NYSCA celebrates the life of Miriam Colón

The staff and Council of the New York State Council on the Arts celebrates the life of Miriam Colón, who died March 3 due to pulmonary complications.

In her distinguished career as an actress and champion of the arts, Miriam Colón made numerous film, television, and theater appearances, founded the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater, and served as a member of the NYSCA Council.

Born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, Colón launched her career at the age of 12 and starred in her first film Los peloteros (The Baseball Players) for the División de Educación de la Comunidad de Puerto Rico (DivEdCo). She appeared in such television shows and films as Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Scarface, John Sayles’ Lone Star and City of Hope, Billy Bob Thornton’s All The Pretty Horses, and the principal role in the film version of Rudolfo Anaya’s novel Bless Me, Última. On stage, she appeared in René Marqués’ The Oxcart with Raúl Juliá and Lucy Boscana under Lloyd Richards’ direction.

“Committed to social justice, the free exchange of ideas and flow of creativity, Miriam Colón worked tirelessly to support the cause of ‘bringing theater to the people,’” said NYSCA Chair Dr. Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel.

“Moving to New York City at the age of 17 from Ponce, Puerto Rico, she was the first Puerto Rican actor to be admitted as a student at the Actors Studio. With great success in film and television, she played an equally important role in breaking down cultural barriers. In 1967 she founded the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater in New York, where she helped young Latino actors and writers develop their craft.”

Dr. Diamonstein-Spielvogel continued, “I had the pleasure to know and work with Miriam whose petite stature belied her towering significance in the Latino community. Ms. Colón obtained the company’s first permanent home in 1981, when she noticed an empty firehouse on West 47th Street; it remains there today as Pregones Theater Puerto Rican Traveling Theater. She was the artistic director until 2014; when the company merged with Pregones, and she became the artistic adviser. A recipient of the Mayor’s Award of Honor for Arts and Culture in May 1982, she was also recognized as a pioneer of the Spanish-speaking theater at a special ceremony in her honor at City Hall Plaza in August of that same year. A cultural advisor at the city, state, and national level, she was appointed to the New York State Council on the Arts, where she served for more than ten years. At the national level, she served not only as a panelist on the Expansion Arts Panel of the National Endowment for the Arts, but also on the Institutional Advancement Pilot Program Panel; and as a member of the National Hispanic Task Force. In September 2015, President Obama awarded her the National Medal of Arts.”

Al Berr, NYSCA Deputy Executive Director of Programs during Colón’s service, added, “During her many years’ service as a Council member, she was a passionate champion of government funding and its significant importance to arts organizations and the communities they serve. We send our condolences to the organization she founded, now known as Pregones Theater Puerto Rican Traveling Theater, and to the entire New York arts community, which, of course, is her extended family.”

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