Arts and Entertainment | Miscellaneous

Latino arts center at risk of closing after rent hike

The Upper West Side is in danger of losing a Latin-American cultural institution over a question of dollars and cents. El Taller, a community center on Broadway at 104th Street, is facing a rent increase that may force this educational resource out of its building.

The rent for El Taller’s Upper West Side building, managed by California-based Prana Real Estate Securities, is increasing from $7,000 a month to $17,000.

Despite the dramatic spike, El Taller founder and artistic director Bernardo Palombo said that the building manager offers the center very few services—it is responsible for its own heating and maintenance and was in charge of maintaining the building’s roof until recently. 

‘Technically, we are in charge of the building,” Palombo said. “They want to get money from a building where they do nothing.”

If the rent remains at $17,000, the center will no longer be able to afford the space.

In response, El Taller has launched a petition campaign to garner support from the local community. It currently has 800 signatures, many of which have come from elected New York officials. 

The first person to sign the petition was City Council member Gale Brewer, the Manhattan Borough president-elect. 

“She personally called the landlord to talk to him,” Palombo said. 

Copies of the petition have been sent to the office of Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, as well as to the Vatican for the approval of Pope Francis. 

The petition campaign also includes signatures of those personally affected by El Taller’s community activism. 

“Many people signing are lawyers and doctors who have benefited from our programs,” Palombo said. 

“Community-based projects and not-for-profit organizations like El Taller play an important role in our complex intercultural societies,” said Graciela Montaldo, a professor in Columbia’s department of Latin American and Iberian cultures. “It would be a pity to see this institution removed from the neighborhood, or even from New York.”

For nearly 35 years, El Taller has provided Spanish classes to New York hospitals, including the Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx and New York Presbyterian Hospital. It has also introduced public school students to Latin-American culture through art and music. The space on Broadway regularly plays host to concerts and art galleries. 

“According to the calculation of some politicians, they calculate that we serve between 200 and 250,000 people,” Palombo said. “You are not just evicting one place. You are evicting a whole village that works from here.”

“El Taller has been instrumental in redefining the perception of the Latino community in the Upper West Side,” Latin American and Iberian cultures professor Joaquín Barriendos said.

Despite the setback, Palombo is determined to continue working. He had planned to celebrate El Taller’s 35th anniversary this April, with art exhibits and musical performances from all over the world.

“For El Taller, more than the space, what is important is the community,” Palombo said. “We are not a Latin organization. We are Latin, Dutch, American. We are New York.”

sarah.roth@columbiaspectator.com | @sarah_e_roth

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