The death of Myrna Salazar, cofounder and executive director of the Chicago Latino Theater Alliance (CLATA), in August, a month before the fifth annual Destinos: Chicago International Latino Theater Festival kicked off, was a huge blow to the performing arts community, including Jorge Valdivia, who worked closely with Salazar and CLATA in his role as director of performing arts for the National Museum of Mexican Art (NMMA). Now Valdivia can both honor Salazar’s vision and bring his own ideas to the table: last week, CLATA announced that he was taking over as executive director.
The museum was one of the founding partners for CLATA, so in a sense, it’s a sort of homecoming for Valdivia, who also curated the annual Sor Juana Festival at NMMA (named in honor of the 17th-century Mexican nun, poet, playwright, and mathematician). He notes, “Both the National Museum of Mexican Art and the Chicago Latino Theater Alliance have always worked in close proximity to one another. And we’ve always felt it’s like family, like they were our cousins.” He adds, “Myrna was a legend and I had such high respect for her—for her professionalism, and for her ambition, and for her being a woman, and sometimes being the only woman at the table and demanding the respect that she deserved.”
According to CLATA’s director of communications Sara Carranza, this year’s Destinos “outpaced last year’s attendance.” (Two shows from the festival, Ricardo Gamboa’s Wizardsand Nancy García Loza’s Bull, finish their runs this weekend.) So that’s a good place to be as Valdivia prepares to take over. He officially assumes the role in January, but says, “There’s so much that needs to be addressed now,” including preliminary planning for next year’s Destinos. I mention that Marty Castro, CLATA’s board president, told me in August that one of the last conversations he had with Salazar was on the subject of acquiring an arts center.
Valdivia says, “When they asked me to take on this role, one of the things that came up in the conversation was—and this is something that I’ve always understood—I’ve always known that the goal was to have a space in downtown Chicago. It was really important in terms of visibility. I fully understood that.”
That goal is still on the table for discussion, but Valdivia also highlights the importance of building better networks year-round for supporting Chicago Latinx companies that are working in communities throughout the city, like Teatro Tariakuri in Marquette Park, UrbanTheater Company in Humboldt Park (which is about to embark on a capital campaign for its move to a new 99-seat venue in the Nancy Y. Franco Maldonado Paseo Boricua Arts Building), and Aguijón Theater (the oldest Latinx company in the city) in Belmont Cragin.
“I think we can do both. The fact that [a new CLATA center] would be centrally located doesn’t mean that we have to stop investing in or supporting the theater that is happening in different communities throughout Chicago. Because without theater there, there is no theater downtown,” says Valdivia. “It’s how CLATA started and it is also such a core part of its mission. It is not just about bringing theater to downtown. And it’s not just about elevating the presence of Latino theater, but it’s also about making sure that theater is accessible to our communities for people that look like us.”
One of the other areas that Valdivia is interested in exploring with CLATA is the possibility of creating or fostering more work that can tour outside of Chicago, in addition to bringing in shows from outside the U.S., as Destinos routinely does.
“I’m putting on my hat as someone who’s worked in the museum field for quite some time, where I’m sitting on committees where we have these conversations around programming that complements and travels with an exhibition. Is there a possibility where CLATA members can develop or adapt work so it can travel more easily?”
Valdivia continues,”I don’t like the term master class, I really hate it, but maybe we can offer workshops that help professionals, whether they be playwrights or directors, to sort of gain a different perspective and help them further develop their skill sets. It’s not to say that they’re not already doing that on their own because they are. Honestly, I have seen a fire in every single, [CLATA] group here in Chicago this year. And it’s been amazing. I think we can give them an opportunity to sort of sit down with someone who’s put a play together from beginning to end and have them learn early on how to make a play adaptable to travel.
“We just want them to continue focusing on the work that they’re producing and the different playwrights that they’re working so hard to bring to the stages. And if we can work out ways to help support them around all that and help elevate that work, that’s how we’re able to complement one another.”
3Arts, the nonprofit that makes annual awards recognizing “Chicago’s women artists, artists of color, and Deaf and disabled artists who work in the performing, teaching, and visual arts,” presented this year’s awards in a ceremony on November 7. The honorees included dance artists Winifred Haun and Sarita Smith Childs, UrbanTheater Company artistic director Miranda González, and playwright Omar Abbas Salem (whose comedy Mosque4Mosque opens this weekend with About Face Theatre). Each received $30,000.
There were also theater and dance artists represented in the 3Arts Make a Wave program, an artist-to-artist grant in which a previous recipient of the 3Arts Award selects someone to receive $4,000 in support of their work. This year’s Make a Wave recipients included playwright, actor, and director Terry Guest (The Magnolia Ballet, Marie Antoinette and the Magical Negroes); singer, songwriter, director, and educator Maggie Brown; storyteller, singer, and multidisciplinary teaching artist Zahra Glenda Baker; dancer and educator Elisabeth YJ Seonwoo aka Kerberus; and actor, director, choreographer, and playwright Wai Yim (a cofounder of Token Theatre, which is presenting When the Sun Melts Away this weekend at the Greenhouse Theater Center).