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Lin-Manuel Miranda's 'Hamilton' funds give Puerto Rican art groups a second chance

“That help has multiplied in a way that has been beautiful and useful,” said Nami Helfeld, co-director of an island theater company.
Adriana Paola Morales Lopez, 15, is a scholarship recipient at the Andanza Dance Company who wants to become a professional ballerina.
Adriana Paola Morales Lopez, 15, is a scholarship recipient at the Andanza Dance Company who wants to become a professional ballerina. Jessica Flores / USC Annenberg

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — As Puerto Rico's financial crisis has deepened over the last decade, arts organizations have faced dwindling resources or been defunded.

But nearly two years after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, many have been given a second chance to continue their artistic and cultural work thanks in part to "Hamilton" creator Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Miranda, alongside his family and "Hamilton" producer Jeffrey Seller, partnered with the Flamboyan Foundation to create an arts fund to help revitalize arts in Puerto Rico. The foundation is named after one of the island's best-known and beloved trees, the flamboyán, or flamboyant tree, which grows in warm zones.

The fund provides grants to Puerto Rican arts organizations. After "Hamilton’s" 17-day run in Puerto Rico, Miranda helped raise nearly $15 million from ticket sales and contributions to the fund.

Andanza, a contemporary dance company and school in San Juan, is one of over 12 grant recipients.

“It’s the first time that we have funds guaranteed for the beginning of the year so it’s been very important,” said Lolita Villanúa, executive director of Andanza, adding that the grant “was like a big prize on our 20th anniversary."

Andanza has struggled financially since its founding in 1998, Villanúa said. "The search for funds has always been very difficult," she said, recalling an instance in which the government gave Andanza $8,000 for the dance company to operate for a year.

“Let’s hope that other foundations [and] other institutions come together to continue to support the arts here, because it is needed,” she said.

Andanza is one of the 12 arts organizations receiving aid from the Flamboyant Arts Fund. "It was like a big prize on our 20th anniversary because we [have been] working tirelessly and intensely for the country, and the search for funds has always been very difficult," said Lolita Villan?a, executive director of Andanza.Jessica Flores / USC Annenberg

Part of the money Andanza receives helps young dance students like 15-year-old Adriana Paola Morales López, a scholarship recipient who aspires to dance professionally.

“I feel super grateful because I see that they support me and that they believe in me,” Morales López said. “Andanza is like my second family.”

Andanza's mission is to promote arts accessibility on the island and foster education through dance.

“Dance has helped me. It’s a form to escape reality, and it’s also a way to stay healthy,” said Gabriela Arroyo, 18, a ballet student and an assistant at Andanza for six years.

The arts fund aims to help a number of different types of organizations, said Carlos J. Rodriguez Silvestre, executive director of the Flamboyan Foundation.

“It’s not just museums or visual arts. It’s a fund for both large and small organizations” he added.

Y No Había Luz, a San Juan theater company managed by seven local artists, has also received Flamboyan arts funds to continue its work with communities throughout the island. The name in English means, "And there was no light," or "And there was no power."

Founded in 2005, the company's mission is to create art experiences that foster creativity, solidarity and social justice in Puerto Rico.

“The arts are individual, but a community is created,” Yari Helfeld, one of seven co-directors of Y No Había Luz, said, adding that the arts "lets us humanize us.”

Y No Habia Luz is a theater company in San Juan. Yari and Nami Helfeld, creative co-directors of Y No Hab?a Luz, said their parents were always supportive of their art careers. "My dad always told us that we should do what we wanted and not let anyone tell you what to do," Yari said.Jessica Flores / USC Annenberg

Helfeld, her sister Nami and the five other co-directors of Y No Había Luz started the company while they were students at the University of Puerto Rico’s Rio Piedras campus.

One of the main concerns artists on the island have always had is access to stable work.

Even before Hurricanes Irma and Maria hit the island in 2017, artists struggled financially because of the lack of support from the government, Yari said.

“But after Maria, so many doors opened for collaboration [and] visibility,” she said. “After the storm comes the calm. For us artists, it’s been that way.”

In the wake of the hurricanes, Y No Había Luz created a play, "Centinela de Mangó." It was inspired by an ancient tree that fell during Hurricane Maria in the town of Orocovis. The tree had a Puerto Rican flag on it and was a symbol of the island’s identity, Nami said.

The group has performed the play throughout the island and in New York City. The company is now adapting the play into children’s book, an effort that's made possible thanks to their Flamboyan grant.

“That help has multiplied in a way that has been beautiful and useful,” Nami said.

Yari Helfeld, co-director of Puerto Rican theater company Y No Habia Luz, reads a children's book to a girl in San Juan, Puerto Rico.Jessica Flores

The work of both Andanza and Y No Había Luz has been getting more attention since receiving the grants; actor Ben Stiller recently got a glimpse of the theater company's work.

After the hurricane, Y No Había Luz's co-directors worried about being able to afford their studio’s rent and remain operational.

But Lin-Manuel Miranda and the Flamboyan Foundation changed that, Yari said.

“For three years I can plan and create a healthier structure for my team,” she said. “I can make dreams more long-term.”

This story was completed as part of a collaboration with the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

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Nicole Acevedo contributed.