How Staying Free From Corporate Funding Helps R.Evolución Latina Work Around The World

Originally published on Forbes.com
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When asked about the future of R.Evolución Latina, founder and director Luis Salgado answered without hesitation: His plan for the organization he helped to create is for it to no longer need to exist.

“That should be the dream of every nonprofit – that we will fill this gap in such a way that we’re no longer needed,” he explained. “That’s the basic of why we’re a nonprofit. The sad part is it’s not real. There will always be a need.”

The need for R.Evolución Latina, a non-profit arts organization is dedicated to empowering the Latino community through educational and collaborative artistic programming, is apparent – especially in the present-day political and artistic environment. It was first founded in 2008, following the Broadway premiere of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights, in which Salgado performed in the ensemble and was the Latin Assistant Choreographer. Performing in one of the first major Broadway musicals since West Side Story to feature majority of Latin-American performers in its cast, Salgado began conducting interviews with the musical’s cast members and posting them online. They then attracted the interest of Broadway Cares, a nonprofit AIDS fundraising and grant-making organizations dedicated to helping those suffering from HIV and AIDS.

Co-founded by dancer and performer Gabriela García with Salgado, R.Evolución Latina’s leadership also includes co-artistic director Heather Hogan, who currently works as the back-up stage manager at Hamilton. The organization quickly began attracting more attention and interest, partnering with Nike and Antonio Banderas and producing “Dare to Go Beyond,” an album featuring original works written and recorded by R.Evolución Latina activists. It established a cultural exchange when presenting the Choreographers Festival, a dance show focused that featured nine choreographers from different backgrounds along with the D1 Dance Company from Peru. The organization also established the D2GB Children’s Performing Arts Camp, a free week-long program featuring classes taught by Broadway talents, and presented the new musical Amigo Duende at El Museo del Barrio.

R.Evolución Latina began expanding beyond New York, engaging collaborations to Spain, The Dominican Republic, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Puerto Rico and cities throughout the U.S. The organization is currently working on its Beyond Workshop Series, a performing arts training program free for pre-professional artists that is creating “To Be Or Not To Be – A Shakespearean Experience,” a program devised around Hamlet’s famous monologue and life as an immigrant in the United States. Presented in collaboration with The Public Theater’s Ian Hersey and Siti Company’s Leon Ingulsrud, it draws inspiration from Raul Julia, one of the first Latinos to star in classic Shakespearean work at  The Public Theater.

Employing an independent approach to fundraising, R.Evolución Latina accepts donations from its community of supporters and asks participants to assist with fundraising as well – a skill Executive Director Denisse Ambert considers her responsibility to teach and share with members of her community.

The organization began fundraising in 2013, working with only the resources provided by Broadway Cares for its first five years. As R.Evolución Latina has grown, it has continued to remain independent from sponsorship, choosing to employ grassroots techniques and community activities like dance-a-thons to further its actions rather than be caught in bureaucratic red tape. When discussing the amount of time grant applications often require, Ambert said, “For us, and for who we are – we feel we don’t need to invest the time into this. We need to get into the action, which is the work and the fun that we have. We really like our organization is created, too. We want to share our hearts. We want to share who we are. We’re not doing this because want to make money out of it. We want to raise $10 and put $10 in action.”

The freedom to create also comes from this lack sponsorship, Ambert said, adding that because R.Evolución Latina is not beholden to any corporations, they “are committed to fulfill the purpose of our mission which is to empower communities to discover their full potential.”

“We do what we want to do because people are supporting us,” she said. “We are really happy to say we don’t have a sponsor. Just the people who believe in what we do. That gives us flexibility.”

The independent funding also releases R.Evolución Latina from the threat of losing its resources. President Donald Trump’s threats to eliminate funding National Endowment for the struck panic in many organizations that feared damage to their budgets. (In the new bill recently passed by Congress and signed by Trump, the NEA’s funding was actually increased.)

Trump’s attempts to strip the NEA of its funding is just one of the dangers the President poses to R.Evolución Latina’s community. Trump’s plan for a border wall and divisive immigration policies have served as motivation for the organization to be more determined than ever to share their voices.

“We have to counter-arrest what’s going on, in the way we know how to, through the arts,” Salgado said. “Where our government’s mentality is to make walls, our job is to make bridges, to build bridges. That’s why we have all these people here. Otherwise, under Trump’s administration, the idea of coming to the United States is a bigger impossible task. Through their own passion, their own voice, their own truth, they get to grow in the American Dream which is such a fantastic dream.”

This focus is apparent in R.Evolución Latina’s response to the disaster wreaked in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria – a disastrous event that received a flippant response from the President. Through R.Evolución Latina’s children’s camp, Salgado intends to employ local artists to contribute to the country’s economic recovery.

“The hurricane comes to Puerto Rico and suddenly art becomes one of the most powerful tools we have to empower these communities that are lacking emotional support at the moment – that are going through the stress effects of having lost water and light and housing and the semester in school, their work, their family. How do we tackle those conversations?” Salgado asked. “Through art. Let’s write a song. Let’s make a poem. Let’s make music together and recycle the garbage around our neighborhood and use that garbage to make art.”

The next step, he hopes, is to bring D2GB Children’s Performing Arts Camp to Puerto Rico, introducing funding and hiring local artists to teach classes.

“We are not a huge organization, so it’s not plan A, B, C, a five-year plan so we can’t get out of this. We can really move where the need is needed,” Ambert said. “It’s been ten years, and the good thing is that every year we feel, ‘Where do we want to go?’ The experiences that we get to live shape what R.Evolución Latina’s going to do next. It’s a very organic kind of organization.”

For more information visit R.Evolución Latina online.

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