August 15, 2018 | ° F

Woodbridge art center spotlights Latin community with series

Photo by Courtesy of Brandon Powell |

Mike Kaplan, right, performs with Adelante, an eight-piece Latin jazz band. The concert took place on Aug. 23 as a part of the “Latin Fusion: Jersey Style” series.

Hispanic culture is the focus of a six-monthlong series hosted by the Barron Arts Center in Woodbridge called “Latin Fusion: Jersey Style.”  

The series culminates with an exhibit featuring Latin and Latin-inspired artists from the area, beginning Sept. 13 through Sept. 21, said Brandon Powell, program coordinator at the Barron Arts Center.

“The whole idea was not only showing Latin artists but also New Jersey artists [not of Hispanic Heritage] that were inspired by the Latin culture,” he said.

Among the artists in the exhibit is Eduardo Santos, a local photographer.

Santos said he chose to focus his artwork on his Puerto Rican heritage because he believes descendents from the Caribbean make up one of the most dominant portions of the state’s Latin community.

“I have one that we called ‘Bomba y Plena’ which is a photo of somebody who was performing a Puerto Rican dance. I also have one of a sunset in Puerto Rico and a photo of Marc Anthony performing in New York,” Santos said.

The series, which launched on March 22 with a jazz concert called “Ensalada De Pulpo,” began as a reaction to the diverse population in the Middlesex County, said Cynthia Knight, director of the Barron Arts Center.

There are about 400,000 Puerto Ricans living in New Jersey, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.

“I’ve been the director here for 11 years, and I realized what a strong influence we had within the Latin community in Woodbridge and our surrounding areas and … I thought it was about time we brought [Latin culture] to the forefront,” Knight said.

Grant money acquired from the Middlesex County Cultural and Heritage Commission and the Board of Chosen Freeholders was used to fund the series, which included concerts, ethnic food lectures and poetry readings aside from the art exhibit, Powell said.

“Our goal was to present to everyone how the Latin culture is inspired by New Jersey and how New Jersey can’t get enough of Latin flavor,” Knight said.

One of the most well received events in the series was an outdoor concert held on Aug. 23 by Adelente, an eight-piece band that combines Latin rhythms from the Caribbean with jazz influence, she said.

“You know how Latin families are — everybody brings somebody and then there are our regular attending people, so the place was packed,” said Knight, adding that about 150 people showed up for the concert.

Powell said the series was well attended by the college crowd as well, a fact he believes is a reflection of some of the younger artists featured in the events.

“We had one fantastic artist named Carlos Rosario, and he was 21 years old,” he said. “He was the most amazing pen and ink and pastel artist that I have ever seen.”

Powell, a University alumnus, said students from the University have the luxury of being exposed to other ethnicities right outside of their campus.

“I went to Rutgers, and I remember there being a very large Spanish community,” he said.

Powell said the series marked a new type of project for the Barron Arts Center, which he admits might not have focused on the Latin community in the past.

Knight said the popularity of the “Latin Fusion” series in the community could mean a new direction for the center.

“I don’t know if it will be an annual Latin event, but we will at least have one Latin concert every year,” she said.

By Giancarlo Chaux

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