for Community Affairs and is President of the National Latinas Caucus, past president of the East Harlem Council for Human Services and former director of the CUNY Office of Puerto Rican Program Development. Ms. Sanchez is a former National Urban Fellow and a graduate of Harvard University’s School of Business, and holds an MSW degree from Columbia University Graduate School of Social Work.

Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico and was elected to the City Council in January 2006 to serve as Council Member for the 8th Council District. She is the first Puerto Rican woman and Latina elected to represent her district. During her first term, Melissa has sponsored several local laws to address tenant harassment and promote construction safety. Prior to her election to the City Council, the Councilwoman worked for the 1199 SEIU New York’s Health Care Union, as well as several community organizations and political campaigns. Besides her professional life, Melissa has been very active in community affairs, founding Women of El Barrio-an organization that promotes the development of women as leaders in the economic, political and social life of their community.

—Angelo Falcón

Bajo Fuego
Row over Julia de Burgos Cultural Center in El Barrio
By Gerson Borrero | Bajofuego@eldiariony.com
El Diario-La Prensa (March 2, 2011)
translated from Spanish by NiLP

In a two-page letter, the Board of Directors of Casabe Houses accuses New York City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito of having insulted and threatened them during a meeting in her office in Manhattan in what was intended to be a discussion about the future of the Julia de Burgos Cultural Center.

As highlighted by the February 24 letter, signed by Frank Quiles in his capacity as president of the organization that provides housing and services to the elderly, Mark-Viverito “used the occasion to talk rudely of Yolanda Sánchez , who is a member of our Board and one of the most respected leaders of the Puerto Rican and Latino community of New York City over the past thirty years. ”

Beyond the bickering that provoked the letter, it was signed by nine other members of the Board, including Ms. Sanchez, and accused of the City Councilwomen of the 8th District of telling them, “I’ve already made the decision,” to support another group to take charge of the Cultural Center, which has been allegedly mismanaged by the current managers.

“They never approached me and did not let me know of their interest” said Mark-Viverito as she thundered against what she considered a lack of respect. According to the Councilwoman, “They came to the meeting with the intention of an ambush and trying to tarnish my reputation.”

After calming down, Mark-Viverito in a telephone conversation admitted that she did tell them, “My support has already been given to another organization.” However, she denied that she threatened them or insulted Ms. Sanchez.

“I was firm in my tone,” said Mark-Viverito, who added, “I am a human being.” She assured us that there will be a formal response to the group.

To all this we assume that once the Hispanic Federation, the theater group Pregones, Los Pleneros de la 21 and the Puerto Rican Travelling Theatre saw this aired in public, they will re-evaluate their participation in the Mark-Viverito coalition created to assume direction of the Julia de Burgos Cultural Center.

“Yolanda is 78 and Melissa, who is not even of El Barrio, disrespected her,” said one activist who asked not to be identified but who is bothered by this rumor. Be seen as making the city agency, Economic Development Corporation, who could receive a formal complaint about what was supposed to come from the mayor. All pending.

“I was firm in my tone,” said Mark-Viverito, who added, “I am a human being.” The official assured us that there will be a formal response to the group.

To all this we assume that once the Hispanic Federation, the theater group Pregones, Los Pleneros de la 21 and the Puerto Rican Travelling Theatre to see this aired in public, re-evaluate their participation in the Mark-Viverito coalition created to assume direction of Julia de Burgos. “Yolanda is 78 and Melissa, who is not even in El Barrio, disrespected,” said one activist who asked not to be identified but who is bothered by the already rumored on the street. We are waiting to see what the city agency, the Economic Development Corporation, who could receive a formal complaint about what the Councilwoman is planning. Let’s wait and see.

In Search of “flamboyant Language”
By Albert Medina
El Diario-La Prensa (4 de marzo 2011)
translated from Spanish by Albert Medina

In an article on 2 March in El Diario/La Prensa, Gerson Borrero commented on a letter received from Frank Quiles in the name of the organization over which he presided, saying that Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito had commented “in showy language” against Yolanda Sanchez.”

What were those flamboyant words?

He also wrote that an activist – not named – had told him that Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito -was not from El Barrio! (the neighborhood) What Puerto Rican is not from El Barrio? Even those born in the United States.

Celia Ramirez, who represents East River North Renewal HDFC, should also have been mentioned when he listed the organizations participating in the coalition supported by Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito.

The values and material objects that make up a shared way of life: the intangible creations of human society; and the products which emerged out of the interactions of people – within the limitations of the then geographic boundaries that encompassed El Barrio, NY – is not something to be glossed over lightly.

Albert Medina
East River North Renewal


Questions prepared by Mary Boncher, psychologist, poet and long-time El Barrio resident. Responses from Marilyn Navarro, long-time El Barrio resident.

QUESTIONS LOOKING FOR ANSWERS: I just read a quote from Daniel Patrick Moynihan in the New Yorker (October 25, 2010 page 81) that seems quite applicable. “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not to his own facts”

Development of the Julia de Burgos Latino Cultural Center
1. Which organizations and individuals were involved in the conception and early planning (1992-1995) for the Julia de Burgos Latino Cultural Center? What roles did they play?

Johnny Colon – Music School, Ecuelecua – Maria Mar, Teatro LaTea, Taller Boricua – Fernando Salicrup, Edwin Marcial – Teatro Puertoriqueño, A Dance group, and another theater group I have to see if I have the name in some of my older files. The board chair was Carmen Vega Rivera the ED of EHTP at the time. The fiscal conduit and often mediator between EDC, the City, and the groups, was AHA. AHA provided space for their board meetings, and an administrative assistant to support the board of directors.

Side Note… someone should find out who houses the records for the Association of Hispanic Arts, while they are no longer in existence they may have kept copies of the board meeting minutes for the JBLCC board. We called the project the JBLCC project.

2. What was the original idea(s) for the Center?

The Julia de Burgos Latino and Cultural Center – JBLCC

It was suppose to be the mecca for the arts in El Barrio. It was suppose to provide a home to arts organizations struggling to find affordable space to teach, perform, and house Latino Arts in East Harlem. It would have a community Theater that the groups would share and also rent out to other arts organizations, gallery space, classrooms for teaching arts, and spaces for lectures and workshops. While the idea was that the center would be a Latino Arts Center, over 75% of the organizations being considered for moving in, and on the board were Puerto Rican organizations with deep roots in the East Harlem community.

3. In what ways were these ideas modified by the process of opening the Center?

4. What were the financial arrangements? What agency or organization owned (15 years ago) and now owns the building? What agency financed the renovations of the building?

It was owned by the city no one agency owned the space. The city would be leasing it to the organizations who were on the founding board. The organizations would pay rent based on the square footage they occupied. The city financed, but I cannot remember what city agency. I want to say DCA and EDC, but my memory does not carry that far back. A general manager would be hired to run the space. EDC and the City would have oversight for some time (amount of time I cannot recall), but eventually the space would become it’s own entity if they maintained compliance and operated well with some supervision from external agencies for a predetermined amount of time. The rent collected had to be enough to pay the mortgage, cover the operational expenses, and create a reserve. This is what determined the cost per square foot. Many of the organizations on the board who were hoping to move into the space could not afford the rent based on this square footage. There were conversations and the then board chair believed that through fundraising, with a good general manager they would be able to sustain, but overall the groups going in would have to agree to pay the square footage cost that was set, as they could not rely on fundraising when they had not even received the keys to the building, or the okay to move in. They had to prove to the overseeing agencies listed in number 5 below that they could sustain the building based on the only income that was guaranteed at the time… rent.

Side note…. You must all remember this was at a time where Cuomo was governor. The arts were not largely supported. Funding to the arts was not strong at all during this time. The fear of the larger institutions involved, overall, was that the groups moving in did not have the financial resources to be able to afford the rent, and that eventually the consortium would falter, because they would not be able to pay the mortgage, build reserve, and cover operations expenses in general.

What agency signed for and has carried the mortgage?
What were the terms of the financing?
How much money was spent? How much money is still owed?

5. What was the role of the following in the conception and launching of the Julia de Burgos Latino Cultural Center?
New York City Cultural Affairs Commission
Economic Development Corporation
Borough President
City Council Representative
District 11 Community Board

Granting Leases for Space in the Julia de Burgos Latino Cultural Center – What happened in 1995?
1. What entity determined which organizations were granted leases?

The organizations on the original board submitted applications with extensive documentation that was reviewed by members of the organizations outlined in question #5 above. They were supported by AHA in preparing their applications. Those organizations that met the criteria established by the those in #5 above were suppose to move in.

2. What was the basis for determination?

3. What were/are the conditions of the leases?

4. In particular, what are the conditions for the leases granted for the multi-purpose space?

5. How was it that two floors in the Julia de Burgos Latino Cultural Center was rented to the Department of Education for a school??

6. What entities oversee the Julia de Burgos, legally and operationally?
What have they done to ensure that the vision for the Center is actualized?
What power do they legally have?
Who has power over them?

7. What specifically is the role and function of the Economic Development Corporation? Who sits on the board of the EDC? How are they elected/appointed and for what term? To whom are they accountable?

8. What is the relationship between the Economic Development Corporation and Community Board 11, our City Council member, other political entities that affect El Barrio? How does it all work and fit together?

Our Council Woman’s Request to the EDC
1. What complaints/criticisms lead our Council Woman to go to the EDC to ask them to discontinue current lease for the multi-purpose space and to put out an RFEI?

2. What if any discussions did our Council Woman have with Taller Boricua about these complaints and possible solutions?

3. What was/is our Council Woman’s assessment of the responsibility of EDC for the conditions she has identified as problematic with the use and utilization of the multi-purpose and theater space at the Julia de Burgos?

Taller Boricua and the Multi-Purpose Space
1. How has the space been used?

2. Who has and who has not had access to using the space?

3. What does the Taller understand as the complaints/criticisms of the use and utilization of the multi-purpose space?

4. What is the Taller’s response to these complaints/criticisms?

Current Issues from a Broader Perspective
1. What is the EDC’s responsibility in relation to the current situation with the Julia de Burgos?

2. What are the long term ramifications of the following statement in the online NYC Procurement Opportunities

This RFEI is not a formal offering for organizations to locate at the Site. However NYCEDC reserves the right to enter into negotiations with the organization(s) on the basis of the responses to the RFEI without engaging in further processes. NYCEDC and the City reserve the right, at their sole discretion, to withdraw the RFEI; to choose to discuss various approaches with one or more respondents (including those not responding to the RFEI), to use the ideas or proposals submitted in any manner deemed to be in the best interest of the NYCEDC and the City, including but not limited to soliciting competitive submission relating to such ideas or proposals; and/or undertake the prescribed work in a manner other than that which is set forth herein. NYCEDC and the City likewise reserve the right, at any time, to change any terms of the RFEI.” (darkened area not in original)

3. What is the potential negative cost to the Puerto Rican community in El Barrio of yet another “in-fight this time between our Council woman and her supporter and the Taller Boricua and its supporters?

4. What options, if any, are there for the community to handle the differences over the Julia de Burgos spaces in a less contentious manner?

5. What if anything have we learned from past battles over institutions in El Barrio and the ensuing loses to the Puerto Rican Community

6. What mistakes were made in those battles/confrontations? What do we need to learn?

7. What does this all have to do with gentrification?

What visions do we have for how to handle differences within El Barrio so that we do not lose what is left of El Barrio for the Puerto Rican Community.

1. What visions are there for how we can work more cooperatively, forge a stronger community, and combat gentrification?

2. What middle forces are available in the community to mediate the current conflict which presents as quite polarized

Side note…. From what I remember there was a general sense even then in 1993 – 1997 when I worked directly with these individuals, that Taller Boricua monopolized the overall process. While perhaps well intentioned in wanting to be a part of such a historic project and wanting to be in the space, other groups felt that their voice was not as prominent in the process as that of those who represented Taller Boricua. What started out as a collective of arts organizations taking part in a historic projected ended sadly. When those doors opened, the only group that went into the space – from the original organizations on the board – was Taller Boricua. My memory may be wrong, and if it is, not more than one or two others from that original board ever went into the space.

M. Navarro,
Puerto Rican Resident of El Barrio for 38 years
Born and Raised


looking for answers
structuring seeing

to know

to understand
what is

knowing seems
as easy as answering
a question

where from
the question

how is it
to be asked

how is it

how is it