Marta V. Martínez, executive director of Rhode Island Latino Arts, is the founder of the original organization, the Hispanic Heritage Committee of Rhode Island, which existed from 1988 through 2013. Last year, she was hired as executive director and now oversees a strategic plan to raise awareness of Latino arts and artists. She also is leads a fund raising campaign for the organization. In addition, Martinez is founder of the Latino Oral History Project of RI and is a member of the National Oral History Association, the National Storytellers Network and the American Folklife Society. Fluent in Spanish and sign language, Martinez here discusses evolving goals of her organization.
PBN: Why did the Hispanic Heritage Committee of Rhode Island rename and reinvent itself?
MARTINEZ: The Hispanic Heritage Committee of Rhode Island was formed in 1988 to promote and support local Latino art and artists during National Hispanic Heritage Month every year from Sept. 15 to Oct 15.
In 2013, as we celebrated our 25th anniversary, the committee was keenly aware of an ever-increasing Latino presence in the state. During the past several decades, especially as shown by the 2010 Census, the Latino population in Rhode Island increased from 90,820, or 8.7 percent, to 130,655, or 12.4 percent of the total population.
A survey that we conducted in 2010 and again in 2012 showed that Latino and non-Latino families requested more activities that highlight the Latin American cultures here on a more consistent basis. So in 2013, to celebrate our 25th anniversary in a significant manner, the committee and its board wanted to send a message to the community at-large that the organization is a valuable asset in the promotion of Latino arts in Rhode Island. We changed the name to reflect the changing times and more so to support our mission. It was then that we decided to hire a full-time executive director and because of my history with the organization, the board was unanimous in their decision to offer me the position.
PBN: What are the key goals of your strategic plan and which are priorities?
MARTINEZ: The main goal of our strategic plan is to ensure that our board is made up of a diverse group of Latinos, who represent as much as possible the community that we serve. It is also important that the board be comprised of individuals who work in key sectors of the local community: first and foremost the arts, followed by business, government and economic development.
Secondly, RILA’s goal is to become a more visible advocate for Rhode Island Latino artists and art, and to raise awareness of our organization by focusing on creating programs that remind Latinos of their roots and reconnect them to their culture.
Last, our goal is to enlighten non-Latinos about the cultural backgrounds of these immigrant communities. We feel that making these types of cultural connections not only builds ethnic pride, but also creates bridges among diverse communities, opening the way for greater tolerance and understanding.
How will we accomplish this?
First, we have not lost sight of our original mission of celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month every year during the fall. However, we have increased our visibility by creating and supporting activities that help create bridges between cultures all year long.
Secondly, we plan to stay directly connected with our constituents through the formation of the Rhode Island Latino Arts Network (RILAN), a series of networking gatherings meant to create community partners and bring together Latino artists.
PBN: What are your fund raising targets and how do you plan to reach them?
MARTINEZ: First and foremost, we will be concentrating on reaching out to the Latino community in Rhode Island because we feel we need to do more to personally connect with prospective Latino donors.
According to Hispanic Business Magazine, Latinos rank as one of the least likely to give their money on a regular basis for a good cause. For Latinos, donating money to a non-profit organization for the sake of saving on their personal income taxes practically clashes head on with their family and personal values.
Latinos, in general, are known for their strong family ties. Rhode Island Latinos like Latinos nationwide are not generally known for “giving” to charitable organizations because they are already sending money to other family members back in their countries of origin.
Any personal exchange that takes place between and among Latinos is generally considered more important than the value of what is given, so with the help of our board members, we will be making personal connections with Latinos of all walks of life to ask for contributions and also ensure that they know where their dollars are going, especially since the arts and culture are not tangible entities.
PBN: Your website promotes a wide variety of festivals planned for summer. How are they catering to the different types of Hispanic cultures in the state?
MARTINEZ: The festivals that are listed on our website are not directly organized by our organization, but by local Latino cultural groups. This listing, as well as the Latino Artists Roster, is another way in which we directly support local Latino organizations and artists.
We cater to a diverse set of Latino cultures in Rhode Island by supporting all their efforts whether by providing them a presence on our website, inviting them to our networking events or attending as many of their activities as humanly possible.
PBN: Of the European and South and Central American nationalities present in Rhode Island, which are most numerous and/or influential in terms of public policy? What role does your organization take to increase that influence?
MARTINEZ: I wouldn’t focus on which “nationalities” present in Rhode Island are most influential in terms of arts public policy. Instead, I would focus on government and the arts institutions themselves that influence who is enjoying or benefiting from the arts.
In Rhode Island, there seems to be a general interest by mainstream arts institutions to include Latinos – museum staff, gallery owners and arts organization managers have consistently informed me that they want to incorporate more Latino art or artists in their programming. Government officials have also expressed how they understand the growing power of the Latino community and how public dollars need to be set aside to support Latinos in the arts.
You don’t need statistics to show, however, that this is just not happening – just visit any museum gallery in Rhode Island and it’s clear that the art-going audience doesn’t match the general population. Look at who is receiving public or private foundation dollars, and you will see that Latinos are at the bottom of the list of recipients.
My job is to advocate and ensure that arts dollars are distributed equally to include Latinos. And if Latinos aren’t positioned to ask for or receive these dollars, then I feel it’s my responsibility to provide Latinos with resources and empower them learn how to get funds.