LifestyleWashington Performing Arts Showcases Diverse Talent, Celebrates Changemakers, Emphasizes Giving Back

Washington Performing Arts Showcases Diverse Talent, Celebrates Changemakers, Emphasizes Giving Back

Each year the Washington Performing Arts (WPA) gala serves as a reminder of the wealth of talented artists in D.C. and emphasizes the arts’ incredible importance to District life and culture. With the theme “Together in Art and Community,”  the 2024 celebration on March 15 highlighted how the arts serve as a source of activism, education, and means of effecting change in the nation’s capital and beyond.

Héctor J. Torres, Washington Performing Arts (WPA) President and CEO Jenny Blifield and Jay Haddock Ortiz at the WPA gala “Together in Art and Community,” on March 15. Torres and Haddock Ortiz were the event honorees. (Courtesy of Kalorama Photography)
Held at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, guests flocked to the event donning captivating creative black tie ensembles, ready to celebrate artists and local changemakers, particularly the evening’s honorees Héctor J. Torres and Jay Haddock Ortiz. 

The night featured a silent auction and a variety of artists. Children of the Gospel Choir, Jaime Lozano, Florencia Cuenca, and Yahir Montes, J Chris, and Adrian Loving entertained audiences with exciting performances, showcasing the breadth and beauty of D.C. artists.

Tamika Smith, senior anchor of WAMU’s “All Things Considered,” served as the engaging emcee for a program where during dinner, guests enjoyed the vibrant, soulful sounds of Children of the Gospel Choir, led by Michelle Fowlin, and entertaining Spanglish renditions of musical tunes from Lozano, Cuenca and Montes. 

Washington Performing Arts President and CEO Jenny Blifield said the organization is intentional about highlighting D.C.’s diverse arts scene.

“We’re an organization of meaning, excellence and inclusion,” she told the crowd during the  2024 gala.

Torres told The Informer that Washington Performing Arts is not new to diversity, but true to it.

“Before DEIB, diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging, became the thing of social consciousness that it is now, WPA has been a practitioner for the longest time– since its inception,” Torres said. “To be honest with you, my attraction to WPA is not so much of the formality: the orchestras that come and embrace our city and bring economic pride and culture to our cities— because it has contributed tremendously— but also the integrity of all its programming that it does for Washington, D.C. residents and particularly youth.”

Even the 2024 gala helps to give back. Event proceeds, which to almost $600,000, support Washington Performing Arts performances, arts education programs, and community initiatives.

For Torres and Haddock Ortiz, the arts are important, but giving back is also incredibly critical.

Partners in life, business, and philanthropy, Torres and Haddock Ortiz have spent decades investing in and giving back to the District’s arts, hospitality, education and health communities.

Though the two are retired from the daily grind of full-time work, Torres now works as an artist, while Haddock Ortiz explained life as “re-fired.”  

“We retired from the day-to-day work but our schedules are really quite demanding,” Haddock Ortiz told The Informer. “I serve on the board of Events DC. I also serve on the board of the Hotel Association, but I also am a consultant to the Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School, which [prioritizes] issues of workforce development and community or external relations. I’ve been working with that school for over 30 years, as I have been working with WPA for over 30 years.”

Torres and Haddock Ortiz’s journey with Washington Performing Arts has evolved from arts appreciators to advisors.

“First, we started as supporters and donors and now we have become, somewhat, advisors and even though we don’t serve on the Board of WPA, we sometimes feel like we’re advisory board members,” Haddock Ortiz said, with Torres laughing. “I try to make a connection for WPA, as I try to do for Carlos Rosario, as I try to do for Gala Hispanic Theatre, as I try to do for a lot of minority nonprofits that serve the communities that need it the most.”

WAMU senior anchor Tamika Smith served as emcee for the Washington Performing Arts gala “Together in Art and Community” on March 15 at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. (Courtesy of Kalorama Photography)
Giving back is at the root of all of their work.

“With WPA, we’re very involved because we’re very thankful that they’re involved with the music programs of the District of Columbia Public Schools,” Haddock Ortiz said. “With Carlos Rosario, we’re very involved because of the workforce development and their attention to immigrant issues. With Gala Theatre… it’s  a small Latino theater; that market is very difficult for them to maintain. And with the Hotel Association, I still remain involved because of the workforce development and because 70% of the people who work behind the scenes in the hotel industry are minorities. I think that as we keep hospitality and tourism strong in the District, we can keep our minorities employed.”

The honorees said they work to promote change.

“We’re advocates, we’re vocal on an advocacy level. We’re not activists, we don’t show up with signs and stuff and pressure people. We do it in a respectful manner, through collaboration and through meetings and through sharing a meal together, and trying to bring forward the plight and the issues that affect minority communities,” Haddock Ortiz explained.  

 Working to empower others, the honorees emphasized, is critical.

“How is it possible that one can be blind to all the needs that exist out there?I think that we’re giving a dose of need on a regular basis,” Torres told The Informer. “Everyone’s contribution matters. No matter how big or how small, the fact that you get involved and do something for someone else, truly, truly matters.”

Source: Washington Informer

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