The hot June sun beats down onto a hot concrete and asphalt landscape in North Philadelphia. The humidity outside gives the air a city taste. A kid runs by into a building on the corner of Fifth and Huntingdon streets. He briefly greets the receptionist as he runs for the water fountain. He is welcomed by other members of the staff and told to take it easy out in the heat. The kid is the reason why the building exists. He has entered the Education building of Taller Puertorriqueño.
Taller Puertorriqueño is a two building operation. The Education Programs building and Roberto P. Hernández Theater are located on the corner of Fifth and Huntingdon streets. The Book & Craft Shop, Gallery and Administrative offices are located one block north at 2721 North Fifth Street.
Taller Puertorriqueño was founded in 1974 by a group of Latino artists an activists wanting to showcase the arts and encourage the community to want to be a part of the art world. Specifically, the center wanted to showcase art by those less fortunate in terms of economic status, yet also give them a place to safely grow and learn, especially for the youth.
Director of Education at Taller Puertorriqueño, José Avilés, is in charge of programs at the center for kids, but they also have available computer access and research tools that they can use for school and outside activities.
The center offers what it calls the Cultural Exploration Program for kids, which it has broken down into two groups.
The Cultural Awareness Group is a program for the younger kids of the program from ages five to 10. The Advanced Cultural Exploration group, is the bigger of the two groups by far, is for kids aged 11 to 15.
“Both programs in the Cultural Exploration Program offer after school activities, summer arts camp, workshops and arts classes year long,” Avilés said. “Every year we also have a talent show and that’s really popular.”
Avilés believes that social media is playing an ever increasing role in the development of children these days more so than ever before.
“The kids are really invested in the social media,” Avilés says. “By discouraging Internet use, it only separates us generationally, so I think it’s important for us to understand how they use it so we can use it to grow together.”
The new Cultural Enrichment and Facilities Manager Gabriella Sanchez emphasizes her passion for helping the kids out whenever they are in the building. She encourages them to not stay silent but to openly talk and discuss any issues they may be encountering.
Sanchez also teaches a theater class at Taller Puertorriqueño.
“There’s a reality to what these kids face everyday,” Sanchez said, referring to the sometimes dangerous neighborhood that some of the kids at Taller Puertorriqueño face. “We have to be compassionate, loving and understanding and give them more one on one attention because they may not have all the resources that other kids might have in center city and other locations in the city.”
Both Sanchez and Avilés graduated from the Creative and Performing Arts High School and have followed their careers in the arts at Taller Puertorriqueño.
“I think the kids are very hands on and you have to keep them hands on and busy because the minute you don’t keep them engaged, they can drift,” Sanchez said. “We have so many programs not just in the visual arts, we have theater, dance and hopefully we can do singing.”
Sanchez admits that sometimes the program has to keep up with the kids because like Avilés said earlier, technology can be a wonderful tool in connecting two generations, especially those parents home that probably weren’t raised on cell phones and computers.
The complex nature of cell phones may actually be helping the kids with their art programs on the computers as Sanchez said.
“Most kids have iPhones or high tech phones which are basically small computers, so that prepares them for our newer Mac computer programs.”
Taller Puertorriqueño also allows students to be flexible so that they can pick and choose the programs they want to be a part of. This flexibility allows the staff at Taller Puertorriqueño to pick out the kids’ strengths and weaknesses and help to develop skills that need to be refined.
Both Sanchez and Aviles went to the Creative and Performing Arts High School in Philadelphia and have continued to pursue a career in the arts. Sanchez is a graduate from Temple University. Her passion was always to be involved in the arts and at Taller Puertorriqueño, she is able to continue that path.
Taller Puertorriqueño’s Gallery just one block north is currently showing photos by his students from a three-year-long exchange program that extended from North Philadelphia to rural Colombia.
Taller Puertorriqueño also runs the Julia de Burgos Gift Shop where bilingual children books are available along with cookbooks, historical books, art books of the Latino community and even masks. It is one of the few bilingual bookstores in Philadelphia. The gift shop also works with education programs and researchers who are searching for rarer books.
Taller Puertorriqueño is at 2557 North Fifth Street. For more information, call (215) 423-6320