Chicago Latino Theater Alliance director Myrna Salazar passes at age 75

Myrna Salazar (credit Joe Mazza/brave lux inc.)

Co-founder and Director of the Chicago Latino Theater Alliance (CLATA), Myrna Salazar has passed away suddenly at age 75, the Alliance announced Thursday in a Facebook post and press release. 

The statement reads:

It is with tremendous sadness that the Chicago Latino Theater Alliance (CLATA) announces Myrna Salazar, its beloved Co-Founder and Executive Director, passed away on Thursday, August 3, 2022, two weeks after celebrating her 75th birthday. 

Salazar will always be a Chicago legend, leaving a legacy as a Latina trailblazer who shattered glass ceilings throughout her career. To her last day, Salazar advocated for equity and representation of Latino artists in mainstream media and Chicago’s live theater stages. 

“It is with profound sadness and shock that we share with you the sudden passing of our beloved Myrna Salazar,” said Marty Castro, CLATA Board President and President and CEO of Castro Synergies, LLC. “To say that Myrna was a force of nature would be an understatement. She has been a leader, staunch advocate, change maker, and a strong voice for the Latino community on issues from education to the arts. She was and always will be part of our family and we mourn her loss. CLATA is part of her legacy and we will continue to work in her memory to ensure its continued success.”

Carlos Tortolero, President, CEO and Founder, the National Museum of Mexican Art, said, “Myrna was an amazing, once in a lifetime, super arts activist. In just a few years, she made the Chicago Latino Theater Alliance into a cultural force in Chicago, across the country and throughout Latin America. She is truly a Chicago cultural treasure and will be missed by so so so many.” 

A native of Puerto Rico and raised in Chicago, Salazar began her career as an Economic Development Specialist at the West Town Economic Development Corporation. In that capacity, she generated over $10 million in procurement housing and business development from both the private and public sectors. During that time, she completed a two-year fellowship with the National Economic Development Council and was appointed by the then Mayor of Chicago, Jane Byrne, to the Chicago Board of Education where she served for five years. 

Salazar was a marketing and advertising expert with over 35 years of experience. She was Founder and President of Salazar & Navas Talent Agency Inc., where she successfully secured contracts for over 300 professional actors, models, and spokespersons for a client base of 50+ Fortune 500 companies. She boasted with pride of having nurtured and launched TV/film careers for several local working actors on both coasts like Justina Machado, Aimee Garcia, Raul Esparza, and Nadine Velazquez, to mention a few. 

From 2007 through 2011, Salazar acted as the Director of Development and Marketing at the International Latino Cultural Center of Chicago (ILCC), which produces the Annual Chicago Latino Film Festival (CLFF), among other programs. 

In 2016, Salazar co-founded and became Executive Director of the Chicago Latino Alliance (CLATA) as a non-profit organization launched to help drive the city’s local Latino theater community to a more prominent level. She co-founded CLATA, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization with Chicago’s three most prominent Latino arts organizations: the National Museum of Mexican Art (NMMA), the International Latino Cultural Center (ILCC), and the Puerto Rican Arts Alliance (PRAA). 

CLATA’s signature program is Destinos, the Chicago International Latino Theater Festival. Now in its fifth year, Destinos is an annual, citywide festival showcasing Chicago’s Latino theater artists and companies alongside top Latino artists from the U.S. and Latin America. The 5th Destinos runs September 14-October 16, 2022 at venues throughout the city. Additionally, under Salazar’s leadership, CLATA has provided local Latino theater groups ongoing organizational and financial support, and has worked diligently to create a permanent home for Chicago’s Latino theater artists.

Fittingly, Salazar was immortalized on a Chicago stage, and featured in the New York Times, as the inspiration for the character “Myrna,” the Queen of Chicago’s first Puerto Rican Day Parade, crowned in Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom in 1966, in Teatro Vista’s 2017 hit musical La Havana Madrid by Chicago theater artist Sandra Delgado

Salazar has been a recipient of numerous awards and recognitions from many organizations. Most recently, in June 2022, she was named a Sor Juana Award recipient by the National Museum of Mexican Art for her outstanding impact in the arts and culture industry of Chicago. Other honors include recognition from the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, ASPIRA of Illinois, the Latino Fashion Week, Teatro Vista and, in 2019, in Commemoration of Women’s History Month, the Outstanding Woman Award for Excellence in Music and Theater Arts by the Honorable Dorothy Brown, former Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County, among many others. 

Salazar held a Bachelor’s Degree from the Regent External Program from New York State University and an Associate Degree from Columbia College Chicago in Broadcast Communications and Arts Management. She also completed a two-year seminar series in Capacity Building/Arts Management at the Kennedy Center. She served on the board of Choose Chicago and the League of Chicago Theaters and is a member of Mayor Lightfoot Cultural/arts committee

Salazar is survived by her children Yvette (Steve) Sharp, Iliana (Greg) Romero, stepson Christopher Dovalina, grandchildren Ariela Romero, Andrés Romero, Gabriela Bibbens, y Gabe Sharp, her mother Carmen Rosado Feliciano, sister Carmen Salazar. She is survived by her first husband, Florentino (Rosellen) Mitchell and preceded in death by her second husband, Cesar Dovalina, former owner of the Spanish-language newspaper, La Raza, and La Margarita restaurants.

Information about funeral services is forthcoming.

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Salazar was extremely passionate about her causes and explained why the Arts are essential in an interview with Illinois Humanities in 2020, “The Arts, in general, are significant in our everyday lives. Every waking moment is brought to you by an artist, it can be a graphic on your phone, the food you eat at a restaurant, a program you are watching on your television, or music you listen to on your way to work. The Arts allow the general populace to connect and be a part of something bigger than ourselves.

Theatre, I strongly believe, fuels this vital human connection on a visceral level. As we gather in a space from our different walks of life, no distractions, we in that moment are united in an experience. An experience that can create empathy and challenges us to understand ourselves and others. Together, we can explore cultural differences, which also highlights our similarities. What we see on a stage, can heal us, move us, and inspire us to achieve things we never could have imagined for ourselves. 

In general, theatre and the arts are essential. To the Latino community, and any other community of color, representation in the Arts is fundamental. Destinos is one of the few places where the vibrancy, talent, and diversity of the U.S. and International Latino experiences are told for and by Latino artists.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Congressman Chuy García, and Chicago Deputy Mayor Samir Mayekar all paid their respects on Twitter:

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