Padilla-Rodriguez currently teaches Caribbean Dance at the David Hochstein Memorial Music School, and founded the first Hispanic professional performing arts group, Borinquen Dance Theatre, in Upstate New York.
“This unique award personifies its namesake, Essie Calhoun-McDavid,” said Geva Artistic Director Mark Cuddy. “Each year we are honored to present it to someone who has made a significant contribution in our community, and Nydia Padilla-Rodriguez certainly has done that. Rochester is a better place because of her dedication to arts, diversity, and young people.”
According to officials, Geva created the award in honor of Essie Calhoun-McDavid, retired chief diversity officer, director of community affairs, and vice president of Eastman Kodak Co., in 2011.
Calhoun-McDavid was the first recipient of the award, which has been given annually to a person or organization that promotes and encourages diversity in the arts, officials stated.
In addition, Garth Fagan received the award in 2012; School of the Arts in 2013; and Thomas Warfield in 2014.
Padilla-Rodriguez, a Rochester native, began her career as a member of Fagan’s “Bottom of the Bucket” Dance Company, before graduating from SUNY Brockport in 1976 with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and dance.
She also earned a master’s degree in education, and a certificate of administration, from the school.
Additionally, Padilla-Rodriguez became a Rochester City School District administrator in 1995.
“Traditional dancing is important for me, to remind the young people of our culture,” she stated. “I want the children, Puerto Rican and non-Puerto Rican, to have a sense of the rich history, culture, music, tradition, and values of what makes Puerto Ricans unique as a people.”
In addition, according to officials, Padilla-Rodriguez uses traditional Latino and Puerto Rican dance to pay homage to Puerto-Rican culture, while at the same time providing an educational experience for youth.
Padilla-Rodriguez’s program also has been recognized by President Barack Obama’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, as a distinguished program across the nation, Geva officials said.
“The Essie Calhoun Diversity in the Arts Award recognizes that art allows for the expression of truths and beliefs, and helps us gain an understanding of one another and our world,” Geva stated in a press release. “It further acknowledges that a mixture of cultures stimulates creativity, the sharing of ideas, and the building of a common collective future, which has always been close to Ms. Calhoun’s heart.”
Padilla-Rodriguez is currently the director of strategic partnerships at RCSD, and she has implemented outreach programs at Monroe High, School #9, and East High.