By JOSÉ A. GIRALT
When 2020 started, Doris Cordero was thrilled to assume the position of president of the 45-member Riverdale Art Association. She is the first Puerto Rican to hold the position, but then COVID-19 came along, disrupting the monthly, in-person meetings. Later, on a more personal level, a cancer diagnosis in early summer left her facing what she described as an ordeal.
“I was in recovery during August, September, and October. I’m now 100 percent,” Cordero told the Norwood News in a phone interview. She is philosophical, and even somewhat upbeat about having slowed down to assist her recovery. “Because of the pandemic, everyone is home. So, it isn’t like I missed anything during the summer,” she said.
Now, Cordero is focused on continuing the work she started almost a year ago as president, namely, to grow the membership of the art association by bringing in a more diverse group of new artists. She is thankful to work with a board of directors, helping the organization through these difficult times, especially as much of the art world faces decreasing financial support.
“The challenges of any organization in [regards to] leadership is that you need to have a good group of people that work with you, that are willing to do the work,” she said. “Because one person alone can’t run an organization.”
Cordero is joined on the board by six other women, and one man who serves as the treasurer. Her mission also includes expanding the association’s reach beyond Riverdale, through the use of technology. Because of social distancing restrictions on in-person group meetings, arising from the pandemic, digital tools like Zoom allow interested artists beyond the local neighborhood to get in touch with the association.
“One of the board members is a real strong ‘techie,’ and very talented, said Cordero. “So, we immediately created a website, and we have Instagram now. For people outside our community, we’re trying to reach them with Instagram and our website.”
Art has been a life-long passion for Cordero. Born in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx, she spent her early school years in Puerto Rico, before returning to the city at 13, as a fully bilingual student.
“I was always that child that loved to fill the notebooks with drawings very early on. It was a passion,” she said. “Everything that was art, I always gravitated to.”
An art teacher saw Cordero’s artistic potential and encouraged her to attend the Art & Design High School. She went on to earn a degree in studio art and elementary education, as well as a master’s degree, both from Fordham University.
After a multi-decade long career in arts education and administration, Cordero retired 13 years ago from teaching kids and mentoring art teachers. It is that vast experience in the arts that has prepared her to take the reins of the Riverdale Art Association.
Nydia Novoa Sancho has known Cordero throughout her career and also worked extensively, as a principal, to bring art education into public schools. She sees Cordero as uniquely qualified to lead an arts organization. “We had to deal with a lot of different arts organizations, everything from Lincoln Center, Harlem School of the Arts, we had the Museo del Barrio,” said Novoa Sancho. “We were in with all those people, and Doris and I were in that together.”
Now retired, Novoa Sancho has high praise for the extensive knowledge and skills that Cordero brings to the role of president. “She comes with a wealth of resources and information about the arts, in particular the visual arts,” said Sancho. “She is a part of the network in the arts.”
As a fourth grader in rural Puerto Rico, Cordero remembers being taught art appreciation in a school with no electricity and no running water. When her teacher showed her a print of Jean-François Millet’s “The Reaper,” she knew art would somehow always be a part of her life. “It wasn’t about the Metropolitan [Museum of Art]. It wasn’t about taking a child to a museum,” she said. “It’s about how art influences children and changes their lives.”
Far away from rural Puerto Rico, and building on a career dedicated to art and education, Cordero works to instill and inspire both young and old through her leadership at the Riverdale Art Association.
“We’re a group of artists that love art, of all ages that wants to really be involved together in our art-making and show our work,” said Cordero. “We have this passion for the arts.”
More information can be found at https://riverdaleartassociation.org/.