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Developer, East River North Renewal; Originator of “Salsa Saturdays”
ABOUT: Every summer Saturday afternoon, the former site of La Marqueta is brought back to life by live music, dancing, and community spectators from all backgrounds. Community activist Celia Ramirez is the magician behind this revival; she is the mastermind behind “Salsa Saturdays” at La Placita de la Marqueta, a series of free public concerts that are part spectatorial event, part open-air dance floor. “People come from all over,” Ramirez says. Though the event was originally designed for seniors and children, the outdoor dance floor is perpetually packed with enthusiastic dancers of all ages and skill levels. Ramirez has also played a major role in El Barrio’s development as vice-president at East River North Renewal, where she has worked to create more affordable, respectable housing options for the community. Ramirez also remains politically active through her work at Community Board 11.
COMMUNITY VISIONS: Despite the success of “Salsa Saturdays,” Ramirez recognizes that seasonal programming at La Marqueta is an insufficient service to the East Harlem community. Ramirez hopes that La Marqueta will redevelop so that it will serve community members’ more basic needs. It should be a place where people go for “staples,” not just specialty goods or neighborhood events. “The community hasn’t utilized the space in the way they could have and should have,” she comments. Ramirez’s experience in the affordable housing sector has given her insights into what she cites as one of the neighborhood’s major problems: “In the past, the neighborhood was more family oriented,” she explains. “Many buildings now are not owned and managed by community members.” Ramirez believes this has led to a lack of social investment on the part of many building administrators. She also comments that East Harlem’s arts community is fragmented, like “pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that need to come together.” She hopes that the business and arts communities will ally themselves to provide what El Barrio is missing: “bookstores, magazine stands, clothing stores, fresh fruits and vegetables, a gym, a catering facility, party space, movie theaters and after-school programs.”
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