Negotiating Identity, Diversity and Recognition

By Eduardo Diaz, Huffington Post Latino Voices

Many may have read about the recent flare-up between Michael Kaiser and Felix Sánchez. Kaiser is President of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and Sánchez directs the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, established to advance the presence of Latinos in the media, telecommunications and entertainment industries. Annually, the foundation provides scholarships to eight Latino graduate students.

The Kennedy Center, aside from presenting a diverse performing arts season, stages the annual Kennedy Center Honors, which recognizes lifetime achievement in the arts, tending towards the mainstream, and is customarily attended by the President and First Lady. It is noteworthy to point out that Kaiser has spearheaded technical assistance programs benefiting cultural organizations around the country, many of them struggling, a number of them Latino, and has a solid working relationship with the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture, this country’s leading service organization for our field.

As reported by the Washington Post and several other media outlets, when Sánchez called Kaiser to express his inquietude over the relative dearth of Kennedy Center Latino/Latina awardees, a heated conversation ensued where Kaiser used some strong language. News services immediately took note. Some Latino advocacy organizations rallied to the foundation’s cause. Kaiser later apologized, acknowledging that his “was an unfortunate choice of words.” In his letter of apology to Sánchez, Kaiser stated, “I assure you that the concerns you raised during our conversation were heard and will be given serious consideration.” What becomes of the dust-up remains to be seen; however, Kaiser is off to a good start, having initiated a revamping of the selection criteria and process for the Kennedy Center Honors, ensuring representation by more diverse constituencies.

Near the end of the initial Washington Post article, Sánchez stated,

We see that [trend] at the Kennedy Center, the Smithsonian, art exhibits — we see that across the board in arts institutions: a preference for Latinos who are coming from their country of origin, as opposed to artistic contributions from U.S. Latinos.

As the director of the unit charged with ensuring Latino presence at the Smithsonian, I’m surprised that Sánchez did not contact our office to learn about the Institution’s current programs, research initiatives and collecting efforts pertinent to the U.S. Latino community.

The Smithsonian’s Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture and Latino Center, in collaboration with units around the Institution, is engaged in several initiatives by, for and about the diverse resident Latino population. Some are exhibition-focused; others geared to web presence, educational impact, or leadership and professional development. Soon, the Institution will bring on six new Latino curators at five of our key units. Below are other examples of what’s happening:

1. Latino DC:…


This article was first published in Huffington Post Latino Voices.

Eduardo Díaz is the director of the Smithsonian Latino Center and a 30-year veteran of arts administration.

[Photo courtesy The Kennedy Center]

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