Legendary painter Manny Vega is back in East Harlem doing what he does best: creating another mural masterwork

Award winning artist and muralist Manny Vega is creating a memorial mural to a Spanish Harlem icon, the late Dr. Antonia Pantoja. Vega, a sculptor, painter, illustrator, printmaker, costume and set designer, is also highly sought as an instructor at El Museo del Barrio, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the American Museum of Natural History and the Caribbean Cultural Center.

Award winning artist and muralist Manny Vega is creating a memorial mural to a Spanish Harlem icon, the late Dr. Antonia Pantoja. Vega, a sculptor, painter, illustrator, printmaker, costume and set designer, is also highly sought as an instructor at El Museo del Barrio, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the American Museum of Natural History and the Caribbean Cultural Center.

When he was a kid, Manny Vega used to sneak into the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“At 11 years old I used to make the trek from Third Avenue and 97th St. to the Met,” Vega said. “I used to sneak in look at all the Greek statues. I would go regularly. The guards would see me and say, ‘This kid is here again?’

“I would get home and get a whipping from my father, and then the next day do it again.”

Manuel Vega Sr. probably thought he had reason to worry about his eccentric son, who picked up sewing by watching his mother Elena, a seamstress, make clothes on the machine next to his bed and was partial to playing Conga drums around the neighborhoods in the Bronx and East Harlem the family called home.

“I was always the artist in the group,” Vega said. “It came from watching my mother sew, watching my sister do bead work. It was just monkey see, monkey do.”

Papa need not have worried.

Manny Vega was gifted.

Better still, people recognized the kid’s gifts.

His High School for Art and Design teacher, Marshall Davis, tracked down Vega in the hallway, while the student was cutting his printmaking class, and dragged him back.

“He said, ‘Manny, there are a lot of artist who don’t have the spark that you have,’” Vega said. “‘You gotta know that you have it. Technique is technique, but the spark is what we live for. So please, don’t cut my class.’

“That was the first time I think in my life I felt an acknowledgment,” he said.

It happened again when Vega, living a “gypsy lifestyle” among the emerging East Harlem art and music scene in the mid 1970s, came across a white guy, Hank Prussing, standing high on a ladder on 104th St., creating his famous mural called “The Spirit of East Harlem.”

“I yelled up at him that he should let me help him with that,” Vega said. “He came down the ladder and asked me if I knew how to hold a paint brush. I said sure, and next thing I was up the ladder, too.”

Vega, 56, has since created dozens of murals and mosaic murals in public and private spaces throughout the city, most notably at the Pregones Theater in the Bronx, at the 110th St. subway station and on E. 106th St. between Lexington and Third Aves.

The community group originally asked him to paint the mural of Julia De Burgos, the famed Puerto Rican educator and activist, and budgeted about $1,000 for it, Vega said. He instead proposed the now-iconic mosaic mural, and suggested they solicit public donations toward a $20,000 budget.

“I said, ‘Let’s create a campaign and pass the hat around,’” he said. “We came up with the money like that, because the community wanted it.”

Last month an East Harlem group announced that Vega would create a memorial mural for the late Puerto Rican educator and ASPIRA founder Dr. Antonia Pantoja. The final location for Pantoja’s mural is still being determined, but Vega created a limited-edition engraving of Pantoja, which he will sell to raise money toward the estimated $100,000 project.

“What I love about Dr. Antonia was that she considered herself a Puerto Rican New Yorker, and that that configuration is a unique, special one which merits recognition,” Vega said. “This image of Antonia is going to influence a whole new generation of young folks in what it means to be a community activist, to be a person of service.

“That image has to be perpetuated, because it is also a legacy of our humanity.”

A sculptor, painter, illustrator, printmaker, costume and set designer, Vega is also a highly sought instructor who has taught at El Museo del Barrio, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the American Museum of Natural History and the Caribbean Cultural Center.

Influences on Vega’s work are myriad, but none more pronounced than Candomblé, the Afro-Brazilian religion he has followed since a 1984 visit to a temple in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, and his late wife, Ana Araiz, a latin music promoter who died of brain cancer in 2001. Vega slips a crab, Araiz’s astrological sign, into much of his work in memorial to her.

He created a colorful mosaic mural of her, which keeps watch over his studio work space.

“I was born for this,” said Vega, noting that he doesn’t plan to slow down anytime soon. “Hard work, for me, is what I pray for. Hard work is the biggest blessing in my life, because hard work has presented limits for me to shatter.

“Hard work has made it possible for me to recognize how I have been a contributor,” he added. “Not just be the person in the audience being entertained, but that I can take what comes to me and recycle it.

“It’s important to me that people recognize that. That they can contribute. I always say, did you ask yourself?

“Then how you gonna know?”

crichardson@nydailynews.com

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/uptown/manny-can-do-legendary-painter-plans-newest-mural-article-1.1251626#ixzz2KR3tcmeh

Theater at East Harlem’s Julia de Burgos Cultural Center Gets New Operator

Taller Boricua co-founder Fernando Salicrup outside the Julia de Burgos Latino Cultural Center.

HARLEM—The city’s Economic Development Corporation picked two local East Harlem groups and a national Latino organization to operate an underutilized theater at the Julia de Burgos Latino Cultural Center.

The Julio de Burgos Arts Alliance will be comprised of the East River North Renewal, which hosts live music and domino tournaments at La Marqueta; Los Pleneros de la 21, a performing arts group that already rents space at the center; and the national organization, The Hispanic Federation, which provides grants to Latino nonprofits.

The groups will reactivate the 2,800-square-foot theater and multi-purpose space at the center, located at East 106th Street and Lexington Avenue, by providing programming and opening the space up for use by community groups, EDC President Seth Pinsky told DNAinfo on Monday.

“What we ended up with will be a huge benefit to East Harlem,” Pinksy said. “Upper Manhattan and East Harlem has a vibrant cultural scene. The fact that this theater was dark for a long period is unfortunate. The community is excited.”

The new consortium will provide 1,700 hours of programming at the center during the first year, including more than 700 hours in the theater space.

The announcement comes a year after a controversial decision by EDC to not renew the lease on the space with Taller Boricua, which translates to “Puerto Rican Workshop.”

The beloved 40-year-old arts organization was not fully utilizing the space and did not have clear guidelines for renting the space out to community groups, said East Harlem Councilwoman Melissa Mark Viverito.

Taller Boricua founders Fernando Salicrup and Nitza Tufiño said the loss of the space would crush the organization.

They still maintain space in the cultural center.

However, the theater needs hundreds of thousands of dollars in repairs such as soundproofing. That was one of the reasons it was not always programmed, Salicrup and Tufiño said.

They also said they charged groups based on what the organizations could afford to pay, but they had to cover $50,000 per year in rent to the city and $20,000 in insurance costs.

Members of Community Board 11 and other local leaders criticized the EDC’s process, saying Taller Boricua was not given a chance to explain the situation or make any changes.

“It’s really clear that it was an undemocratic and untransparent process that reflects politics as usual,” said Marina Ortiz, founder of East Harlem Preservation, a neighborhood advocacy group.

She was also concerned that the involvement of a national organization, the Hispanic Federation, removed the influence of local groups such as Taller Boricua which fought for the Julia de Burgos Cultural Center to be created for the community.

“With La Marqueta, 125th Street, East River Plaza and the Corn Exchange we have huge parcels of land being turned over to outside entities. Our community is being parceled out bit by bit,” said Ortiz.

Mark-Viverito disagreed with the assesment about Taller Boricua being left out.

“The leadership of Taller Boricua never reached out to me as a local elected official to seek assistance — financial or otherwise — at any point along the way in this process or prior to this process being initiated,” she said.

Taller Boricua was also free to respond to EDC’s proposal request, said Mark-Viverito.

“I believe that the consortium selected has a fantastic proposal, including a strong community access plan, that will ensure that this building becomes the vibrant, active cultural space it was always meant to be,” said Mark-Viverito.

She said the Hispanic Federation will provide a “solid organizational base” for the effort as it has done with other ventures. The Hispanic Federation helped to launch the Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance in 2007.

“The Federation has stepped up to help incubate this alliance and provide technical assistance, as it’s done for many other ventures in our communities,” said Mark-Viverito. “I believe this is a model that will work and will provide a strong foundation on which to build to ensure the future viability of the Julia de Burgos Latino Cultural Center.”

Community Board 11 Chair Matthew Washington said in a statement he hopes the new agreement will “ensure that fair and equal access is granted to all potential users.”

Pinsky said the EDC worked closely with the community to gain their feedback during the selection process.

City capital funds will be made available to make repairs to the theater, said Pinsky. The new consortium will also be able to produce more revenue and reduce the gap between the center’s operating costs and the subsidy the city has to provide to cover the shortfall.

The group has agreed to a five-year lease with an option to renew for another five years.

Read more: http://www.dnainfo.com/20111121/harlem/theater-at-east-harlems-julia-de-burgos-cultural-center-gets-new-operator#ixzz1eUiskDhi

USA: Remembering Puerto Rican poet Julia de Burgos

USA — On July 5, 1953, in the early morning hours, two New York City police officers spotted a woman lying in the street near the corner of Fifth Avenue and 106 Street in East Harlem.

She died shortly after in Harlem Hospital of pneumonia. Because she had no identification on her, she was buried in Potter’s Field in New York City. That woman was later identified as award-winning Puerto Rican poet, Julia de Burgos. Family and friends had her body exhumed and repatriated.

Julia Constanza Burgos García was born on February 17, 1914 in the town of Carolina the eldest of thirteen children. Although her family’s poverty made it difficult for her to attend college, she persevered and graduated from the University of Puerto Rico with a two-year teaching certification in 1933.

She participated actively in both the feminist and nationalist movements on the island at the time. She worked as a teacher and journalist and published her poetry in local literary magazines.

Julia Constanza Burgos García

Her first collection of poetry Poema en veinte surcos (Poem in twenty furrows) published in 1938 explores themes of social justice and women’s rights. Included in this collection is one of her most well-known poems”Río Grande de Loíza” where she praises the landscape of the Island while remembering the legacy of conquest and slavery that marks Puerto Rico.

Canción de la verdad sencilla (Song of the Simple Truth), her second collection, published in 1939 won the Literary Prize from the Ateneo Puertorriqueño, the leading Puerto Rican cultural institution at the time.

On January 18, 1940, Julia de Burgos embarked on a journey to New York with no plans to return. She was twenty-five and an aspiring writer. She had been married and divorced.

“I want to be universal,” she exclaimed in a letter to her sister shortly after her arrival in New York. Six months after arriving, she moved to Cuba where she lived until 1942. She then returned to New York, but struggled to make a living as a writer because of racial, ethnic and linguistic discrimination.

She published her work in local Spanish-language newspapers, and worked as as editor of Pueblos Hispanos a New York-based newspaper that promoted many progressive social and political causes including Puerto Rican independence.

She was once again awarded the Literary Prize by the Ateneo Puertorriqueño in 1946 for her essay “Ser o no ser es la divisa” (“To Be or Not To Be Is the Motto”) where she advocates for Puerto Rican independence.

Her final collection of poetry El mar y tú (The Sea and You) contains poems that she wrote while in Cuba and New York and was published posthumously in 1954.

De Burgos was an ambitious and brilliant woman who worked diligently on two fronts — to establish herself as a writer of international acclaim and to eradicate injustice. Her feminist politics and her Afro-Antillean ideas allow us to read her as a precursor to contemporary U.S. Latina/o writers.

While it is rare for a poet to become a cultural icon, Julia de Burgos has evoked feelings of bonding and identification in Puerto Ricans and Latina/os in the United States for over half a century. She emerges as part of the tradition of resistance on the Island, and a champion for civil rights in the States.

Vanessa Perez Rosario is a professor of Latino Studies at The City University of New York, Brooklyn College. She also edited Hispanic Caribbean Literature of Migration: Narratives of Displacement, a collection of essays exploring the literary tradition of Caribbean Latino literature written in the U.S. beginning with José Martí and concluding with 2008 Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, Junot Díaz. Follow her on Twitter @VanessaYPerez