Latinos Exercise Political Power for the Arts

PHOTO: Dancers from Ballet Hispanico perform at Latino Inaugural 2013: In Performance at Kennedy Center on January 20, 2013 in Washington, DC. Grant money from Latino inauguration celebrations will be used to support Latino arts and culture initiatives.

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Hispanics exercised powerful political muscle during the 2012 presidential election, helping send President Barack Obama back to the White House and catapulting immigration reform to the forefront of the national agenda.

Now, the community is using the hundreds of thousands of dollars generated with Latino inaugural celebrations in January to make sure it receives its artistic and cultural due.

Organizers of the Latino inaugural celebrations, which culminated in a series of performances by renowned artists like Rita Moreno at the Kennedy Center, are giving grants to several foundations that aim to advance Latino arts and culture.

The Friends of the American Latino Museum, a group that wants to see a museum in the nation's capital dedicated to the contributions of Latinos, will receive $170,000. A portion of that -- $50,000 -- will go toward its own operations, but the rest will be distributed to the American Latino Heritage Fund of the National Park Foundation, the Smithsonian Latino Center and the Kennedy Center.

The inauguration was a chance for Latinos to demonstrate that they belong "center stage," said Latino Inaugural 2013 co-chair Henry R. Muñoz III at a Friday event in Washington, D.C.

That Latinos are donating to the nation's performing arts center is notable. Some prominent Hispanic organizations, like the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, previously criticized the Kennedy Center for a lack of diversity when it comes to awarding the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors. In 35 years, just two of the 180 honorees have been Latino.

The center revised the selection process following the outcry. An advisory committee that includes Chita Rivera, one of the two former Latino honorees, will now help guide the selection process.

The Kennedy Center will use the inaugural grant money to train arts managers at Latino arts organizations like El Museo del Barrio in things like fundraising.

Awarding the Kennedy Center the money is a demonstration from Latino leaders that "we want to move forward together," Latino Inaugural 2013 co-chair Andrés W. López said at the announcement.

Latinos have permanently earned a seat the American table, he said, but there's still a long way to go. And the relatively modest sum of grant money reflects that fact. A couple hundred thousand dollars is a drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of things, but Latino leaders like Muñoz and López say the money is meant to inspire and empower Hispanics.

While "today is about legacy," López said, it is the job of the grant winners to "extend that legacy to the future."

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