Arts group aims to recruit Latinos

ROCHESTER — Young Audiences of Rochester has been providing arts-based educational support to area schools for five decades.

Two years ago, Lydia Boddie-Rice came on as executive director when Young Audiences merged with ArtPeace. Soon after she realized more diversity was needed among its ranks of artists/educators who provide in-class instructional resources as well as lead afterschool programs in dance, music, film, writing, media, technology and visual arts.

And when Annette Ramos took on a position as manager of educational services, she served as the link to boost Latino artists’ participation because of her many connections in the local arts community, Ramos explained.

"Young Audiences is an inclusive organization that serves a multilingual, ethnically and economically diverse population in 19 … counties," said Boddie-Rice. "It is good business to ensure that we provide cross-cultural arts experiences. Our … Latino teaching artists offer our audiences some of the most dynamic and flavorful opportunities to integrate the arts into teaching and learning in and out of the classroom."

The Rochester affiliate is one of 30 in the national Young Audiences network.

Thus far, the organization has recruited a local Latino singer and writer, a classical musician and a dance instructor, said Ramos, education services manager for Young Audiences. While most of Young Audiences’ artists are local, some are traveling artists such as a flamenco dancer from Spain who stops in Rochester when she is on tour, she added.

The creation of La Cumbre, a local Latino-based leadership network, also has tied in with Young Audiences’ recruitment efforts to develop its Latino roster, added Ramos.

Young Audiences provides meeting space for the arts committee of La Cumbre, of which Ramos is a member.

"That is the kind of thing Young Audiences is excited about and interested in developing partnerships, which is essential to any arts organization," said Ramos, who also heads the Rochester Latino Theatre Company. "We are expanding and creating a database of Latino artists."

Ramos was the direct connection to Young Audiences for Alexander Peña, a violist who graduated from the Eastman School of Music. He is working on a program to expose young Latinos in the area to classical music while educating the music community about Latino composers, Peña explained.

Before he met Ramos, though, Peña said that he downplayed his Mexican roots as he immersed himself in the classical music world.

"I never wanted to be somebody who was referred to as: ‘He’s a good violist, especially for a Mexican violist,’" he remarked. "The Young Audiences connection taught me I can become the artist that I want and celebrate the history of who I am and what I have to offer."

And in the classical world, the Latino population and Latino music is "underrepresented, underperformed and undercelebrated," added Peña, who also received a full scholarship to complete his master’s degree in music performance and literature from Eastman.

So, he is working on developing a recital series with musicians who are Latino and performing music written by Latinos, he said.

The bilingual performances will target local Latino families and provide an interactive experience by connecting the music to activities in poetry, math, dance or visual arts, said Peña, who also is director of "RocMusic." That Eastman outreach program offers group instruction to economically disadvantaged students in Rochester.

"For myself growing up in classical music, I never had a role model to look up to," remarked Peña, who added that he wants to change that for area Latinos. "How can we get the Latino community here (engaged) and the youth start to look at music and say that person has the same skin?"

As with Peña, Young Audiences was a natural fit for Jayme Bermúdez, an education coordinator for the Ibero-American Action League. He first began working with the arts organization a couple of years ago to help with choreography on a musical film project developed by city youths and which was scheduled to debut earlier this month, Bermúdez said.

Youths hone skills as dancers, people

Following that stint, he was asked to lead a dance group of other teenagers and young men involved in a Young Audiences program called Cypher, added Bermúdez. He jumped at the chance.

"I love working with young people," he said.

As he led his group of dancers — the majority which are young men of color — during an April 24 rehearsal at a Corn Hill community center, Bermúdez said that he hopes that other Latinos will take advantage of Young Audiences’ efforts to recruit Latinos as instructors and mentors.

"Dance is my passion," he said. "I’m getting to do my passion … because Young Audiences is giving me this opportunity."

And his dancers said they are getting a father figure who cares about them and challenges them as well. The group, called True Dance, even calls him "Papa Bear."

And to have a Latino male as a teacher and role model could make a huge difference for some kids in the city, said dancer Marlin Leon, including for the many Latino youths he sees out on the streets without a future.

"I’m somebody different," he said. "I’m a Latino but the difference is I can dance and see the possibilities. This (program) puts dreams in people’s minds."

Ramos said that she is proud of the work already underway by instructors such as Bermúdez.

And she is proud that her cultural and Latino literature projects — in partnership with other educators — have provided information on Puerto Rican history not included in social studies curriculum, Ramos said. Ramos, who began work with Young Audiences as a teaching artist nine years ago, said that all Young Audiences programs are aligned with state and Common Core standards.

She added that she hopes others also see the need to expand knowledge of Latino history and culture throughout the year instead of only focusing on it during Hispanic Heritage month in the fall.

"We really can open the doors for true diversity within our educational system," she said.

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