LA FORTALEZA COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION ECONOMIC development/CULTURAL maintenance via Artes y Cultura
ABOUT: “One of the things that makes culture culture is that it transcends generations," muses Tato Torres. Torres is the head of Yerbabuena, a musical group well-known in East Harlem for playing traditional Puerto Rican music with roots in bomba, plena, and música jibara. Tato is the primary vocalist of the group, but can also be found on drums, guitar, and cuatro. He has nothing but kind words for El Barrio and its significance as a cultural hub for Puerto Ricans like himself. "Culture is not at all the music itself, or the material elements, but the actual process of bringing the common denominators together," he notes. "The moment culture stops evolving and changing, it's no longer culture."
COMMUNITY VISIONS: Torres expresses concern over the “double-edged sword” that is gentrification, which he sees as the primary cause of the downfall of artistic venues such as Carlitos and the FB Lounge. As he explains, as soon as an artistic scene takes hold in a neighborhood and gains recognition, then artists start co-opting their local ethnic ties as a way to “legitimize” their artistic style. Art becomes more commercial than representative, the neighborhood suddenly becomes “cool”, and the cultural assets in the neighborhood stop working for the locals they were intended to serve in the first place. That, and the rents go up, displacing those artists whose work did not reach the same commercial audience. Torres points out that the small number of performance venues available to musicians in the area is a limiting factor, especially considering the handful of venues that have closed since his band started playing in the late 90s. "At the end of the day," says Torres, "a kind of symbiotic relationship is necessary for art and the neighborhood to thrive."