A Cultural Connection
by Gregg McQueen
Edwin Pagán is on a mission. The renowned Bronx photographer, writer and cinematographer grew up in the borough during the 1970s, when the region took on a notorious reputation, one synonymous with crime, chaos and urban decay. Discouraged that the “Bronx is burning” image still persists to this day, Pagán wants South Bronx artists to perform what he calls a “cultural identity reclamation,” to reshape how the borough is viewed in the future. “It’s people from outside of New York City who still keep that stereotype alive,” Pagán said. “We have the ability to do away with that. We’re the ones who should be telling the story.” To accomplish that, Pagán knows that Bronx artists need support. Pagán hopes to help provide that with the advent of the Bronx Culture Collective, a collaboration that brings together different arts organizations with the aim of fostering networking opportunities, as well as technical and professional development assistance for individual artists in the Bronx. “Even though there are a lot of art groups in the Bronx that have been around a long time, they don’t always get together,” explained Pagán. “We want to get them talking and exploit opportunities for collaboration.” Since launching last month 9July), the collective, which is funded by the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs, has set up physical office space at Nos Quedamos, a community development center in Melrose. After hiring Pagán to serve as the Program Director, the group launched Facebook and Twitter pages, and is working on completing a website.
The Bronx Culture Collective now comprises an array of organizations including the Pregones Theater, En Foco, Bronx Documentary Center, Casita Maria, Bx Arts Factory, Yuca Arts and others, said Pagán. “So far, we’ve been doing these ‘triage’ community sessions where we bounce around ideas on how to further our cause,” said Pagán. “We’ve been getting good feedback.”Pagán said there is a spirit of collaboration among arts organizations in the Bronx. “It’s not competitive,” he remarked. “People have a certain comfort level in their own community.” Bill Aguado, Interim Director of En Foco, a nonprofit organization supporting photographers of diverse cultural backgrounds, is one of the founding members of the Bronx Culture Collective. The intent behind the group’s creation was to build a program different from ones normally seen in the community, he explained. “There’s been a missing ingredient, and that’s building infrastructure among local artists,” remarked Aguado, a lofty figure in the borough’s art world who served as director of the Bronx Council of the Arts for more than 30 years. While Aguado said he is glad to see arts organizations networking through the Bronx Culture Collective, he expressed concern that the group is not yet doing enough to help individual artists, especially those of color. “These arts organizations are already well-established,” he said. “Who’s not talking to each other are the artists themselves.” That’s something Aguado hopes to see change as the collective progresses. “I’m a big believer that you need to put money directly in the hands of the artists,” he stated. “This can’t be business as usual. We need to think outside the box.” Pagán said that he hopes to compile an online database where individual Bronx artist can access resources. The collective is planning a tour of four different community gardens in October and putting together a town hall at Hostos Community College for November. “It’s about getting the cultural blood circulating, having organizations engaging with each other,” said Pagán.
The Bronx Free Press For more information on the Bronx Culture Collective, visit http://bit.ly/2bemUTM