- The Washington Times - Monday, September 13, 2004

“This is the beginning of the ‘04-‘05 season, and I think we are beginning on a high note,” Kennedy Center PresidentMichael Kaiser told some 200 guests at last week’s kickoff dinner celebrating the 2004 AmericArtes program and a monthlong Prelude Festival.

The evening was certainly held on an upbeat note — say about 100 or more notes a minute — which seemed the minimum provided by Puerto Rican-born salsa king Gilberto Santa Rosa in the Concert Hall later.

An enthusiastic multiethnic crowd responded to his every word and song Sept. 7, delivered in Spanish without translation. Puerto Rican talent being featured at the performing arts institution through Sept. 25 includes symphonic and jazz musicians, poets, vocalists, dancers, playwrights, writers and visual artists.

“He’s the Puerto Rican equivalent of Tony Bennett, only younger and more rhythmic,” a fan of Mr. Santa Rosa’s commented at the dinner, which was hosted by Mr. Kaiser and the governor of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico Sila Maria Calderon. The pulchritudinous governor was accompanied by her new and suave husband, Ramon Cantero Frau.

This year’s AmericArtes festival is formally themed “Espiritu de Puerto Rico” — the spirit of what Mr. Kaiser called “a rich and diverse” place that “we in this country don’t know enough about.”

That provided an opening for the governor to praise a culture that “blends native, Spanish, African and other influences that have produced great artists. Yet it is music perhaps that unites all Puerto Ricans.”

Puerto Rico this year has provided an “unprecedented” 60 percent increase in support for the arts, she added. That amounts to $128 million for a population of 3.8 million. (Some 60,000 Puerto Ricans reside in the Greater Washington area, noted Washington-based lawyer Maria Carmen, director of the commonwealth’s U.S. office.)

Dinner guests included Earl “Rusty” Powell III, director of the National Gallery of Art; Kennedy Center trustees Donna McLarty and Anne Jewell Johnson (with their husbands Thomas “Mac” McLarty IIIand Clay Johnson); honorary trustee Alma Gildenhorn; and former Reagan administration chief of staff Michael Deaver.

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