Behind the Scenes at the DAM

Q&A with Colorado's Barrio E': What's Behind the Drums

De Colores, the theme for this month’s CelebrARTE at the Denver Art Museum, is a traditional Latino song that celebrates the vibrancy of nature and the diversity that makes up our world. On May 18 Barrio E’ will show how Puerto Rican bomba and plena can help us come together as a community. What better way to enjoy the springtime weather than with a trip to the vibrant Isla del Encanto with Barrio E’ and its director, Tamil Maldonado? Below Tamil and I discuss her work with Barrio E’. You also can watch a video of Barrio E' performing below.

Madalena Salazar: Tell us a little bit about Barrio E’.

Tamil Maldonado: Barrio E’, means “Barrio Es” or “Neighborhood Is.” It’s a unique organization that fosters cultural diversity in the arts in Colorado. We aim to educate, expose, promote and preserve Caribbean and Latin American traditional music, dance, and art by making them accessible to our communities. We bring awareness of different cultures, promoting inclusiveness, and providing a real space for integration of our society.

When I came to Colorado, I wanted to give voice to underrepresented populations in the arts in Colorado. Diversity brings beauty, challenges, and a stronger society. We open the space to understand different cultures, histories, and values. We support and strengthen cultural identity, and work across ages and backgrounds to create a welcoming environment where people can connect, get to know each other, and embrace culture and diversity through music, dance, and art.

MS:  What led you to this line of work, and how did Barrio E’ come to be?

TM: I have been an educator all my life, from kids to adults, and have always been part of the artistic and service community groups. When I moved here I was looking for Latino performing groups, but did not find any group that was dancing, playing live music and singing, making the music and dance techniques available, or making the historical background accessible to empower community. It is important to learn, and respect and embrace roots and identity, to eliminate barriers. It brings the opportunity to reconnect with heritage and/or connect to other cultures through the arts.

MS:  Tell us more about your work. What inspires it, and what would you like to see come out of it?

TM: People, history, and culture inspires Barrio E’s mission. We are interested in seeing an integrated and de-labeled society where everyone feels welcome, feels they belong and wants to do more for our collective success. We would like to see people empowered by knowledge, without fears of embracing diversity.

We would like to see more exposure of Caribbean and Latino cultures and role models in the arts as well as in other fields. Barrio E’ advocates to make changes in educational institutions to have better representation of Latino heritage at schools where Latinos can feel included, we fight cultural bullying, and students get really integrated in a multicultural space. We advocate for business to envision arts and culture as a tool to attract more people and ideas and produce a vibrant city where people love to live, work, and do business.  We advocate for art institutions to add other type of dances, music and art providing opportunities for individuals to get educated about other contributions of the world. We provoke changes in individuals to open their minds, become expose and integrated in our programs.

We also would like to see more Latinos and other underserved groups be in decision-making roles, having a voice on each discipline, as well as other ethnic groups becoming culturally competent. We would like to see more engagement in our communities and help close the gap of underrepresentation and misunderstanding.

MS: What role does your cultural heritage/identity play in your work with Barrio E’?

TM: My cultural heritage and identity plays an imperative position and it is totally related to the work we do with Barrio E’. The project sparks individuals to look at their cultural identity, create art, develop new projects, and start/continue their musical development. Barrio E’ opens a door to better understand the connection we all have through history and the music trajectory throughout the world, enlightening how interlaced our human path in the world really is. We also provide for spaces for the whole family. Our communities and activities have been very segregated based on age, on skills, on professions, on disabilities and abilities. We need to build more spaces where we can find each other and develop other social skills dropping these invisible walls and reconnecting as humans.  This is very attached to my cultural views where kids, teens, adults, and seniors have their positions and importance in society at the same time that they engage on same activities and bond while building respect for each other.

Madalena Salazar is the Latino cultural programs coordinator in the education department at the Denver Art Museum. Madalena has been at the DAM since 2011 and her favorite artwork that has been on view here is Mud Woman Rolls On. This piece reminds her of home, family, and community and serves as inspiration for her practice as a museum educator at the DAM.