Flamboyan is working closely with twelve arts organizations on the island to preserve, amplify, and sustain the arts in Puerto Rico with an additional round of grantees to be announced this summer. This series will spotlight all twelve Arts Fund grantee organizations.
The workshop at Y no había luz is a place of magic. Its walls and corners are filled with creations, puppets and masks that you just can’t tear your eyes away from. Here, you feel like playing. You feel a pull to work with your hands and want to climb onto the stage to tell a story.
Y no había luz is a theater company founded in 2005 in Puerto Rico that provides communities a firsthand experience with visual and scenic arts through workshops, theater and other cultural offerings. Its mission is to provide interdisciplinary artistic experiences that awake sensibility, beauty, creativity, social conscience and solidarity in the public. Through their work in education, they have visited many districts across the island to give workshops on creation and use of masks and puppets made with papier-mâché and recycled materials, among other materials.
We have asked the team at Y no había luz to answer five questions about their work and the future of their organization. The team is comprised of seven founders and co-directors who met as students-Francisco Iglesias, Yussef Soto, Nami Helfeld, Yari Helfeld, Julio Morales, Carlos Torres and Pedro Bonilla. Read on to learn more about them.
What’s the story behind the creation of Y no había luz? What motivated you to found it?
We were brought together by friendship, a passion for theatre and a desire to help the world be a better place. Fourteen years later, we are still working together with the same mission. By creating our own original pieces, we have the opportunity to discover our own voice and to present who we are and what we carry inside us. We have been able to create an aesthetic vocabulary, an authentic way of creating a collective work practice that reinforces our ideas of social justice. With our work-which marries arts with education-we are always looking to provoke the public, to invite people to reflect, to awaken their creativity and to recover their capacity to be surprised by the simple things in life.
What are your main achievements?
For the past fourteen years, we have created a theater repertoire of original plays, art exhibitions, short films, documentaries, multiple workshops and, more recently, illustrated books.
Some of our main achievements and projects include our participation in the Santo Domingo Book Fair with the play El Centinela de Mangó (2019), the Circus of Absence exhibition, currently displayed at the National Museum of Puerto Rican Art and Culture in Chicago; our post-María community workshops in fourteen municipalities around the island (2017); our tour in Cuba as part of the 2017 Matanzas International Puppet Festival (2017 and 2015); our presentation at the Casals Festival along the Puerto Rico Symphonic Orchestra (2016); our artistic residence at the University of Puerto Rico (2015); the exhibition Y No Había Luz: A Ten Year Trajectory at the Puerto Rico Art Museum (2015); our participation at La Campechada in San Juan for the past six years; our artistic and administrative collaboration for the La Titeretada Festival for the past ten years and our trips to Chile, Cuba, Dominican Republic and the United States (New York, Vermont, Michigan and Gainesville), representing Puerto Rico.
What was the reality of your organization before receiving the Flamboyan Arts Fund grant?
Our organization has existed since 2005 and has worked consistently, but independently, with an uncertain annual budget supported by grants and profits from our offerings. The economic situation was precarious and what we needed the most was to solidify long term projects that could allow us to better plan the year and the goals we want to reach.
How are you using the funds you received?
We are using the funds to give workshops in communities, to take our play El Centinela de Mangó to several municipalities around the island and to cover some of our operational and administrative expenses.
What do you think about this collaboration between Flamboyan Foundation, Lin-Manuel Miranda, his family and the producers of Hamilton to create this Fund to support arts and culture in Puerto Rico?
This is a beautiful initiative that has yielded impressive results and that establishes a precedent of the importance of the arts to our history and culture. It invites arts organizations to plan in an innovative way and to come up with creative strategies for Puerto Rico’s cultural development.
For us, being part of the first round of grantees is a confirmation that our efforts and dedication have not been in vain; that our work has reached the public and the communities and has contributed to our country’s cultural body of work. Our only option is to work tirelessly, even in a country where artistic expression is being restricted more every day. It is encouraging to know that our diaspora is comprised of many Puerto Ricans with strong ties to the island, who are very conscious of the hardships we are facing and have the desire to support artists here who are creating projects of transformation.
Look out next week for another opportunity to meet a Flamboyan Arts Fund inaugural grantee! Learn more about the Arts Fund @ http://www.flamboyanartsfund.org.
Neeltje van Marrissing Méndez is the Senior Director of Communications in our Puerto Rico office. Learn more about her at https://flamboyanfoundation.org/team_members/neeltje-l-van-marrissing-mendez/.