Suffering the impacts of a devastating hurricane and a financial crisis that has lasted for years, Puerto Rico is a country in need. However, one of its suffering groups often gets overlooked – Puerto Rico's artists.
Northwestern University in Chicago wanted to provide Puerto Rican artists with a platform to create in their time of need, said Alicia Díaz, assistant professor of dance at the University of Richmond. Ramón Rivera-Servera, the department chair of performance studies at Northwestern University, created the Puerto Rican Arts Development initiative to do just that.
“They [Northwestern] have researched artists and professors from across the country,” Diaz said. “They picked artists from Puerto Rico and tried to match them with a host institution in United States. They try to match similar artists to universities with people doing similar kinds of work or that would understand the work of the artist.”
Northwestern selected 10 Puerto Rican artists who will be supported in their artistic endeavors, personal development, performances and workshops in the U.S. for two years.
Through this program, UR came to host Lío Villahermosa, an artist-in-residence from Puerto Rico who was in Richmond from March 26 through April 1.
“Last year, me and Dr. Patricia Herrera, associate professor of theater at Richmond, did a fundraiser for Puerto Rico,” Díaz said. “The money raised was given to Northwestern to join the initiative.”
Díaz, who is also originally from Puerto Rico, said that she had been excited to help the artists, build long-term rapport with them and provide continued assistance.
Díaz and Villahermosa were paired in the program because they both explore the medium of bomba.
“Bomba is the oldest Puerto Rican and music dance form,” Villahermosa said. “It developed during slavery and embodied resistance. Today, bomba still exists to represent liberation, protest and cultural affirmation.”
Villahermosa “worked with visual arts, writing, performance and cultural management," he said, "always going through different mediums.” A lot of Villahermosa’s work centers around his home city, San Juan.
Villahermosa participated in a variety of events on campus, including a bomba dance workshop, where the UR community could learn about the origins of the dance and practice it themselves, and an artist’s talk where the public asked him questions about his work.
While at UR, Villahermosa also visited the class "Growing Up in Civil Rights Richmond" and gave the students a workshop on bomba. The class is putting together an exhibit about civil rights in the city of Richmond and plans to incorporate Villahermosa’s ideas into their work, said Caitlin Livesy, a senior in the class.
“Lío helped us use what we learned about bomba, the communication and connection between performers to incorporate movement into our developing script," Livesy said.
"This conversation of movement is particularly important to our examinations of connections between the past and present and the resilience of the individuals featured in 'Growing Up in Civil Rights Richmond,'" she said.
On March 27, Villahermosa said he had been enjoying his time at both UR and in Richmond, but that “everything looks the same here.”
“It’s very different from the hot, chaotic, urban city that I’m used to,” Villahermosa said.
As his days at the university came to an end on April 1, Villahermosa said he was excited to return to UR next year for the second part of his residency.
“I want to teach students to give space to the creative process,” Villahermosa said. “The idea of depth is important, but often artists’ work is go, go go, and about intuition. Aspiring artists should give time to value the process of creating, because it is a beautiful thing.”
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