In the fall of 2011, Casita Maria was awarded a prestigious Rockefeller Foundation Cultural Innovation Fund grant to partner with our Company-in-Residence, Dancing in the Streets, and launch a major effort—The South Bronx Culture Trail— to protect our community’s great cultural heritage and use it as a motor for future creative and economic development.
Our community has a remarkable history. During its heyday in the decades from the 1930s to the 1960s—as Mambo was transformed into the distinct New York Latin music of Salsa— the Bronx was a destination for culture. Even during the late 1960s and 1970s when the “Bronx was burning” the area had a remarkably resilient cultural life—giving birth to Hip Hop, Voguing, Fashion Moda and the Bronx Museum. But today, this history is at risk of being lost. Theaters have closed and become stores or simply been demolished. Performers have left the area and lost touch with the community. Music clubs are transitory and quickly forgotten. Old performers die without leaving any record of their work. Youth are unaware of the talent that has been birthed by their community.
With the launch of the Culture Trail we are beginning to arrest this loss of community memory. In our first year – a year of information gathering and celebration – we established a city-wide South Bronx Culture Trail Advisory Council, gathered stories of and sites marking the community’s cultural history and launched the Trail. The launch in April 2012 was a major musical performance featuring the South Bronx Culture Trail All Stars (composed of alumni of Casita and local artists) and GrandWizzard Theodore (another famous Casita alumnus), at our performing arts space. Since then we have hosted concerts, evenings of story-telling and many other events as well offering tours of the Trail, creating a cultural history map, and developing the project website. We have also developed a new presenting program for emerging Bronx based performers, which gives them rehearsal and performance space, a stipend, and significant technical support. In October 2012, the first stage of the Trail will come to full fruition with PASEO, a major site-specific performance and many other events inspired by the remarkable performers and artists who grew up and performed in our community.
Telling the story of the South Bronx’s cultural history has been one of the great adventures of the last years. Every week we hear about new talents that have emerged from our community. And the program has come to inspire almost all of our arts programming—which we hope you will enjoy with us over the coming months.