Two South Bronx groups win city awards

Photo by Erika Rojas. Pregones Theater's ensemble performed Aloha Boricua, part of their award-winning repertoire.

Two stalwarts of the arts in the South Bronx received prestigious Neighborhood Achievement Awards from the mayor’s office in July.

The Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education in Hunts Point and Pregones Theater near Mott Haven were among fourteen organizations and individuals citywide to get the 2011 award at a ceremony at Gracie Mansion, honoring their contributions to the neighborhoods.

Casita Maria was granted the Norman Buchbinder Placemaking award for helping raise the profile of Hunts Point “by highlighting and enhancing its look and feel, thereby increasing visitation or economic activity,” according to Robert W. Walsh, commissioner of the city’s Small Business Services office, which co-sponsors the annual award along with the mayor’s office.

Casita Maria has served Hunts Point and the South Bronx since 1961, after moving from East Harlem where it had been located for over a quarter-century. The recently completed six-story building on the corner of Simpson St. and E. 163rd St. houses a school, after-school programs, an art gallery and a 375-seat theater, and serves as a gathering place for artists and arts patrons from the Bronx and beyond.

“The Center is a place where the creative talents of the community can be cultivated and showcased,” Walsh said. He added that “Casita’s arts program brings hundreds of people to Hunts Point for free performances and engaging exhibitions,” and said the center “is making the neighborhood safer, encouraging people from other boroughs to visit the South Bronx and encouraging the neighborhood’s cultural revival.”

Pregones Theater, which has gained national recognition as one of the country’s top theatrical and musical interpreters of Latino culture during its 32-year existence, won this year’s Cultural Award. The honor is given to people and groups that Walsh said generate “economic activity and the growth of small business while employing local workers and adding to the artistic and educational fabric of New York City.”

Walsh called Pregones “home to a vital network of professional Latino actors, musicians, dancers, writers, directors, designers, and technicians,” and employs nearly two-dozen Bronxites.

Pregones’ cozy 130-seat theater on Walton Ave. one block from the Grand Concourse at E. 149th St. opened in 2005. The ensemble has produced close to 70 premieres in English and Spanish over the years.

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