Last July, I participated in one of the most powerful and invigorating professional development experiences of my career. I was part of an intergenerational group of 28 Latino artists, arts administrators and culture workers from fourteen states and Puerto Rico that attended the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture (NALAC) Leadership Institute in San Antonio, Texas.

Dr. Maribel Alvarez teaching a class on Latino Art Movements.The NALAC Leadership Institute (NLI) is a week-long rigorous program in arts management and leadership development that prepares emerging leaders for success in the competitive national arts landscape. The curriculum is culturally rooted in diverse Latino experiences and is based on the historical overview and analysis of Latino arts and cultures in the U.S., including the vital role of community involvement and cultural activism.

The Institute creates a learning space that is inclusive, stimulating and exciting. Every day, we had access to the thinking and practice of nationally recognized professionals and scholars, including Dr. Maribel Alvarez, Dr. Tomas Ybarra Frausto, Rosalba Rolón, Dr. Amelia Malagamba and Abel López. The NLI provided training in areas that are critical to the effectiveness and sustainability of our work, such as non-profit management, grant writing, marketing and administration. Regardless of our commitments, ideologies, passions or politics –we agreed– we need competency. But, more importantly, the NLI created a space for deep analysis and discussion about the systems of power and justice that shape our work and which we work to shape. A NLI session could begin with a statement like “Everyday in the U.S., someone, somewhere is studying Latinos” and end with a poem by Lorna Dee Cervantes.

Dr. Maribel Alvarez teaching a class on Latino Art Movements.According to the NALAC report 21st Century Arts Activism and Cultural Advocacy, “The arts’ role as a driver of civic engagement and the economy—and as a shaper of culture—has never been more critical for Latinos, and society.” The Institute takes seriously the idea that it is through our daily activities and practices that we express what we believe in and what we want to change. Many of the discussions that took place during this program focused on a critical examination of this shared agency:

  • What are the stories that are being told about Latinos? What are the stories that we want to tell?
  • Where can Latino artists, administrators and culture workers locate their agency at this time?
  • How can we respond to the complex cultural questions of our time?
  • How can we connect our work to create a larger movement that can shape cultural equity?

We were challenged to ask ourselves: What is worth winning? What would be lost if we are not doing it? How is more possible?

NLI faculty and NALAC staff.In Arizona, we have a unique opportunity to develop new theories and practices for artistic and cultural work that can question existing notions of space, identity and belonging. The NLI provides a vital space for Latinos to build personal and collective capacities to address these and other important questions. If you are a Latino artist, arts administration and culture worker interested in becoming a more strategic practitioner, consider applying to the 2015 NALAC Leadership Institute by the February 26 deadline:

The Arizona Commission on the Arts offers Professional Development Grants for Individuals designed to assist Arizona artists, arts administrators and arts educators with funding support for professional development opportunities like the 2015 NALAC Leadership Institute. The next deadline to apply is June 5, 2015. For more information, visit:

The National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC) is the nation’s only multidisciplinary Latino arts service organization. For 25 years, NALAC has delivered programs that stabilize and revitalize the US Latino arts and cultural sector by providing critical advocacy, funding, networking opportunities and professional development training for Latino artists and arts organizations in every region of the country. The National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the promotion, advancement, development, and cultivation of the Latino arts field.