Prior to moving to Boston in 1998, Villacres was the head of CBS Hispanic Radio Network. He said he developed his lifetime love of music while growing up in Newark, N.J., in the 1960s during that city’s turbulent race riots. Originally from Ecuador, Villacres also said that music helped him learn English when he was growing up.
“I love music,” Villacres said. “I grew up listening to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. When I worked for CBS, I met Barbra Streisand, Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen. Art, like love, can make us better human beings.”
Villacres sits on the boards of Greater Boston cultural institutions like the Museum of Fine Arts and the Cambridge Center for Adult Education. He said he would like to see more arts programs in the city embrace a “walk in my shoes” approach to explore art and culture. He cited the example of a museum he recently visited in Argentina where patrons went into a gallery in the dark and had to experience the exhibit the same way as the blind.
City Councilor-at-Large Sam Yoon stressed the importance of Boston’s cultural spots diversifying as well. With immigrants accounting for one in four Boston households and students of color representing over 80 percent of the Boston Public Schools’ enrollment, he said, there’s no time like the present to make those efforts.
“I feel obligated to prepare for our present and our future,” Yoon said. “We should anticipate multicultural change in the city.”
Yoon admits that he didn’t grow up with a background in the arts. But as he got older, he said, he developed a love for jazz and gospel music, which he said gave him an important window into the black community.
The councilor also suggested that Bostonians make efforts to expose themselves to different cultures, even by taking as small a step as trying something new for dinner.
“Food is also important,” he said. “I spoke at a conference last year and tasted Somali food for the first time. Learning about different cultures is more than just book knowledge.”
While he recognizes that some strides have been made toward greater racial integration, Yoon also pointed out that people of color still feel “subtle hints” that they are not welcomed at many cultural events. He suggested having more multilingual playbills and translators at artistic performances and community events to close such culture gaps.
Shirley Carrington of Boston Connects Inc. said the arts community should create sustainable relationships with community groups like hers in order to get more diverse communities to come to cultural events.
“A good organizer should be well-equipped to deal with multicultural communities,” said Carrington, interim executive director of Boston Connects, the nonprofit group charged with implementing the strategic plan for the Boston Empowerment Zone. “The lives of community members are much better when they are involved in the arts.”
The key, Carrington said, is continuing to reach out. She recalled what it is like at her Southern Baptist church, where congregants extend themselves with hugs to new members and make them feel welcome.
“You need to have that personal contact,” she said.
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