Culture and the internet: Chicago’s Latino cultural groups confront the crisis with digital content

Artists, organizations and cultural promoters reinvent their strategies and programming and use social media to publicize their activities and stay in connected with their audience

One of the virtual classes via Zoom of the Sones de México Ensemble. (Courtesy Juan Díes, Sones de México Ensemble)

One of the virtual classes via Zoom of the Sones de México Ensemble. (Courtesy Juan Díes, Sones de México Ensemble) Crédito: Cortesía

Every Sunday, a granddaughter and her grandfather connect to Zoom to learn to play the guitar with Juan Díes, co-founder and executive director of Sones de México Ensemble, a Mexican folk-music group from Chicago nominated for multiple Grammy Awards. Although they can only see one another on-screen, the grandfather and his granddaughter enjoy this activity and time together even if they are more than 1,800 miles apart. The grandfather participates in the class from Zacatecas, México, and she resides in Chicago.

This year, Sones de México’s music school offered online classes for the first time to reduce the number of students participating in person and to follow the rules estabblished by Governor JB Pritzker’s executive order. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in-person meetings were not allowed in Illinois as of April 30, 2020. The governor’s executive order forced the closure of museums, movie theaters, and cultural spaces until May 26, when the state’s plan ‘Restore Illinois’ Phase 3 went into effect. During this phase, only a maximum of 10 people was allowed to meet in closed spaces.

On June 26, the state entered the plan’s Phase 4. Some spaces were opened, including museums and movie theaters, for meetings of no more than 50 people or 25 percent of a site’s capacity. However, due to the increase in COVID-19 cases, Governor Pritzker decided to return to Phase 3 on Nov. 20. Under these new guidelines, cinemas, museums, and other recreational spaces remained closed to the public.

Representatives from different cultural sectors spoke with La Raza about the financial and technological obstacles during the pandemic and the new projects that have emerged. They remain optimistic and hopeful as they use new marketing strategies and adapt their programs virtually. Meeting the new demands despite the circumstances they face has not been easy. Still, those who work in these cultural institutions have adapted and learned.

Plans interrupted

Theater companies that rely on ticket sales are struggling. Still, they seek creative ways to sustain the vibrancy of this form of artistic expression and keep their artists and technical staff active. Before theaters closed, the Chicago Latino Theater Alliance (CLATA) coordinated the final details of its annual festival and collaborated with Chicago’s theater giants to increase the Latin presence.

Several organizations that were part of the program spent their funds on airline tickets, hotel rooms, and fees for special guests for events that never saw the light of day.

Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater, a Northeastern University-based flamenco dance company, suspended all three performances scheduled for the American Spanish Dance and Music Festival because regulations made ticket sales and traveling for international artists extremely difficult. The 800-seat theater agreed to keep the organization’s deposit and to allow the festival to take place next year if state and local rules allow it. The national tour and proceeds from these performances were also frozen until further notice.

“We were able to cover the losses because we are not spending the same type of expenses and the dance company has remained standing thanks to the support of foundations and private investors,” Jorge Pérez, executive and artistic director of Ensemble Español, told La Raza.

The Chicago Flamenco Festival, which the Cervantes Institute of Chicago has held for the last 18 years in February and March, had just begun in 2020 when the pandemic struck. Only in the third week of the festival, with all the artists in Chicago, the Instituto Cervantes had to suspend the festival, one of its most important events. A myriad of other cultural activities was also postponed: International Theater Day, Women’s Day, the events related to International Book Day, and their participation in the Poetry in April Festival (Poesía en Abril), organized by DePaul University and Contratiempo magazine.

“The pandemic has impacted budgets [for cultural events]. We will have to reinvent ourselves and produce things of great interest with very few resources and a lack of knowledge in multimedia and marketing,” Teresa Hernando Rojo, the Cervantes Institute’s cultural manager, told La Raza.

Ensemble Español continued its rehearsals and in-person classes during the pandemic. (Courtesy Ensemble Español)

COVID-19 also turned off the big screens. One of the worst-hit was the Chicago Latino Film Festival, which was left without its in-person screening programming to show Latin American films and documentaries. The organizers had confirmed 25 film directors and the premiere of more than 100 Latin American films for the festival’s 36th edition.

The festival then opted to go virtual, but that option presented obstacles. According to Pepe Vargas, founder and executive director of the International Latino Cultural Center of Chicago and the Latino Film Festival, it was relatively simple to find an affordable and easy-to-navigate online platform to launch the virtual version of the film festival and provide access to moviegoers. The challenge was to compete against the new reality that “people in confinement have a number of concerns, there is a flood of free content and we would have to share the digital space with commercial platforms, such as Netflix and Amazon,” Vargas said.

“It is still a great challenge, but what we offer is good,” added Vargas about the Latino Film Festival, whose audience is mostly viewers over 40. “After launching the new platform, we find that our audience is not used to new technologies and it is not something they handle with their eyes closed like the new generations.”

According to the platform’s figures, 10,000 people saw the festival’s films compared to the more than 30,000 that typically go to theaters. Although they lost almost $200,000 in revenue, “we tried the new technology, it worked and we learned a lot,” Vargas said.  The economic loss was significant, but learning about handling the festival and outreach virtually was much more relevant, paving the way for future opportunities.

Fifteen years ago, Universidad Popular came up with a unique event that appeals to “mole” lovers’ palates. The goal was to promote México’s rich gastronomy, showing various versions of this typical plate. From this annual community event, 10 women entrepreneurs emerged after enrolling in the women’s empowerment and certification program to handle food, sell their products, and develop their small businesses.

This year the mole festival was suspended because “due to the new protocols we cannot invite older and vulnerable people at the moment. And, it’s very difficult to do the classes through Zoom because many are not familiar with this technology,” Lilia Segoviano said. She is the programming coordinator for Universidad Popular, which has campuses at Little Village and West Lawn.

Instead of hosting in-person events, Segoviano focuses on supporting people who need help navigating the virtual world. “We communicate with our clients through WhatsApp and Messenger and we train them on how to use computers and applications to adapt them to technology,” Segoviano noted.

Chicago’s community museums are more sustainable because they don’t depend on ticket sales to survive. However, its social responsibility and impact on communities are more profound. In addition to art exhibitions, museums offer workshops, host health forums and book signings, and preserve the memory and identity of the community they represent through cultural fairs, such as Barrio Fest and Día del Niño.

The National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture, located in Humboldt Park, canceled the 20th anniversary of Barrio Fest, its annual fair where local artists exhibit, promote and sell their work. Barrio Fest was also set to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Paseo Boricua, Chicago’s Puerto Rican neighborhood’s main artery.

“Artists don’t have spaces to sell their art because the festivals were canceled and the places where they would sell are closed,” Billy Ocasio, president and chief executive of the National Museum of Puerto Rican Art & Culture, told La Raza.

Puerto Rican artist Samuel Lind was scheduled to have his grand opening exhibition at this museum on March 16, the same day that Governor Pritzker announced the limitation of meetings of 50 people or more. The works of art remain on the museum’s walls awaiting the appreciation of the spectators. And on the first floor, the gallery is empty and ready to receive the paintings of the 80-year-old Puerto Rican artist Antonio Martorell.

“The artist prefers to install his own works, but at his age he would be risking his health and with the restrictions he will not be able to travel to Chicago,” Ocasio said.

Reinvent or die

At the beginning of the quarantine, cultural groups rediscovered content and uploaded old concerts and shows. They also turned their actors, dancers and artists into freelance videographers to broadcast original presentations from their homes on Facebook or YouTube. Almost a year later, some cultural sectors are producing original content accentuated by virtual exchanges with international colleagues.

“Welcome, now online for now and, as soon as possible, in person,” Juan Díes told La Raza. This is how most Latino cultural organizations based in Chicago deal with the obstacles that arose from the COVID-19 pandemic.

When forced to shut down their facilities, these groups undertook the task of reinventing themselves to survive and stay active, offering quality content to an audience used to going out to see a flamenco show in an auditorium or a foreign film in a movie theater.

From family reunions to business meetings to concerts, more virtual events are being organized every day. Among them was an online concert to celebrate La Raza newspaper’s 50th anniversary. The concert, titled “Sweet and Sacred Child: Ancient Christmas Songs,” presented Mexican and Spanish Christmas carols and songs from the 16th to the 19th centuries performed by Mexican musicians Manuel Mejía Armijo (lute) and Nadia Ortega (soprano).

That concert was broadcast on Dec. 22, 2020, on La Raza’s YouTube and Facebook platforms, with the support of the Facebook Journalism Project, Lenfest Institute for Journalism, and ComEd.

Other institutions also decided to shift the focus of their resources and deliver their events virtually.

According to Díes, the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events plans a possible virtual version of the Year of Music celebration.

Sones de México Ensemble performances were interrupted and may remain on standby until 2022, according to Díes. Still, the music school and the promotion and appreciation of traditional Mexican music continue.

“You can have many venues to promote music. When we return, we may mix things up, with a virtual concert and audience, with screens on stage and chats rooms so the public can interact instantly,” Díes said.

The pandemic has pushed musicians to accelerate their reinvention process. Five years ago, Sones de México was no longer just a musical group. The group founded a music school to diversify its income, which became an educational and promotional resource for Mexican folk music. When in-person programming in schools was suspended, and concerts were canceled due to the pandemic, Díes focused on hosting virtual classes and events to promote the arts and educate.

Between virtual rehearsals by Zoom, workshops for dancers, and online classes for students from the Chicago Public Schools program After School Matters, the 40 dancers from Ensemble Español never lost their rhythm as their virtual activities started at full speed.

“They are enriched from courses led by artists based in Spain, Miami, México and Washington. They even presented a world-premiere choreography titled ‘Duquelando’ in honor of the victims of COVID-19 and in solidarity with the African-American community and the fight for social justice,” Pérez said.

CLATA, the Chicago Latino Theater Alliance, maintains a connection among theater companies, artists, and colleagues nationwide through virtual conversations called ‘Charlando’ (‘Chatting’). These virtual conversations provide an opportunity for mutual comfort and exchanging ideas and opinions. Participants discuss topics from the Afro-Latino and indigenous representation and activism in the theater to mitigating the impact of the pandemic to transitioning to the digital world.

The Colectivo El Pozo theater company’s cast shares their memories of the Christmas season in ‘Mini Tesoros,’ a collection of virtual anecdotes available on Facebook. (Courtesy CLATA)

In addition, CLATA invited the public to the artists’ houses for the project called ‘Mini Tesoros’ (‘Tiny Treasures’). Through Facebook, ‘Mini Tesoros’ invited Latino theater artists to share their best memories of the Christmas season.

“We must invest in technology and knowledge to transform and build all of our programs virtually and provide a valuable service to the public,” Ocasio said. Ocasio also recruited and offered salaries to artists to create alternative content for the Puerto Rican museum’s YouTube page.

Ocasio created a collection of pre-recorded videos that rescue culture and connect the viewer with artists of Puerto Rican origin. Viewers can learn to draw or prepare the typical dish of turkey and sweet rice on its YouTube page. ‘Raíces’ (‘Roots’), the museum’s annual gala, was also broadcast on social media. Instead of live music, Ocasio prepared clips to teach Puerto Rican traditions and combined them with scenes from Christmas celebrations in Puerto Rico. Ocasio also interviewed singer-songwriter José Feliciano, who is celebrating 50 years since the release of the Christmas hit song ‘Feliz Navidad.’ During the recording, he was presented with the Ceiba Award for his remarkable musical career.

“Community institutions are looking for ways to be more creative,” said Carlos Tortolero, founder and president of the National Museum of Mexican Art located in Pilsen.

Although virtual experiences are attractive, “they can never replace or reproduce the emotion experienced in an in-person theater production,” Tortolero said, adding he thinks it’s imperative to strengthen community ties and offer high-quality content.

The National Museum of Mexican Art contributes to the digital world by transporting its followers from their couches to the 1930s and 1940s to learn “danzón” (Cuban dancing). In another pre-recorded video, viewers can dance while watching mini-concerts led by Latin musicians performing various musical genres. The invitations are no longer for in-person events. Instead, the museum invites local and international artisans to share their talents through virtual workshops titled ‘En casa’ (‘At Home’), which are available for free on the museum’s YouTube channel.

“We were the first in Chicago to do virtual-live tours of their exhibits,” Tortolero said. The museum also hosted 140 virtual tours of the “Just a Little Here: Day of the Dead” exhibit, in which a teacher and cameraman answered questions from viewers in real-time.

And for the first time since the suspension of all its programming and concerts due to the pandemic, well-known singers from the Lyric Opera in Chicago retook the stage. They premiered the concert ‘Pasión Latina’ through YouTube and Facebook.

“Even if we are not in the same space, they are going to feel what we feel when recording,” said Denis Vélez, a Mexican soprano who joined the Chicago Lyric Opera musical ensemble in July.

Consistent rehearsing is of utmost importance to musicians and artists. After several months without performing live, Vélez admitted that she was nervous about recording again and performing before an audience. But the concert was a success.

Innovative projects: multidisciplinary collaboration

The cancellation of events allowed artists to innovate and use social media as a vehicle to present creative solutions to a broader audience. Before the pandemic, Díes recorded a live concert with Billy Branch, an American harmonica player and singer from Chicago blues, and another with the Chicago School of Irish Music. He plans to add interviews and information on the historical commonalities between blues, Irish, and Mexican music.

As the theater doors closed, CLATA postponed the fourth edition of the Chicago International Latino Theater Festival. The outdoor version of the ‘Destinos’ (‘Destinations’) festival was held in the fall. Several Latino organizations came together for this unique outdoor show, where the entry ticket also offered a break from quarantine losses.

In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, CLATA along with the National Museum of Mexican Art, International Latino Cultural Center (ILCC) the Puerto Rican Alliance for the Arts, and the Goodman Theater organized ‘Destinos al Aire’ (‘Destinations Outdoors’) a cultural display hosted in the ChiTown Movies parking lot in Pilsen. The event attracted more than 500 people, who remained in their vehicles to watch performances by artists from Aguijón Theater, Latino Repertory, Vista Theater and UrbanTheater Company. In addition, the event had live music by the Cielito Lindo Ensemble and showed the movie ‘American Curious,’ selected from the Chicago Latino Film Festival. The live event stream was viewed more than 1,800 times by audiences around the world.

For the ‘Destinos al Aire’ event, CLATA’s first live event since March, the organization was able to hire production teams for stage design, lighting, and audio.

“This event was important because we were able to offer professional jobs and generous salaries to Latino sound and lighting companies, who have struggled getting contracts during this time,” Sara Carranza, executive assistant and digital media manager for CLATA told La Raza.

The Cielito Lindo Ensemble was one of the Latino groups that participated in ‘Destinos al Aire,’ an outdoor cultural festival by the Chicago Latino Theater Alliance. (Courtesy CLATA)

The Latino Film Festival organized another in-person event to mark the beginning of its virtual version with the screening of two films at Joe’s Sports Bar restaurant, where 50 people were allowed in. “That human effervescence that happens during that week-and-a-half of the festival cannot be redone,” Vargas said, about the large number of people who come to enjoy the festival’s films every year.

Universidad Popular approached the Chicago Public Libraries to distribute activity kits and materials for families to take home. According to Segoviano, it’s essential to be patient and bilingual to retain people interested in virtual programs.

Yollocalli Arts Reach, a youth initiative of the National Museum of Mexican Art, also prepared kits for its students.

Besides, three of the National Puerto Rican Museum exhibits were recorded and are available to the public after a collaboration with Google Arts & Culture.

When many of the in-person events were suspended, some could be adapted to a digital format. Others were canceled entirely. Tortolero considered suspending the 17th anniversary of the Queer Prom, an inclusive party for young people from the LGBTQ community and their guests because he felt that the same enthusiasm would not be achieved virtually. But two young people who had participated in the party in previous years convinced him that it was worth organizing an event where young people could interact and coexist even if it was only through Zoom.

The Cervantes Institute has adapted its face-to-face meetings with scientists and researchers to Zoom, presenting innovative works and exchanging projects. Also, the Institute hosts virtual events for Latin American consulates in Chicago, allowing anyone from the Latino community to participate.

In collaboration with the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Chicago (UNAM Chicago) and several other cultural organizations, the Cervantes Institute launched a series of virtual exhibitions, meetings with filmmakers, and short films in tribute to the 1968 student movement in México and to remember the victims of the Tlatelolco massacre.

“The positive side of working this way has allowed us to collaborate with other international institutions, which on other occasions would have been much more complicated, and to have access to an audience from México, Spain, Argentina and Colombia that in other circumstances would have been very difficult, as well as having guests from various professions and experiences that would have been definitely impossible for us to bring in person to Chicago,” Hernando Rojo from the Cervantes Institute said.

UNAM Chicago also held cultural presentations and concerts on its Facebook page.

Most certainly, digital presentations encourage international collaboration. The first virtual concert organized by the newspaper La Raza in celebration of its 50th anniversary, titled ‘Sweet and Sacred Child: Ancient Christmas Songs,’ elevated the heritage of Mexican colonial music with the participation of the lute player Manuel Mejía Armijo and the soprano Nadia Ortega from México. The Mexican musicians screened their performances so that virtual viewers would feel as if they were in México, inside the San Mateo Tepopula Church in Tenango del Aire, State of México, where the virtual experience was recorded.

“It’s important to offer quality virtual content that allows the knowledge of our history to grow through music. From a live event, the moment is lost and no feasible trace remains, other than the trace that remains in the memory of the public, but this is a good way to assess how important it is to have testimonies of this type of event,” the musician Mejía Armijo told La Raza. Presenting art virtually can be appreciated even more during the pandemic because it makes it possible for many to see different types of events live for the first time.

The Latin Alliance of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) also offered a virtual space to various Latino groups from Chicago to participate in their event ‘Noche Navideña’ (Christmas Night) broadcasted on Facebook.

It was done to “give a voice to organizations with which we have collaborated or have performed on stage with the CSO and [groups that] are offering virtual programming and events,” Elisabeth Madeja, director of marketing for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, said. In addition, the presentation was recorded, and it’s now accessible to the public on Facebook.

The cultural groups that participated with the CSO Latino Alliance ‘Noche Navideña’ were The People’s Music School, the Chicago Metamorphosis Orchestra Project, the Chicago Mariachi Project, Planeta Azul, Ensemble Español, Escuelita Bombera de Corazón, David Chiriboga and musicians, the pianist Alexandra Gaviria, Chicago Bandura Ensemble and Char-Zillia.

The pandemic sparked and fostered innovation and a collaborative spirit. The Instituto Cervantes will open its auditorium and gallery as soon as possible to support all of the Spanish-speaking cultural community who have lost their spaces due to the crisis.

Virtual classes: An unprecedented technological and social revolution

Technology is advancing to meet new needs. During the stay-at-home order in Illinois, many arts groups’ goal was to explore different avenues to improve their content management. Some organizations decided to produce short videos and capsules of interest for their followers to post on their social media networks. And other cultural groups stayed connected to their audiences through live virtual events and interactive workshops.

In the summer, Díes offered a combination of virtual and in-person classes for children who don’t have a computer or fast-speed Internet access.

“It’s double the job to offer in-person classes on Saturdays and Zoom on Sundays. We had to invest in equipment, cameras, lights, better internet connections to offer a stable and professional experience,” Díes said, explaining that as a musician, he also lived through that transition of music from physical to digital format.

Students who take the online guitar lessons actually prefer the Zoom lessons because it allows them to watch the instructor up close, record the sessions to watch and review them later. The chat function also allows students to ask questions during the lesson, and it makes it easier for Díes to remember his students’ names.

Sones de México Ensemble offered guitar lessons to a small number of students during the summer. (Courtesy Juan Díes, Sones de México Ensemble)

Other music schools, such as the Merit School in Chicago, also offer virtual classes of various instruments after the pandemic forced them to cancel their classes.

Ensemble Español offers a combination of paid courses and free tutorials through its social media platforms. During the summer, the Ensemble obtained donations from Home Depot to build wooden platforms for its students, who practiced outdoors in the parking lot of their facilities during the summer. On its YouTube page, the dance company offers access to pre-recorded videos to learn how to tap, clap, and play the castanets. Besides, they continued with virtual courses for high school students, who will get college credit.

And exceeding expectations, Yollocalli Arts Reach enrolled the same number of students for painting, graffiti, drawing, broadcasting, and digital photography classes.

“We asked the students if they would be willing to come to classes in person in the summer and most preferred to interact virtually,” Vanessa Sánchez, director of Yollocalli, said in an interview with La Raza.

Unlike Universidad Popular, Yollocalli’s target audience is the younger generation, who are used to technology and feel comfortable interacting with teachers, classmates, and content through different media platforms.

Breaking geographical barriers

In the virtual environment, it’s easier to cross borders and collaborate with artists from various disciplines. The event’s venue is not so relevant, and the scope of these events, courses and presentations are broader.

Víctor Pichardo, musical director of Sones de México Ensemble, was in quarantine in Morelos, México, and from there, he connected through Zoom to support the musical group during a virtual concert on the musical geography of México for the University of Miami in Ohio.

Through this medium, Sones de México presented eight songs from their most recent record production ‘Geografía musical de México’ (‘México’s Musical Geography’), and managed to interact with audiences from Chicago, Ohio, Indiana, and México after the pre-recorded concert.

From their kitchens, living rooms, and basements, 39 flamenco students from Chicago, New York, North Carolina, Norway, Canada, Italy, and Sweden connected twice a week to take a class with the iconic teacher Carmela Greco from her flamenco studio ‘Amor de Dios’ (‘God’s Love’) based in Spain.

And at the end of the concert ‘Niño dulce y sagrado’ by La Raza, the artists Mejía Armijo and Ortega had an online, live conversation with users who saw their concert from Chicago and several cities in México, the United States and Canada.

Diversified funds: Scholarships and generosity

Financial support from foundations, such as the Driehaus Foundation, the Chicago Community Trust and the Field Foundation of Illinois, has allowed cultural, artistic and educational institutions to stay afloat during the pandemic and while they shift their strategies. Additionally, the Illinois Arts Council and the Small Business Administration (SBA) have offered several grants to support these organizations and encourage them to keep their artists, employees and supporters healthy during the pandemic.

Díes received a research grant for artists in the United States. “This support has allowed us not to have to change careers while we reinvent ourselves,” added Díes, who offers his classes from the Centro Romero in Rogers Park and at a church in Pilsen.

Having to pay for a mortgage or the rent when there is a loss of income presents a serious threat of not being able to provide services to the public. Given this, hosting activities in public parks, churches, schools, universities, and community centers provide rental relief from organizations and reduce the cost of the services they offer to the public.

Entertainment can be a profitable field. And, an excellent strategy to earn money is to offer valuable content to educational institutions, who can purchase it and then distribute it for free to communities around the country.

“The plan is to create added value to compete against free content and to be able to monetize our content,” Díes said.

“While some companies are laying people off, we will continue hiring to continue with our mission and generate funds because at the end of the day this is a business,” explained Pérez from Ensemble Español, which received $65,000 from the Payroll Protection Program and private financial assistance.

Like Sones de México, Ensemble Español maintains an agreement with Northeastern University to use its facilities and to store 200 pieces of costumes, sets and decorations. Without the cost of maintaining their own facilities, they can offer more cultural services to the community. “We can sell half of the tickets [of the theater’s capacity] and make money from the virtual versions because people around the world would like to see our programs from the comfort from their homes,” Pérez said.

And the impact of COVID-19 generated an increase in investment in digital platforms and technologies. Vargas launched ‘Más,’ a subscription service to rent and watch movies from previous Latino film festivals at a fixed price. Fifty percent of the profit is allocated to the directors who gave permission to broadcast their films online.

The income for community museums comes from grants, donations, store sales and gallery rentals for special events, including weddings. The National Museum of Mexican Art had to return the deposits for event reservations.

But “foundations have taken a step forward during the crisis for the arts,” Tortolero said. The NMMA received a four-year grant of $3.5 million from the Ford Foundation’s Cultural Treasures of America initiative to support the museum’s curatorial and educational programs and the development of training in digital strategies and other needs.

And with the support of its central agency in Madrid, Spain, student enrollment and grants, the Cervantes Institute of Chicago remains active. “We have a solid foundation from which the institution will continue and be stronger than before because we will have the option of presenting our activities both in person and online,” Hernando Rojo said.

Billy Ocasio, president of the National Museum of Puerto Rican Art & Culture, interviewed singer José Feliciano during his annual gala’s virtual version. (Courtesy Billy Ocasio)

The future: fusion of the virtual and in-person events

The battle for ‘likes’ and online user attention is fierce and requires creative marketing, keeping cultural institutions busy. In 2021, many of these Chicago cultural organizations will implement a hybrid entertainment and educational model.

The Chicago Latino Film Festival, for instance, plans to hold its 37th edition April 8-18, 2021, with a combination of in-person screenings and through a streaming service.

“When we reopen, we will not stop doing the virtual and we will have two jobs. The challenge will be how to meet both without financial support or additional employees,” Tortolero said, who is eager to welcome visitors back to the National Museum of Mexican Art.

The first quarter of programming in 2021 of the Instituto Cervantes will continue to be online and then hybrid. Regarding the Flamenco Festival, organizers will divide the event into two parts: the first in February and early March of 2021 with panels, workshops, and online documentaries, and the second part in September and October with in-person performances.

“The possibility of transmitting it through social media is also incorporated so that the public can see it from their homes and from around the world,” said Hernando Rojo, who is planning to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Cervantes Institute in Chicago and the 30 years from the headquarters in Madrid.

La Raza also plans to have online events in 2021.

Cultural organizations in Chicago urge the Spanish-speaking public to follow them on social media and sign up for information on the variety of activities they will offer both online and in-person to local and global audiences.

Culture and Cyberculture

‘Sweet and Sacred Child: Ancient Christmas Songs’, La Raza’s 50th Anniversary Online Concert



Sones de México Ensemble




Chicago Latino Theater Alliance (CLATA)



Ensemble Español




Universidad Popular



UNAM Chicago



Chicago Latino Film Festival



National Museum of Puerto Rican Art & Culture




National Museum of Mexican Art








Cervantes Institute of Chicago




Chicago Symphony Orchestra and CSO Latino Alliance





Lyric Opera of Chicago




The production and dissemination of this story has been possible thanks to a grant from the Field Foundation of Illinois through its Media and Storytelling program. La Raza appreciates its support.

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