Background and History

Latin IS America focuses on musical, artistic and scholarly events that celebrate the blending of Latin American and U.S. cultures

Cultures evolve. Influences fuse to create something new.

Recognizing those absolutes, an idea was born in 2013: Celebrate the merging of cultural relationships through art. The festival pioneers—MSU College of Music colleagues Ricardo Lorenz, Etienne Charles and Mark Sullivan—collaborated with campus and community partners to create this event. Latin IS America strengthens the perspective that Latin American and U.S. cultures are increasingly intertwined, and examines arts and cultural connections through this event series.

The beginnings
The collection of performances, programs, and events that make up Latin IS America was inspired by the work of Raphael Jiménez, a doctoral student and associate director of orchestras at MSU in the 2000s.

Jiménez had been invited by the MSU Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies to broaden the university’s international pursuits beyond academics to an ongoing series expressly for the arts. Jiménez quickly assembled a team of students and colleagues and created a series that centered on Latin American music. In a span of 10 years, the Latin American Music series represented 12 countries through 127 works by 63 composers.

Guest composers came to campus, including Paul Desenne, Daniel Catán, Robert Xavier Rodríguez, Gabriela Ortiz, and Ricardo Lorenz, who later joined the MSU faculty as an associate professor of composition. Guest artists came too, including Roberto Diaz (viola), Luis Julio Toro (flute), Carols Prieto (cello) and Ney Rosauro (percussion), as well as the bands Tiempo Libre and Sones de Mexico. Compositions were written, master classes were taught, and the community was exposed to a rich variety of Latin American music in classical, popular, and experimental forms. 

“We were very diverse in terms of the genres represented,” said Jiménez, now the director of orchestras at Oberlin College and Conservatory. “Events ranged from symphonic to electronic to opera to popular folk bands.”

The series resulted in several premiere events, including the first stage performance of Florence in the Amazon by Daniel Catán. The Mexican composer spent a week on campus coaching singers and hosting a master class. The opera was eventually web-cast to more than 12,000 viewers. MSU’s outreach to K-12 and community audiences was also furthered through Monkey See, Monkey Do, Robert Xavier Rodríguez’s opera for children.

“Our series showed how music continually evolves and feeds from all parts of the world,” said Jiménez. “It showed how in the end, you end up with this fantastic collection of musical works created over time.” 

The here and now
Upon Jiménez’s departure, Lorenz picked up the baton and revived the series for the coming decade. 

MSU music colleagues Etienne Charles and Mark Sullivan joined him, as well as several campus and community partners. The Latin IS America festival strengthens the perspective that Latin American and U.S. cultures are increasingly intertwined, and examines the connections through music, film, theater, the visual arts, and scholarly discussions.

“We wanted to create a festival that people feel like ‘this is for me,’ rather than just for high-brows or museum goers,” said Sullivan, associate professor, chair of the composition area, and director of the computer music studios. “We’re looking to build a new audience that cuts across previous audiences, one that doesn’t say you have to have an international connection to relate to or enjoy the events. Our festival is all about creating a venue for that broader, more universal culture—in other words, the culture that we’re experiencing now.”

The coming years
Moving forward, MSU looks to continually grow the festival and to build a broad network of performers, artists, and scholars who will contribute their time and talents. Plans are, too, to build a robust website and archive that can facilitate the exchange of educational materials, attract the attention of artists, and encourage the creation of commissioned works. In time, Sullivan envisions the festival gaining national and international prominence.

“We’re starting off fairly modest with a predominate focus on music,” said Sullivan. “Our goal is to create more extensive bonds within the world of arts and culture, and to get others talking about us and our approach around the world.”