Art As Diplomacy at The Out in the Tropics Festival
By Andrew Belonsky
This weekend in Miami, a group of seemingly disparate artists—including florid performance artist Taylor Mac, the New York-based string quartet Well-Strung, the Cuban-American actress and comedienne Carmelita Tropicana, and the Cuban lesbian feminist troupe Cubalandia—will gather together.
By now, it should be clear that there's a Cuban connection here. But it's more than that. They're all coming together for FUNDarte's Out in the Tropics festival, an annual event that celebrates queer Latin and Hispanic artists from the United States, Cuba, and throughout the entire Latin diaspora, which claims Miami as its capital, according to FUNDarte's founder, Ever Chavez.
"We feel work from Latin American and the Caribbean is really relevant to our audiences because, like it or not," Chavez says, "We are in one of the capitals of Latin America."
While similarly empowering festivals hitch their wagons to stars and famous singers, Chavez wanted this festival, now in its fourth year, to both showcase extraordinary, off-the-beaten path queer arts and to challenge audiences. "We wanted to offer local audiences an alternative to the more 'entertainment' style performance that Miami is mostly associated with," he says of Out in the Tropics and FUNDarte's overall philosophy. "We knew there were these amazing performing artists out there with a lot of great work that is multi-disciplinary, and challenges audiences and brings really relevant messages to our LGBTQ community and all audiences." He wanted to create a platform for "smart, feisty, and outrageous work that was being created by LGBTQ artists."
(Obie Award-winning performer Taylor Mac will appear at Out in the Tropics this weekend.)
The goal here, aside from supporting the performing arts in general, is three-fold. One, to build bridges between the Latino/Hispanic diaspora and the non-Latin or Hispanic communities. Two, to bring self-segregating gay communities together. "The LGBTQ community can be somewhat segregated along these lines in terms of certain events, and we want them to overlap," Chavez explains. And, three, to help break language barriers that exist within the diaspora itself. "We feel that Latinos are the mainstream in this community to a certain degree, or at least the 'other' mainstream, but there is a language issue in that many Latinos don't necessarily speak or use Spanish." Arts are a vehicle for a broader, larger mission. And this is especially true when it comes to Cuba.
Official relations between the United States and the communist nation have thawed a tiny bit in recent years, but the five-decade-long embargo and travel restrictions still remain, even after generations of international intermingling.
To Chavez, Taylor Mac, Carmelita Tropicana, and the rest of the Out in the Tropics guests, including Carlos Miguel Caballero, a Miami-based actor who stars in the gay Cuban movie Verde Verde, they are cultural ambassadors.
"The bottom line is that artists do the international diplomacy that governments fail to do," Chavez says. "We make instant human to human connections through the honesty and intensity of our message. In the theater, artists are working with their vulnerability and revealing universal truths about themselves, and their audiences. The guard comes down and, at least for one hour, the crowd and artist can feel united with common goals."
Here, for your consideration, is the trailer for director Enrique Pineda Barnet's Verde Verde, as well as footage of Well-Strung performing Ke$ha's "Your Love is my Drug," and some clips of Ms. Tropicana getting some laughs.
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