BY Crystal Rodriguez
At 6.p.m. the crowd settled in to Latin Brazilian Jazz by Annette Aguilar and the StringBeans.
Executive Director, Marc Harding, of The Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center, welcomed the crowd by exclaiming how proud Malcolm X and Dr. Shabazz would be to see the community coming together as it did yesterday.
Sandra A. Garcia-Betancourt the executive director and CEO of NoMAA extended her welcome on behalf of NoMAA. “This is amazing, four years ago we (NoMAA) launched the Arts Stroll right here in this center,” said Betancourt.
Four years ago the original artists that started the Uptown Art Stroll passed the torch to NoMAA to continue the support and promotion of uptown artists.
Sandra laughs, “ We are hot!” and she was right. Since NoMAA took over, the month long event has ignited. In 2008 “people were able to enjoy 50 to 60 art activities in our neighborhood. In 2009 about 80 events – Last year we offered 110 events. We have scheduled over 114 events this year!” said Betancourt.
“I’m pleased to see you all here celebrating art in our community” said Betancourt “…this means we are growing and appreciating the arts more then ever before!” this brought the crowd to a roar of cheers.
The Executive Director of the JP Foundation, Laura Acosta announced the 12th annual Carnaval Del Boulevard. This is the first year The Juan Pablo Duarte Foundation will join the Art Stroll and is scheduled to take place this Saturday, June 4th.
The host, Paola Soto, with an “Ay yo” and “ ‘ight” introduced NoMAA chairperson Zead Ramadan. Ramadan kept it short and to the point “ This is to honor the art and the artist”. Senator Adriano Espaillat, the next speaker, said that the art community in Uptown Manhattan has become a driving force in New York’s economic engine.
It came time to present the awards… Gayle Jennings- O’Byrne the vice president of the J.P. Morgan Chase Foundation, introduced honoree Film Director and Writer, Rashaad Ernesto Green. “He represents why we support the arts, why the city and state supports the arts, and why you and everyone in this room supports the arts”. Said O’Byrne as she handed the award to Green.
After a sneak peek into Green’s movie Gun Hill Road, in theatres August 5th, Ramadan introduced our next honoree. “She has blown us away,” said Ramadan about the talented artistic director of Underworld productions Opera, Gina Crusco. “We find diamonds, “ continues Ramadan “not in the ruff, diamonds that are already processed and refined”.
Acosta introduced the last honoree, Manny Perez. “Manny, que te digo” began Acosta “ …He is the pride and joy of the Dominican Community…one of the most recognizable Latin actors in Hollywood.” Acosta congratulates Perez on his newest film La Soga and how he has managed to hold onto his roots. “No es poca la cosa” ends Acosta as she embraces Perez.
“ I got my first pair of shoes when I was 5 years old…at 18 I lived in 189th street” said Perez “What I know is Washington Heights! So I’m going to write about my culture”. The crowd breaks into a chorus of cheers and applause.
Perez then looks out into the crowd “ I want to say this to the future generations…if you can dream it, it can happen – why not!” The crowd stands in applause as Perez exclaims, “I am a product of this neighborhood…Palante!”
“This is a great opening ceremony for the 9th year of Art Stroll” said Councilman Robert Jackson.
The evening ends with dance performances by Dali Aqui and Comparsa G. Outside of the center, as far as St. Nicholas Avenue, murmurs of excitement could still be heard on what is in store at this year’s Art Stroll.
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