Puerto Rican Institute for the Development of the Arts (PRIDA)

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Puerto Rican Institute for the Development of the Arts

Expressions: A Collection of Work by Puerto Rican Artists


“Artist Everyone Should Know”

Eugene Rodriguez /Gladys Rosas-LaFrossia / Felipe Rangel / Rafy Velez / Olga Ayala 

Eugene Rodriguez – PRIDA Artist of the Month

by Clara Galvano Rivera (posted December 2021)

Eugene Rodriguez, our PRIDA Artist of the Month, likes to refer to himself as “The Chairman Emeritus of Community Board 11” and laughs when he explains that he’s the only one who ever says that! An award-winning playwright, poet and performer, he never learned to speak Spanish at home. “My father said that the Spanish were horrible to our Taino ancestors and he didn’t want to speak their language, so we didn’t. I actually learned Spanish on 116th Street!”
After graduating from Aviation H.S., Rodriguez, joined the Navy. A Vietnam Veteran, he shares “I was there 3 years, 11 months, and 10 days — I couldn’t wait to get out, they didn’t treat me right,” he looked around for employment and found it as an air traffic controller. “The job is very stressful. You have to stand up to see where the planes are going, control This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is eugene-rodriguez.jpgthe local area, pay attention to what’s coming and going. That’s why the towers have glass walls. It’s a serious job. People’s lives depend on you doing your job accurately.” After being there for 11 years, he and his colleagues, all 11,345 went on strike. Having asked for better wages and working conditions, President Regan refused their requests and fired the whole bunch and banned them from federal service for life. So now what?
“I always wanted to write,” Rodriguez says “I didn’t want to pay for classes, and I had heard that Miriam Colon’s Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre was offering a free playwrights program. I signed up, took them and I became one! I never thought of myself as a playwright, until then.” Rodriguez was a member of the Puerto Rico Traveling Theatre’s (PRTT) Professional Playwrights Workshop for 10 years and has had more than 20 plays produced and shown in various off-Broadway and off-off Broadway theatres.
His play, “Mambo Louie & The Dancing Machine” was produced by PRTT and received rave reviews. “Mambo Louie was the first time that mambo music had been used in a play; we had some really good music in there.” This play was really a tribute to a guy that was a regular at the Corso Nightclub. “Louie Maquina era un negrito alto y cuando empazaba a bailar, everyone would circle around him to watch. He had some amazing moves, man!”
Rodriguez is a man who gets things done. He’s responsible for making “El Barrio” the legal official name of, well, El Barrio! Now he has his eyes set on creating a Theatre District there. As Chairman of The El Barrio Theatre Group, he produced “La Mariposa” at The Julia de Burgos Cultural Center and again at Artspace PS 109, and “The Mambo Café” in the Black Box Theatre at El Museo del Barrio. “We have at least six or seven small gems in the area that could be used for plays. What we need is foot traffic. After a production, people like to go out for drinks, dinner and this can bring millions into the local economy. El Barrio can be a Cultural District and there are plenty of people in the neighborhood that can be hired to work the lights, do the mechanical stuff, etc. We can take many off the streets and train them and give them decent paying jobs. We produce the same way Broadway produces their plays, nothing different. We just need the opportunity.” PRIDA has gone full speed ahead in support of these efforts. They have succeeded in renaming the theatre at the Julia de Burgos Latino Culture Center, “The Miriam Colon Valle Playhouse”. Official renaming will take place soon.
Rodriguez talks about one dark spot in his life. After leaving the air traffic controller gig, he had a recurring nightmare where planes were not “listening” to his instructions. One mistake can cause an accident and take many lives. He wrote A Stormy Night, about his time in the tower. Eventually he found a way to stop those nightmares and it’s something
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he shares with veterans every time he speaks to a group. “Write it down and put your heart into it. Then, get a bag and either burn the pages or bury them in a bag and put it away. Eventually, the trauma will lessen and disappear from your life. It did for me.”
Happily married to his wife, Linda for 45 years, they live in a brownstone that had been abandoned and which they have restored back to life (he calls the brownstone La Mariposa). I am sure their three kids all helped in one way or another back then, but Rodriguez’s mechanics training at Aviation helped him then, and continues to keep him busy. “I’m still working on it.” “With six healthy grandchildren visiting constantly, he doesn’t have time to stop. “My grandkids are my biggest happiness.”
There is one other thing on Rodriguez’ mind. He thinks theatres in El Barrio should be named after Puerto Rican actors. For instance, the theater at El Museo del Barrio could be named the Rita Moreno Theatre, or the Raul Julia Theatre or the José Ferrer Theater. “These are just suggestions, but it does make sense, you want to see names on the marquee that represents your people.” Stay tuned to see what this prolific Nuyorican playwright has his sights on next. It could be something called “East Side Story”, details not available at this writing, but stay tuned.

Contact info: eugenius442@earthlink.net


Gladys Rosas-LaFrossia

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December 2021
Gladys Rosas-LaFrossia is a mixed media artist and art teacher at the NYC Department of Education in The Bronx, where she was raised and still lives. Her father is from Colombia, her mother from Quebradillas, P.R. known as La Guarida del Pirata, or pirate’s hangout, as it borders the Atlantic Ocean.  “I was mostly raised with the Puerto Rican culture because I visited the island almost every year until I was 18. We have a very large family there.”
The love she has for Puerto Rican culture is revealed in original works like Tres MujeresLa Resistencia and others.  Rosas-LaFrossia shares “I was always drawing. Being part of the Head Start Program was so great.  I was painting and drawing every single day. I would bring my artwork home and my parents would post it up on the wall.  That gave me a sense of validation.”
At Lehman College, she took a minor in Education because her father wanted her to have something to “fall back on” if work as an artist became scarce.  He was right. “I was really glad I listened to him, because in the 90’s the city cut out all the art programs in the schools and I could not get a job.”  What to do? Our Artist of the Month began teaching at private schools. “I always injected Art projects at the private schools, but it wasn’t an official art class.  I was licensed and ready to teach art after college, but that’s when the Arts were cut and it took me 10 years to find a job teaching art. I have now been teaching art for 15 years in the public school system.
On June 8th, PRIDAVision presented “Printmaker Artists Talk” and Rosas-LaFrossia, was one of the artists featured.  When asked whether social injustice inspired her body of work, she responded by saying she didn’t think the whole category or genre of her work was political, but did think that reflecting the social issues of the times was important.   Resistencia, for instance, is a work she created for the 2019 Comite Noviembre Artisan Fair, and reflects her reaction to the protests that sprung up in Puerto Rico that ousted then-Governor Ricky Rosello.  She saw people coming together with passion, joy and exuberance and that inspired her.   Here is a link to this excellent interview that features other amazing PRIDA artists. Please, don’t miss it!:  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fM9WgJEgC_A 
Rosas-LaFrossia became interested in printmaking through her graduate program at Lehman College.  “I fell in love with printmaking when I took a graduate class at Lehman College. My professors (Melissa Brown and John Vasquez Mejias) introduced us to screen printing and woodcarving. They taught us about revolutionary art posters, artwork by Kathë Kollwitz, Jose Posada, Shepard Fairy. Their love of the medium and excitement teaching it brought out the best in me. I was never really a painter, not really a sculptor… I could do those things, but they were not my strengths. I have always loved drawing, but printmaking seems to bring out my best, and I feel it works so well with my style. I guess I love the involvement of the process because I am very thorough… it becomes a therapy to me. I like to sit and listen to music or talk on the phone while I create and prepare. I think I enjoy the carving more than the printing… kind of hard to decide.!!” In speaking with Rosas-LaFrossia, she mentioned that certain woods are not very forgiving and after a while she needs to stop to rest her hand, but it’s all worth it in the end when a beautiful piece of art emerges.
Printmaking does have an illustrious history and some Puerto Ricans have excelled in it, like Rafael Tufino and Lorenzo Homar to name just two. From the 1950’s through the 80’s, Puerto Rican artists, primarily men, were creating prints that depicted everyday life on the island.  The vibrancy of the colors, the focus on everyday life made them popular. Now, most prints are in museums or private collections and are highly sought after.  You can read more about them on http://www.puertoricanposters.com/.
Her eye on the future, Rosas-LaFrossia, will be applying for some exhibits for the NYC Parks Department.  She would also love to continue collaborating with the Bronx Arts Factory. She has done workshops and exhibits there. In the Fall, she will be back in the classroom. Lucky are the students who will be on the receiving end of her mastery, as the artist spoke from her heart: “Already I am re-vamping my curriculum to include mixed media and crafts. Students have different learning styles, and it’s important to introduce a variety of mediums to capture their interest and capitalize on their strengths. For some, it’s color, for others, it’s drawing. Still others are kinesthetic, excelling in clay or textiles. This is why arts education is my passion. It’s all fascinating to me.” The artist would love to be part of a printmaking taller or workshop in the future.
Why did Rosas La Frossia become a PRIDA member?
 “I had always heard of PRIDA, but for me it felt like an exclusive club for ‘serious’ artists.  I never really thought I had a shot. My former classmate from Lehman College told me about it about 3 years ago and suggested I apply. Around the same time, another artist friend of mine told me about it and said I would be a good fit. I was afraid that I would not be eligible, so I sat on the application until the very last minute. I am glad I sent in the application, because I was accepted! I have enjoyed being a member of PRIDA!
You can view Gladys’ artwork on Instagram @lafrossia and/or send her an email: gladys.lafrossia@gmail.com
This entry was posted in PaintingPRIDA Artists and tagged 


Felipe Rangel

April 2020
By Clara Galvano Rivera
Meet a Puerto Rican Renaissance Man! Felipe Rangel is a multi-skilled artisan who makes sure that his extraordinary Ponce-centric Vejigante masks, tell the story of how, where and why they came into existence.
Working as a teacher in Brooklyn many years ago, Rangel noticed that his students, predominantly Puerto Rican, didn’t know much about their culture. His idea to make the masks and to combine that with Puerto Rican history was a success. While teaching them to make the first basic masks, he also started teaching them about Bomba,  and  Plena.  Now his students were creating art as well as learning to play with instruments that taught them about their roots. Many students took the learning to heart. “One of my students, a Dominican young man, was very interested in how the molds were made because he wanted to take his learning back to D.R. and teach others how I made them. Lo integro en su cultura. De un solo maestro salieron un número de artistas que enriquecieron su cultura con su arte. I created a Caribbean cross-cultural exchange!”
Rangel continued learning.  His methods and techniques becoming more advanced, his masks more refined and elaborate.  He traveled to Puerto Rico to study with masters on the island. Rangel has his own style.  His favorite subject is the rooster, but he has designed a horse, a dragon and likes to come up with new ideas that test his skill.
Rangel is also a musician and plays the trombone. Additionally, he shares, “Juan Gutierrez, you know from Los Pleneros de la 21, he taught me how to play the pandereta.” In a Latin band at Baruch College, he played many gigs with fellow musician colleagues.
Wanting to focus on his Puerto Rican culture, in 1998 he created the La Hermandad Cultural de Artesanos y Artesanas Puertorriqueños and became its first president.  After six years, he saw that the organization was not focusing on the mission, and he stepped down.
A few years later, he came in contact with a new organization calling itself PRIDA begun by Luis Cordero.  Since Cordero knew of his experience with La Hermandad, he asked Rangel to join. A member of the PRIDA Board of Directors since 2016, he is also the current Treasurer.
Why did Rangel join PRIDA?
Bueno, necesitamos que el mundo sepa de nuestro talento y con PRIDA eso es lo que tratamos de hacer.  (The world needs to know our talent and with PRIDA that’s what we try to do.)
Contact Felipe: Cell phone: 347-531-8271 Email: jfrangelf@yahoo.com rtrangel96@gmail.com Facebook: Felipe Rangel Pizzini



October 2019
By Clara Galvano Rivera
Artist Rafy Velez knew he wanted to be an artist at age 6. Not many people can say that, but he had an extraordinary experience that sealed his artistic fate and the rest, as they say, is history. At P.S. 128 in Washington Heights, is where all the magic began.  His teacher, Ms. Blumenthal, took his class to the Harlem School of the Arts.
Velez recalls: “They had workshops for the children there and in the art class our group took, we were asked to draw some fruit. An apple. A pear. A banana and some grapes. I thought I did a pretty good job; the fruit looked like fruit. The instructor was impressed as well and said so. I was hooked.”  Velez remembers telling his teacher that he wanted to be an artist when he grew up and he meant it!  He continues, “It’s funny, but that’s what I ask all my students, during the first month of class, to draw the same fruits.  I teach them what I’ve been taught. This way I can see who has a budding talent, who doesn’t and needs more help”.
A hard-working art teacher at the Dr. Richard Izquierdo Health & Science School, he teaches art to students in 6th through 12th grades and really enjoys it. “I’m there for the kids. It’s a lot of work, and I’ve seen some of the kids grow up, so it’s very gratifying to teach them basic drawing skills.”
On his way to teaching, Velez became a sought-after tattoo artist.  A smart kid, he attended the Mott Hall School at the City College of New York and was accepted at the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts. At 18, he was at Hunter College and that’s when a tattoo shop opened up on his block that piqued his interest. Although the owner didn’t want to teach him for free, one of the tattoo
artists took him under his wing and lent him supplies and his machine.  Since drawing was his passion, for Velez, working as a tattoo artist combined his skill in drawing with artistry. Velez still does work for private clients who know of him or find him by word-of-mouth. A quick shout out to two of his tattoo buddies, Felix Bayoan Cortez (dec.) and Eddy Peralpa.
20 years went by and Velez started to think of the future.  “Tattooing was nice, but there was no retirement built in. I had to find something else that would give me some security.“ He wondered if Hunter would take him back, so he called the school and was welcomed back.  “I had failed a lot of the classes, so I had to retake every single one.  I had to work hard, but I went back with a different mind-set and it worked.” Once he earned his BA, he received his masters in Art Education at City College.  There were a lot of great teachers there, but Professor Juan Sanchez stood out. He was amazing.”
Velez’ work is heavy into Taino art and one example that reveals his love for his roots are the skate boards he’s been producing. “I started painting boards while tattooing downtown in the east village. I painted a Taino themed skull. After that I just kept painting skateboards because it is a clue to our modern times, but with ancestral art on it giving clues to our past.” One board represents three Taino images. Guabancex is an angry force who is responsible for natural disasters such as the juracans or hurricanes. Guabancex whips up the winds and has two helpers, Guatauba and Coatriske.  Guatauba (thunder) announces their arrival. Coatriske picks up the waters and floods the valleys. The resulting skateboard is a Hurricane on wheels!
Asked how he knows when a work of his is finished, he replied, “A lot of times I don’t. I walk away if I don’t know what to do. Then I come back and continue working on it. I did a very large painting of my grandfather’s house which I hung up in my apartment, but it never felt finished. It had this big spot in the front that was empty and I didn’t know how to fill it.  It wasn’t until I was with family looking at some old photos that showed a picture of the same house, but in this one, one of my cousins was sitting in front of it. I knew right away that he was the one missing! I was able to finish the painting then and that made me feel good.”
It’s not a surprise that Velez’ favorite genre of art is Native American indigenous art, especially if it is Pre-Columbian. He he is the artisan chosen this year to promote the Comite Noviembre artisan Fair.
What is Velez’ favorite tool to use? “Pencils. All my ideas are sketched. When I get an idea, I have to draw it first, so pencils are important for me. I have a book bag that I take everywhere which carries my sketch pad and pencils It’s good to have these handy when inspiration strikes “
Velez would love to retire to Borinquen when the time comes, but there is still lots for him to do here, so he will continue teaching, tattooing, and painting. It’s a good life.
Contact Rafy: Instagram is @tainoart Face Book: “Velez Visual Arts” Website: www.rafaelvelezjr.com Why did he join PRIDA? I joined PRIDA so that I can meet and learn form other Boricua artists. I also wanted to share my artwork with Boricuas in the diaspora. Photos: ©Comité Noviembre/Ana Alicea



OLGA AYALA - PRIDA Artist Everyone Should Know

June 2019
By Clara Galvano Rivera
Our Artist of the Month is gifted and talented  Olga Ayala, known for her Hecho a Mano artisanal creations that promote Puerto Rican culture and identity.
Born and raised in El Barrio, Ayala vividly remembers the day her interest in drawing took flight. Her mother was making a grocery list and started to doodle on it. To her daughter it looked like a perfect Disney Mickey Mouse. Interested, she asked how she had learned to do draw like that and would she teach her. It turns out her Mom had wanted to be an artist, but once married with children, her priorities had changed, and had put her artistic ambitions aside.
Ayala remembers she was always drawing in school and not paying attention to the class.  She attended Commander John J. Shea Memorial School on 111th Street – and in an effort to  harness her energy, the Sisters of Mercy tried put her in charge of the seasonal decorations. She loved it.  When it came time to choose a high school, one Sister, spoke to Ayala’s mother about placing her in either another catholic or a vocational high school.  Ayala: “I was so done!! I didn’t want to wear any more uniforms, or take any more tests! I wanted to go somewhere “special”, to a school that would foster my interests. I applied to three of the schools the Sister recommended, and I chose The High School of Art & Design. It turned out to be the best fit for me.”
A funny anecdote: “When my maternal grandfather, Gregorio Marzan asked me what I wanted to be, I told him I wanted to be an artist. He laughed in my face and told me not to pursue art because I would be broke, hungry and would never be successful. I was so insulted! Obviously, I didn’t pay any attention to him, but would you believe, when he retired, he became an artist! And his works can be found in El Museo del Barrio’s permanent collection–he became the Puerto Rican Grandpa Moses!”
PRIDA actually grew out of the needs of artists participating in Comite Noviembre’s Puerto Rican Artisan Fair that takes place every November. Many of the artists would ask them what the next event would be where they could show their art, but they couldn’t help them. Now, PRIDA sends out bulletins with information on events they can participate in.  Ayala is PRIDA’s co-founder and Vice President. “We need to promote the culture. We have to let others know we are still here.” When people see Ayala’s eye-catching artisan wares, they definitely feel the vibrancy of our culture with which each artwork is infused.
Contact Olga:  wwws.olgaayala.com olgaamano2@aol.com PRIDA – www.Prida.org