We interviewed Elsa Mosquera Sterenberg, the Arts Program Director at IBA. Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción is a nonprofit located in the South End of Boston that works to support local Puerto Ricans and other Latinx individuals by developing affordable housing, among other programs.
Moira Studio: What was your journey to your position as the Arts Director at a non-profit? How did you decide you wanted to get involved with IBA?
Elsa Mosquera Sterenberg: I started my professional career in a publishing house and from there I immersed myself in the cultural world. I’ve been involved with publishing for the past 20 years in different ways—I’ve published government books and magazines, then ran my own publishing company for 10 years. Being so immersed in the world of arts led to experience with non-profits. When I moved to Boston, I got my certificate in nonprofit management at Harvard and the opportunity to work at IBA came about at the perfect time. It’s a good match with everything I’ve done and the things I value.
MS: What is the most challenging part of being a woman in the arts and entertainment field?
EMS: There are a lot of women involved with the mid-level arts. When you get into higher levels, though, you see that most executive leaders are men. For some reason, women have to prove themselves again and again. It’s still a man’s world — in every industry. I hope that it’s changing and that it gets better everyday for women.
MS: What advice do you have for women who feel apprehensive about entering male-dominated fields?
EMS: Just believe in what you bring and don’t feel beneath anyone. I’ve always had a good attitude about being a minority as a Latina, as a woman. I’ve never felt as though I’m less because of my identity. Just calling myself a minority doesn’t even make sense to me. I think conviction and passion will take you far in any field, especially in the arts.
MS: What achievement are you most proud of?
EMS: I feel very proud of having been able to run my own business and being able to do it alone. With the amount of influence I had in Puerto Rico, I was able to help so many different people publish their stories. I’m also humbled and proud to lead a Latino Arts center in Boston. I feel that the work I’m doing gives voice to people who don’t have it which builds bridges for the artists in this community.
MS: Can you talk about a woman in your field who inspires you?
EMS: Women inspire me everyday, so this is hard. I love women presidents who lead countries. That makes me very proud. As hard as it is in every industry, politics is three times as hard. They really had to believe in themselves to get to where they are, and I find that so impressive. I especially admire the former President of Chile, Verónica Michelle Bachelet Jeria. I’m also very proud to be working in a women-led organization. Working with someone like Vanessa is incredibly up-lifting. And then there’s Juile Burros, first woman in the arts to be part of the Boston Mayor’s cabinet, who I just love. All of these women give a path to younger women.
MS: What do you feel is most empowering about being a woman?
EMS: I think being a woman is fantastic. We are so complex we can do so many different things at once —and we can excel in multiple areas at the same time! We can be great professionals, wives, mothers, leaders, and we can achieve all of that in an amazing way because we can compartmentalize aspects of ourselves. I think women make achieving excellence in those areas look easy, but it’s not easy to balance.
MS: What led you to work with an all-female advertising team (Moira)?
EMS: Women get things done. Especially with [the Moira Team]; all of you are creative, kind, professional, smart. It makes collaborating easy and fun and interesting. I really admire the work that Clemencia produces and I feel very honored to call her a friend.
MS: Why is it important for women to support women-owned businesses?
EMS: We have to be supportive to one another in a world when women are not seen as equal. Together, we are just stronger.