Clemente Cultural Center under Investigation

NiLP Commentary
Clemente Cultural Center Under Investigation
By Jose Ramon Sanchez, NiLP Board Chair
The NiLP Report (June 25, 2018)

Below is the NiLP response to a letter from the Clemente Cultural Center, in Loisaida, accusing NiLP of factual errors and misleading our readers. Our beloved President Angelo Falcon, may he rest in peace, issued a report to the NiLP Network on April 26, 2018 where he laid out that the Clemente appeared to be violating their mission and historic focus on Latino Cultural expression. The NiLP Board wishes to inform our readers of this controversy as well as respond to the disrespectful claims the Clemente Board made about Angelo. Please let others know about this issue. Angelo will be pleased. Gracias!
Dear Clemente Board Members
First, on behalf of our Board of Directors we thank you for your letter dated May 24, 2018 and distributed to elected officials and residents of The Clemente on June 11th, 2018. Interestingly, the letter is dated the same day of the passing of our beloved iconic president and founder of NiLP, Angelo Falcon. This letter should not be construed as an admission to the charges in your letter that NiLP’s  April 26th publication was «factually inaccurate and misleading to readers.»
We take this opportunity to set the record straight, as we see it.  In general, your letter actually confirms and admits that the Clemente center’s current leadership has grossly failed to include Latinos as members of the board and as key officers in administrating The Clemente. Angelo Falcon, like many key Latino leaders, knew about Clemente’s deep Latino history and mission.
We take particular offense to your letter’s intent to discredit NiLP’s integrity. Our NiLP Report is one of the nation’s most reputable online newsletter. Angelo Falcon was a numbers cruncher…one of the best in the country. The numbers at The Clemente speak for themselves. Your record on including Latinos is horrendous. You admit as much by your casual dismissal of this fact, in the letter, where you write «regardless of numerical representation.» While numbers are not everything, they do point to trends and your trend is moving downwards. They are on par with the city’s own poor record of including Latinos in the City’s cultural institutions. NiLP reported on this in many earlier publications. The City’s own Department of Cultural Affairs produced similarly poor numbers in their 2016 citywide survey:
«the city’s cultural workforce is 61.8 percent white and 35.4 percent people of color – Latinos constitute only 10.5 percent of that workforce   – while the city itself is 33 percent white and 67 percent people of color —whites comprise 74 percent of senior staff, 68 percent of mid-level staff, and 55 percent of lower-level staff.»
These numbers show that there is a lot of work to be done to provide Latinos with a more equitable access to cultural institutions in this city. But we expect an institution like The Clemente would have a much better record of Latino inclusion. This is particularly so since the center has a historical origin from within the Latino community and has a cultural mission dedicated to Latino culture. Your current leadership profile numbers, in particular, are indefensible
  1. 1.     At present the Chair, Vice Chair and three insiders sitting on the Board, are all non-Latinos, (with the exception of two recently recruited Latinas, which we applaud). There are NO Latinos in policy, nor in top decision-making positions.
  1. 2.     You did not mention in your letter whether you have a robust strategic plan for recruiting a Puerto /Rican Latino Executive Director and Latino Boardmembers, as was pointed out in the NiLP publication.
  1. 3.     In past months, your Board voted to outsource the mostly Latino maintenance staffand decided on a non-Latina insider Board member to «select which staff members would stay.»
  1. 4.     You stated that «While it is true that Latin American and Latinx artists are under-represented among our visual artists…It is also true that many of the artists were in the building before The Clemente organization was established in December, 1993.
FACTS: The late playwright, Ed Vega, and a core founder of the center invited many NYC artists to occupy rent subsidized studios that were then available in the already created Clemente Soto Velez Cultural & Educational Center. In addition, a handful of, then resident Empire State College students, were allowed to stay in the building.  Artists Alliance (AAI) member was one of those students, as confirmed by one LES former professor. AAI was founded in 1999. Though invited as residents, the group did later, in a well published controversy, illegally seize multiple studios managed by The Clemente. it’s legal lease holder and managers. The Clemente, in a lawsuit brought against the center by AAI, established the Center as legal lease holder in a court settlement. Did AAI comply with the court settlement? Did the Clemente Board hold them accountable?
  1. 5.     How many Latino performing arts groups, visual artists and organizations, currently occupy the multiple rent subsidized areas in the building? Are these residents mission driven? How many Latinos do you have as administrators?
  1. 6.    Why were The Clemente’s Puerto Ricans/Latinos performing artists companies, with deeply rooted connections to Puerto Rico and the Latino community, circumvented and not consulted regarding the privatization of the Flamboyant?  Instead, and according to our community resources, non-Latinos now guide the agenda, specifically AAI. The truth is, as pointed out in your own letter, that….colonialism has come to The Clemente?!
  1. 7.     «AAI is a not-for-profit visual arts organization operating in the building for almost 20 years, a residency program at The Clemente that focuses exclusively on artists from Puerto Rico and Latin America».  AAI’s history, mission statement and own website do not support your statement. Its mission, membership and Advisory Board are overwhelmingly non-Latinos and not «exclusively focused» on artists from Puerto Rico.
Additionally, it’s important to note that the request for «oversight «by city officials and the Department of Cultural Affairs, was initiated by Latinos and not by the current Board’s leadership, as your letter infers.
Where then are the misleading and inaccuracies in NiLP’s April 26 publication?!
What «unprecedented steps» in transparency have you taken when Latinos are not included in the established circle of friends and as stakeholders in important conversations and decisions? Are they being consulted after the fact? As we say in the island «mas claro no canta un gallo.»
Substantial public and private funding, mostly raised under its Latino leadership, has been invested in this valuable real estate property in the city.  For decades, The Clemente and its Puerto Rican/Latino leadership has faithfully executed its mission of inclusion. This Board’s vision for the center is myopic and appears to be based on the promise of LES gentrification, despite the fact that the city’s Latino population has grown.
Lastly, we take this public opportunity to thank Manhattan Borough President Gail Brewer and her staff for their leadership, and to Council-members Carlina Rivera and Margaret Chin for their support on behalf of The Clemente.
We respectfully urge Mayor de Blasio’s appointee Tom Finkelpearl, Commissioner, Department of Cultural Affairs, to follow these elected officials’ example and respond, according to the powers invested in his office, to these outrageous developments at Clemente.
Dr. Jose R. Sanchez

Chair, NiLP Board of Directors

Jose R. Sanchez is a professor of Political Science at LIU Brooklyn. He is also Chair of the Board of the National Institute for Latino Policy. He can be reached at

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