ABOUT: Raphael Benavides wears a number of hats in the arts community in El Barrio. As the director of the Poet's Den Theatre and its advertising branch East Harlem Presents, Benavides strives to stimulate interest in El Barrio's "rich artistic culture." He sees "cultural participation" as an avenue to other forms of community engagement, and to neighborhood revival. The Poet's Den facility, which contains a small theatre, a dance studio, and a number of rehearsal spaces, [hosts] summer arts camps for local youth. Benavides, who is also the owner of [successful] Ricardo Steakhouse, knows that the most important step in this process is creating a widespread buzz about the arts and cultural activities in El Barrio. This has led him to develop HADA (Harlem Arts District Association), a grouping of arts organizations and businesses in El Barrio that seeks to showcase the neighborhood; the group recently launched the debut issue of its magazine. Benavides is also the founder and executive director of the East Harlem Film Society, which hosts the annual East Harlem International Film Festival.
COMMUNITY VISIONS: Benavides explains that the business community in East Harlem is very open to artistic and cultural activity. He hopes to see more interaction between the two sectors. However, he notes that his arts programs and events receive little support from the local community; for this reason, he believes it is also important to advertise outside of the community, in order to draw in new visitors.