Tomas J. Benitez
Tomas has been an advocate of Chicano/Latino arts and culture for 35 years, and has served as a consultant to the Smithsonian Institute, the President’s Council for the Arts, The National Endowment for the Arts, the University of Notre Dame, USC, UCLA, the Mexican Fine Art Center Museum in Chicago, and the California Arts Council. He has lectured on Chicano art and culture in Berlin, Mexico City, London, Glasgow, Tel Aviv, and Pretoria South Africa, as well as numerous cultural centers, major institutions and universities throughout the United States.
He has worked with Plaza de la Raza, Bilingual Foundation for the Arts, Teatro de la Esperanza, Teatro Café (his own teatro company), the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles, and he mentored with the late C. Bernard “Jack” Jackson at the Los Angeles Inner City Cultural Center, a visionary multi-cultural performing arts center.
Tomas is the former Executive Director of Self Help Graphics & Art in East Los Angeles. During his tenure, Self Help Graphics & Art exhibited more Chicano art and fine art prints around the world than any other institution in the United States, including: Mexico and several countries throughout South America, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Japan, Korea, China, Russia, Australia, The Republic of South Africa and nine other African countries, several countries in Europe, including England, Scotland, Ireland, Spain, France and Germany, and the Middle East including, Israel and Turkey.
Tomas has also been a cultural arts planner and consultant for the City of Los Angeles (Arts Masterplan 1990), the City of Pasadena (Community Cultural Plan, 1994), KCET (PBS in Los Angeles) and the Metropolitan Transit Authority on various projects. He has written articles on Chicano art and culture and other aspects of culture for a variety of publications, journals and catalogs, including commissioned work for the Japanese American National Museum, the Autry Museum, and the USIA Arts America Program.
He remains a consultant for non-profit cultural arts organizations in the greater Los Angeles area, California and the Southwest. He is a Commissioner for the County of Los Angeles Arts Commission (1st District, Supervisor Gloria Molina), and sits on a number of panels and advisory groups related to arts, culture and arts education. He is a founding member of the board of directors for LAN (The Latino Arts Network), a statewide Latino arts and arts education advocacy organization, and is an earnest member of his other passion, the Baseball Reliquary, a hardy band of performing, visual and media artists who are ”dedicated to the art and creativity of the great game, despite the professional sport.”
Tomas J. Benitez
He is a key advisor, writer and contributor to The Latino Baseball Project: The Mexican-American Experience, a humanities based project in partnership with the Phau Library at California State University at San Bernardino. The project is a multi-year endeavor that has examined the impact of baseball on the formation of the Mexican-American identity and community in the United States, and will eventuate in a collection, permanent and traveling exhibitions and a website for the dissemination of materials and information.
Tomas is also co-founder of the Ministry of Culture, an agit-prop group of artists and performers dedicated to using art and culture to fight for social justice by ridiculing haters and despots. The group includes his creations, Pinatas for Peaceful Violence, The Great Wall of Chinga, (a response to the U.S./Mexico border fence), and his latest character, Comandante de Soplador de Hojas (Commander Leaf Blower) head of the Frente Militante Leaf Blower Marching Band, a satirical performance art project. The FMLBMB is a response to the hate and bashing of Latino people and all immigrants.
Tomas Benitez was born and raised in front of a TV set in East L. A. After earning a B.A. in Theatre and Chicano Studies, and a brief stint as a high school History/English teacher, he began his career in the arts as a teatrista, that is, a troubadour actor in various itinerate teatro chicano companies which toured the United States in the early 1970’s.
His foray into show business included several brief appearances in television shows in the Seventies, in which he played either a gang member, or an illegal alien, or an illegal alien gang member. Disillusioned with his choice of rolls, he turned back to theatre and helped found a Shakespeare company in the South Bay, and played in ‘rep’ for several seasons. (At no time was he an illegal alien gang member during his Shakespeare days.)
He wrote Los Minnicanos for the Mixed Blood Theatre in Minnesota, which successfully toured the Midwest for three years, and over the years has written and has had several others plays for different theatre companies produced in the United States and Mexico.
As a screenwriter, Tomas wrote for Cannon Productions, and his film SALSA: The Movie was produced in 1988. He has also written for Fred Roos, Starz Encore Films, CBS, and several other producers. He has been working with Nancy de los Santos for several years, and they have written numerous projects, including THE TEXAS BOYS, an epic story of the Mexican American civil rights movement, also being produced by Fred Roos. Tomas is currently working on a multi-volume novel based on Boyle Heights, the “Ellis Island of the West.” Tomas lives with his son Lucas in Monterey Park, CA.
Tomas has worked as a shoe salesman, a glass cutter, a really bad carpenter, a waiter, a teacher, a teen gang counselor, a hack writer, a distinguished visiting professor, an actor, a janitor in an adult bookstore, a National Hispanic Marketing Consultant, a box boy for his grandpa’s market, and one half day as a scab farmworker, before he quit without pay.
Although Tomas is available for consulting, proposal writing, planning or presentations, he’d really rather play second base for the Los Angeles Dodgers more than anything else.