Arts News: New Ensemble Caters to Marginalized Communities

Colectiva Huēhuecoyōtl is a new ensemble in the region, with a mission to combine music, education and social justice. The organization provides free-of-cost entertainment for nonprofit organizations that cater specifically to marginalized communities.

“Music changed my life in positive ways only. And I wanted to be able to provide that while also significantly offering help,” said founder and artistic director Flor Lizbeth Cruz Longoria. Cruz, a flutist, graduated with a master’s degree from UMKC Conservatory in May and is completing a graduate certificate in nonprofit management and innovation from UMKC’s Henry W. Bloch School of Management.

Cruz got the idea for Colectiva Huēhuecoyōtl while participating in the Puerto Rico Summer Music Festival, of which she is co-artistic director. The festival tours a symphony orchestra and chamber ensembles around the island, presenting Latinx music.

“I realized that I could do the same thing by helping nonprofits that were already in place,” said Cruz.

The group gets its name from the Aztec god Huēhuecoyōtl, or Old, Old Coyote in Nahuatl. Pronounced “weh-weh-COH-yoh-tl,” it is a prankster god of music, storytelling, dance and merriment from pre-Columbian mythology.

Cruz came to Kansas City from South Texas, having spent her formative years in Tamaulipas, Mexico, and at her family’s ranch in Veracruz. “When I moved to Kansas City, that was the first time I was living in a place where I was actually considered a minority,” she said.

That was in fall of 2016. She responded to that culture shock by looking for ways to connect to and support her community.

“I come from a background where together we can accomplish more and we can secure the safety of us,” said Cruz. “It was also an opportunity for me to help my friends who were here in Kansas City, who were themselves immigrants or refugees or communities of color that are not represented in music academia.”

Cruz started by reaching out to UMKC organizations, such as the Multicultural Student Affairs Office and Avanzando. Colectiva has also performed for UMKC’s Immigrant Stories series, an International Women’s Day celebration and a benefit for Border Kindness, among others.

“People tend to want to spend more when there is some sort of entertainment attached to a fundraiser,” she said. So they offered their services to area nonprofits that aligned with their mission, providing performances specifically tuned to the partnering organization’s event.

Coming from a range of cultures and heritages, the nearly 30 members in Colectiva form ensembles from chamber orchestra to solo lecture recitals.

Of course, the circumstances surrounding COVID-19 have severally disrupted many of Colectiva’s 2020 plans; postponed are a youth mentorship program through the Latino Arts Foundation and a recital to benefit refugee resettlement in Kansas City. Colectiva’s application for 501(c)(3) status is also on hold with the Internal Revenue Service due to the current crisis. (Currently, all funds raised by Colectiva go directly to the partnering organization.)

The members have not been idle, however. This July, they release a video project to raise funds and awareness for people of color who, because of systematic oppression and racism, are disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

The video also displays the diversity of musical styles in the region and in the collective, with a rendition of the 1959 classic “Kansas City” set through 10 different styles, each genre presented by people active in that particular scene.

Participating in Colectiva is an opportunity for the musicians to explore music not taught in traditional conservatory curriculum. “All the music history and music theory courses that I or any of us have ever taken were centered on western ideas and philosophies, even though music has existed in every single culture from the beginning,” said Cruz. “Even though I grew up in South Texas, we still did not play music by people who lived where we lived or looked the way that we look.”

“We have wonderful music that deserves that same respect and acknowledgement.”

For more information about Colectiva Huēhuecoyōtl, visit www.ColectivaKC.com.

Libby Hanssen

Originally from Indiana, Libby Hanssen covers the performing arts in Kansas City. She is the author of States of Swing: The History of the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, 2003-2023. Along with degrees in trombone performance, Libby was a Fellow for the NEA Arts Journalism Institute at Columbia University. She maintains the culture bog "Proust Eats a Sandwich."

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