In a classroom-turned-music studio at the Villa Victoria Center for the Arts in Boston’s South End, teens mill around preparing for rehearsal. Beat makers, rappers and dancers take their places. The catchy baseline to the group’s new song, “Won’t Get Paid” — a cautionary tale about the consequences for slacking at work — starts to play. In a quieter classroom next door, some students write in their notebooks while others sketch quietly in the back.
By Ariana Lee
They’re all preparing for “50 Portraits of Villa Victoria,” opening on Thursday, Dec. 20. It is a multidisciplinary art show featuring paintings, drawings, photographs, poetry and music for the 50th anniversary of Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción (IBA) at Villa Victoria.
Villa Victoria has offered programs for young people since 1968. It was founded alongside IBA when Boston’s urban renewal project targeted the South End for development. The neighborhood’s Puerto Rican community organized for the right to develop their own housing. They won the battle, founding a community that currently provides affordable housing, education and arts programs. Villa Victoria is the largest art center dedicated to showing Latinx arts in New England and the only one that has run continuously in Boston for 50 years.
Art Program Director Elsa Mosquera says Villa Victoria’s constancy is important for Boston’s Latinx communities. “We give voice to Latino artists and Latino themes,” she says. “That is important because they are underrepresented, under-heard and under-seen.”
For the teens, IBA provides space to take creative risks and build relationships. One of the young contributors, Aby Rivera-Ortiz, who will be sharing a poem and painting at the “50 Portraits” showcase, remembered how sharing her poetry with friends became a turning point in how she thinks about relationships.
“Something I had a hard time with that made me feel more confident and better in my own skin was speaking out my story to the people I knew and grew up with,” the 16-year-old explains. “I spoke about how I survived. … And they took it like a real friend would, and it built our relationships.”