The Old Town School's Pan-Latino Initiative

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Mateo Mulcahy is the Co-Director of Events – Programming and Community Projects at Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music, a staple devoted to the preservation and proliferation of folk music, offering concerts, classes, and workshops. I reached out to him in order to learn more about the Old Town School’s new Pan-Latino initiative, which launched earlier this month with Pueblo Latino Chicago, and all-day celebration of flamenco, Mexican music, tango, and even pre-Columbian sounds. The initiative is helped along by the success of the Old Town School’s expansion project, which allowed them to open up a brand new third space. He was very thorough in his response. – Matt


First of all, let me give you a little background.

The Old Town School of Folk Music is a not-for-profit founded in 1957 and has become the largest community arts school in the country. We service between 6000-8000 students per week in our three facilities and produce in the neighborhood of 350 concerts per year plus a two-day festival held in Welles Park every July. We just opened out third facility, Old Town School East, on January 9th which we built from the ground up and includes a new performance space, many new acoustically sound classrooms and beautiful dance rooms with sprung floors.

The Old Town School of Folk Music, despite its name, does not limit itself to folk music […] We are the largest provider of dance education in the city and also present and teach many many types of music and dance from all over the world. We began serious outreach to the Latino community about 20 years ago and, over the years, have grown our programming to include approximately 30 classes in Latin genres and classes taught in Spanish plus about 40 “Latin” concerts a year. We have also been producing an exhibit called Nuestra Musica: Latino, comprised of top Latino artists from Chicago in music, dance, and visual arts.

I was hired in 2006 with a mandate to initiate partnerships with Chicago’s ethnic communities with a focus on the Latino community. In my time here, I have partnered with dozens of community organizations including organizations that represent all of the principal Latin communities and have attracted 10 official Latino media sponsors for my programming. For several years we have been working on a plan to increase our Latin/Spanish offerings at the school. This has been at the top of our audience development goals and our strategic plan.


“It was, in essence, a Latino open house…”


The Old Town School is perfectly poised to become a true Pan-Latino destination in Chicago and I created a plan to fill in the gaps in our educational and events offerings to provide programming that represents the widest possible range of Latino programming to coincide with the opening of our new facility and to address our increased capacity; we would like to offer more Caribbean classes: bomba, plena, cuatro, rumba, casino, merengue, bachata, etc. I would also like to see some classes in Andean music and dance and Central American arts such as Marimba. I have […] produced events featuring all these genres of music and dance; they simply need to be tied in to the educational programming. We have produced workshops but haven’t had the capacity to offer 8 week sessions until now.

We created the Pueblo Latino Chicago initiative to fill these needs and have additionally applied for grants to help us in this effort. The Pueblo Latino Chicago event […] was our first public event celebrating this initiative, which featured 8 performances and 12 workshops featuring, almost exclusively, teachers and performers from the Old Town School faculty and community. It was, in essence, a Latino open house and was quite successful pulling in over 300 people. Pueblo Latino Chicago will eventually include dedicated marketing for our programming that will be easy to access and understand.


In short; we are focused on Latino music and dance for both performance and education.


So…. You can see that it was necessary to give background regarding your questions.

In short; we are focused on Latino music and dance for both performance and education. We are reaching out to the Latino community on all fronts and will increase our outreach and visibility in tandem with our increased programming. We continuously book notable local, national and international Latino artists and are now working on the programming for the second half of 2012.


We can’t wait! – Matt