Elsa Mosquera: Creating Artistic Spaces for Latinx Talent
Our Arts Program is an integral part of our community and our organization. With Villa Victoria Center for the Arts being the largest Latino Arts Center in all of New England, Arts Director Elsa Mosquera is responsible for sourcing Latinx talent from all over the world. Dedicated to diversifying the city of Boston and providing spaces for artists of all backgrounds, she is a true trailblazer in her field. We sat down with Elsa not only to highlight her work with IBA, but also her mission as a woman in the arts.
What art form are you most passionate about and how is that reflected in IBA’s programming?
Elsa Mosquera: I’m definitely most passionate about musical performances. I feel music just gets people together in one way or another, and we have so much talent among our Latino artists. But at the end, I know how important it is to have our visual artists represented, to have dancers represented, to feature writers. Music is the form I enjoy the most, but I understand the importance of representing all of them.
How are the artists featured in IBA’s venues selected?
EM: I don’t work alone, although 80% of the artists we bring in are my connections. I’ve been working in Latino arts and culture for 30 years now. I’ve worked in Puerto Rico, I’m also Colombian. Of course after so many years, I’ve come to know many people and have met many artists I admire who are pertinent to this community. We’ve also built new relationships with artists through partnerships in Boston. Through those partners, I’ve brought amazing artists like Pablo Ziegler, who I crossed paths with through Harvard. And he just won a Grammy! So really, selection comes down to many years of experience in the arts with the opportunities that our partners present.
Tell us about the importance of giving Latinx artists a space to showcase their art.
EM: I can give you many reasons why that is important to me, but first and foremost, that is the mission of the program! I feel having someone like myself who is so passionate about giving Latinx artists that space is what makes me a perfect match. This city is very white. I don’t mean that in a bad way, but it’s a fact. Somehow, it’s taking a bit of time to understand the diversity in this city. We know for a fact that the Latino community in the city is increasing, and that 1 out of 5 people are Latino. The city definitely needs a place to showcase those voices and to give them the opportunity to present their talent and their work. Also, after a study, the city of Boston reflected that it was the worst city in the United States for Latinos. That is absolutely horrible! How can a city that is so progressive be the worst for Latinos?! That means that I have to work ten times as hard to make sure that those voices are heard because they need representation, they need to tell why they suffer, why they laugh, why they love, and everything that is important to our people. I think that’s one of the most important things that we’re doing here at the Arts Program.
Why is important to make arts accessible in affordable housing communities?
EM: We’re building bridges with our residents and our community. I feel the Arts Program really can connect people through art forms—through music, through theatre, through dance–because that language is understood by everyone. We just build it through different cultures to come together for a specific moment and share it.
What challenges do you think women artists run into in Boston, and how does IBA work to support & empower Latina artists specifically?
EM: I mentioned previously how difficult it is for Latinos in this city, and obviously with women, everything is twice as hard. One of the things I’m doing next year is putting together a calendar that will be called “Mujeres en Focus” spotlighting Latina artists in Boston. I’m going to try to dedicate our calendar to women artists because I was looking at my calendars and I just realized how many more men I was bringing, but I wasn’t conscious of it. Women need more voices. Their issues are different from men and we need to give them the opportunity to present that. They have common issues as Latinas, but separate issues as women, and for Latina Women, Afro-Latina women, things are even worse. I want to increase female voices, I want IBA to be a venue that opens the door for those artists and to consciously bring more women to the Arts Program.
How has the Arts Program at IBA changed in the past 50 years?
EM: I have to say that this program has a long tradition of bringing magnificent Puerto Rican artists. It’s been a program that is aware of its heritage, of its roots, and doing the work for the community. I feel with the vision I have for the program now, based on how its changed during the time I’ve been here, I feel that it’s important to broaden our artistic offers outside of the community. In the beginning it was more internal, like arts that focused towards our community, and I feel that now we can concentrate on our community while still building bridges outside.
What do you hope for Boston’s artistic landscape as a whole in the next 50 years?
EM: I’m looking forward to diversity. Having our people in Boston—not only our Latino audiences, but everyone in Boston—acknowledge the importance of diversity. I feel there is so much European art here that is traditional, classical–without that being bad–but I think that embracing more diversity in the arts with different forms, different heritages. That’s what I hope to see in the next 50 years. A city that can be compared to the artistic offers of New York where anyone can come and be appreciated.
What is the most rewarding part of your job as Director of the Arts Programs at IBA?
EM: I adore what I do. I think that’s something that everyone can see. I truly feel privileged and honored to be leading the most important Latino Arts Center in New England. There’s nothing more that I could wish for. Sometimes I think about going to another city with more recognition, but then I realize that’s not who I am or how I dream. I dream in Spanish, I dream within my culture. To be able to offer that to this city and present this talent is a dream come true.
Who is a female artist you admire?
EM: I’ve been in publishing my whole life, so of course I simply adore women writers. At some point in my life, poetry was a way to escape, to have fun. It just filled me so much. The women poets I admire the most are all dead now, but I so wish they were alive to present their poetry here. There is so much talent, so many talented women, it’s tough to choose just one!
Who is your dream artist to bring to IBA?
EM: I mean can you imagine presenting the movies of Salma Hayek? Imagine bringing JLo to Festival Betances! Or having a concert with Shakira! Not only have those women become icons, but they’re really using their artistic personas to do good, so I would love to bring them here.
To see some of Elsa’s contributions come to life, buy tickets to IBA’s upcoming show featuring Teatro Breve. This Puerto Rican, all female comedy troupe will perform on April 21 at 8pm.