Taller Puertorriqueño: The Cultural Heart of Latino Philadelphia

A mural featuring many Latino cultures represented by symbols.

Although Taller Puertorriqueño is divided into two buildings one block apart, the organization is united in its mission to develop and promote Latino art and culture in the community.

Since 1974, Taller has been at the heart of the art scene in El Bloque de Oro providing the community with art and art-based educational programs for kids.

The gift shop and gallery located at 2721 North Fifth St. offer the neighborhood a piece of Latino culture that is unique to Taller and cannot be found anywhere else in the city. Aside from providing art for the neighborhood, Katherine Heilman, Development Associate at Taller, feels the organization serves a greater purpose in teaching certain Latino cultures to other Latino cultures.

“It’s interesting seeing Puerto Ricans learning about Cubans and Dominicans learning about Mexicans,” Heilman said, “It’s interesting to see all the cultures come together at Taller.”

The Lorenzo Homar Gallery on the second floor is the only gallery in the Philadelphia region dedicated exclusively to Latino Artists Heilman said.

Being in a separate building than the kids, Heilman wishes she could see them more. They are the reason she is there after all she said.

“Out-of-school-time programs are very important for kids,” Heilman said. “The kids get to be around like-minded kids interested in being creative and doing well in school.”

Taller’s Education Building is located at 2557 North Fifth St., two blocks away from the gift shop and gallery. The program consists of three age groups, elementary, middle and teens. The teen program is a visual-art based and requires a two-year commitment from the student.

One example of the artwork created by the elementary art students.
The theater at Taller Puertorriqueño displays student art ranging from elementary school to high school.

Students like Amy Flores look forward to coming to Taller after school on a daily basis.

“I love coming here. It’s a chill spot for me,” Flores said. “It’s an escape from my family and I get to hang out doing my art while I learn.”

For other students, like Anthony Maldonado, Taller provide a way to get away from the stresses of being a teenager.

“For me it’s a getaway from stress at home and the stress of school,” Maldonado said. “There’s a lot of pressure on me going to college after high school.”

The high school students make a two-year commitment to Taller and make strong bonds.
The high school students make a two-year commitment to Taller and show off some of their work.

Maldonado’s step-brother, Jason Garcia, said the program has given him a new appreciation for the arts while breaking the monotony of everyday home life.

“At home it’s the boring same routine over and over again, here I’m doing something different every day,” Garcia said. “It’s also changed my view on art, now I can see how the artist felt when they painted it.”

For Nestor Tamayo, three years at Taller has helped him find himself.

“Taller has helped me grow as a person and helped my personality,” Tamayo said. “It’s like a different family here at Taller.”

Carlos Pascual, the Youth Artist Program Instructor, shows off some of the work his students have created.
Carlos Pascual, the Youth Artist Program Instructor, shows off some of his students’ work.

Jose Aviles is the Education Program Director at Taller. He facilitates and implements the education program and also coordinates with the staff on how to strengthen the program for the kids and helps make Taller a home away from home.

“Taller was founded in preserving Puerto Rican and Latino culture through arts and because there is such a lack of arts in school currently, the kids don’t necessarily have an outlet for expression,” Aviles said. “So right now our particular program serves as a safe-haven for the kids to be around their peers, be in a safe place, socialize and express themselves.”

Taller helps the kids deal with the everyday stress of being a child or teen in an urban setting.

Starting out as solely an organization to preserve Puerto Rican culture, Taller has had to morph with the community to better serve the community Aviles said.

“Now kids come from vastly different Latino cultures and other cultures in general,” Aviles said. “For example last summer we had kids from Sudan so the kids got a chance to communicate and immerse themselves in that culture too.”

Taller is planning on breaking ground on their new building on the corner of Fifth and Huntington Street. The new building will combine the two current buildings. With the new building Aviles describes the sky as being the limit for Taller.

The more room will give the kids more space to breathe and allows each art medium to have a separate room Aviles said.

“We’ll be able to accommodate a lot more kids with the new building,” Aviles said. “Right now we can only accommodate about 50 kids without busting at the seams. Hopefully we can go into the hundreds in the new building.”

Taller could potentially have its new home by the spring of 2015.


Text, video and images by Ross DiMattei and Oscar Castillo.

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