Annual Portugal in SoHo celebrates Portuguese culture and music

Under a searing sun in front of the Duarte statue, Carlos Ferreira played a whole session of drumming, bringing contemporary rhythms to the streets.
Photo by Tequila Minsky

Under a hot summer sun, the festive (if not smaller-than-usual) annual Portugal in SoHo fete took place at 6th Avenue and Canal Street on July 10. 

The pandemic version of the festival last year was a virtual concert, but this year’s fest was back in-person, featuring musical artists.

After its premiere year in 2015 at Soho Square, Arte Institute, the non-profit organizing sponsor expanded its celebration of Portuguese culture onto Sullivan Street becoming one of the most authentic block parties in the City. 

This stretch of surrounding blocks in SoHo is among the streets where Portuguese residents settled after World War II, and where many still live today.

Currently, permits for outdoor public space events are difficult to obtain and with the help of Green Below 14, festival founder Ana Ventura Miranda secured Juan Pablo Duarte Square for this year’s cultural tribute. She predicted, “Next year, we’ll be back on Sullivan Street.” 

Ana Ventura Miranda moved to NY in 2006 working as a journalist for Portuguese television, to the Portuguese Mission to the UN, and for Sonnabend Gallery. Through Arte Institute that she founded in 2011, she promotes Portuguese contemporary arts. Her documentary the Portuguese from Soho was released in 2016.Photo by Tequila Minsky

The former actress, who’s currently a producer and journalist, moved to New York from Portugal 15 years ago.  Three months after her arrival, she found herself living in a Printing District building on Broome Street where almost half the tenants were Portuguese, many from that post-World War II migration. 

Her residence, embedded in the Portuguese-in-New York community, inspired Miranda to detail the neighborhood’s and her neighbors’ histories. Her documentary film Portuguese from SoHo released in 2016 tells their stories, and screened at MOMA, Anthology of Film Archives, in SoHo’s Vesuvio Park as well as 26 other countries.  

Miranda founded the Arte Institute in 2011 to promote Portuguese culture.  Under its auspices, she produces nationally, music, cinema, art, literature, dance and performance events. 

In front of the Juan Pablo Duarte statue—named for a Dominican military leader, Carlos Ferreira played a whole session of drumming, bringing contemporary rhythms to the streets.   

Moving into the more hospitable shade, Fátima Santos and José Luis Iglésias represented traditional Portugal through the music genre fado. 

Expressive and melancholic is the music known as fado.Photo by Tequila Minsky

Performed in pubs, cafes, and restaurants in Portugal, fado is known for its expressiveness  and melancholy. It is among those listed as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity on UNESCO’s Representative List. The afternoon’s Portuguese melodies and lyrics definitely brought the culture home.

Village resident Marithelma Costa while taking her African Grey Parrot out for some air came upon and was mesmerized by the fado performance. 

Village resident Marithelma Costa, with Toto, her African Grey Parrot , out for some air.Photo by Tequila Minsky

“It was beautiful to listen to some of Amalia Rodrigues’ fados by such a delicate soloist,” she said. “Sadly, the music was not amplified and some of the notes were swallowed by Sixth Avenue traffic.” 

Also on-site during the afternoon, an arts table provided for hands-on activities and chunky chalks encouraged people to reproduce on cement some of the beautiful designs of traditional Portuguese tiles.  

The annual SoHo fete normally includes sale of Portuguese merchandise and a plethora of food vendors who always offer “a taste of Portugal.” Both aspects were missing this year. 

Set against the wall of hearts, these tiles from Portugal offered inspiration for recreating the designs and colors on cement with chalk.Photo by Tequila Minsky
Under the flag of Portugal (seen here from the reverse side) young people are encourage to express themselves through art.Photo by Tequila Minsky

Miranda bemoans the absence of Portuguese eats. 

“What’s a festival without traditional food?” she sighed, explaining how food sales were not allowed this year.  

Nonetheless, this year’s festival continues the tradition of this annual event. 

Arte Institute is also currently presenting The NY Portuguese Short Film Festival on July 14 at Lincoln Center and July 15 at the Tribeca Film Center. For more information on Arte Institute’s work: arteinstitute.org