Former Puerto Rican Arts and Cultural Center recalled

The former Puerto Rican Arts and Cultural Center in Rochester served as a venue for an array of offerings that included concerts, gallery openings, music and arts classes, and even Spanish lessons.

Three of the former directors of the center recently recalled its vibrancy and how much the center accomplished in its short history from the late 1960s to the early 1980s.

Agustin Ramos said that the center was born out of federal funding offered to the recently formed Ibero-American Action League following the 1968 riots in Rochester. Resurgence seen in Latino arts

"We had a large influx of (Latinos), especially Puerto Ricans, into Rochester during the late ’50s and ’60s," he added. "The community was large enough to make a statement. … We went after the arts."

Carmen Fernández-Teremy said that Rafael Santiago got the ball rolling and the center quickly formed partnerships with other organizations, including the local museums to hold art openings and film presentations. The center also partnered with Geva Theatre to offer acting workshops, she said.

The center was located in the heart of the city at Clifford and Hudson avenues near the former Holy Redeemer Church, she said.

"The reason we were able to work well with so many people is we had people in specific jobs who (understood) how to cross over in comunidades, have to crossover to be the link," said Fernández-Teremy. "If you stay isolated in your little corner, you’re not going to get (anywhere)."

The center closed a year after he served as director from 1983-84, said Hector Arguinzoni. He also had worked as a volunteer and assistant director with Ramos.

"The arts and cultural center required a people committed to the arts because the pay wasn’t all that great," Arguinzoni remarked. "You have to understand the administrative aspects as well as the artistic aspects. And it’s necessary to have connections. As a visual artist and musician, I had a passion to be able to make things happen."

The center’s funding ran out because the Latino community had more pressing needs, noted Ramos, who went on to open a shop making acoustic and cuatro guitars.

"No one was left to really take care of it," he added. "Those were the good old days." Music is central to Latino culture

One of the center’s projects that Arguinzoni said he is most proud of is a photography documentation of the Latino community. The center also presented a film festival and recorded an album of traditional Puerto Rican music, he added.

And he worked with Nydia Padilla-Rodríguez as she formed an adult dance group that eventually became Borinquen Dance Theatre, he said.

Unfortunately, Arguinzoni said that he lost track of most of the center’s memorabilia.

"What’s really a sad statement is I have no photos of the center," he said. "Everything I left there in hopes that someone would archive it."

Some of it has ended up in the Rochester Museum & Science Center’s archives, he said, as part of a project spearheaded by Sue Costa before her death in 2007. And some of the photos from the center’s documentation project were displayed at Rochester City Hall’s Link Gallery last year during Hispanic Heritage Month.

"We just shared so much," added Fernández-Teremy. "It would be interesting to form something (again) to get all arts together."

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