Centro Cultural de la Raza
The Centro Cultural de la Raza in Balboa Park / Photo by Kinsee Morlan

Centro Cultural de la Raza is being revived.

This isn’t the first time the cultural organization has struggled for its survival, only to claw its way back into relevancy through the determination of its small army of volunteers.

Centro Cultural de la Raza is housed in a former water tower on the outskirts of Balboa Park. It was once one of the leading Chicano arts organizations in the country. In its heydays in the ’80s and ’90s, the Centro hosted shows with famed Chicano performers and artists like The Taco Shop Poets and James Luna. It enjoyed financial backing from big organizations like the National Endowment for the Arts.

But by 1999, the Centro found itself steeped in dept. The city, which owns the building and subsidizes the organization’s rent, threatened to pull its lease. The board hired an executive from Texas to help get the institution back on stable financial ground, but many local Chicano artists and longtime Centro supporters didn’t like the new executive director’s approach.

The rift eventually led to a boycott that stretched out over several years. Some people still cite the boycott as a reason they won’t step foot in the Centro.

By 2009, though, things started getting back on track. The board hired a new executive director. Programming and events started cranking up again.

But then the board decided the new manager wasn’t a good fit and let her go. Debt from unpaid taxes, defaulted payments for an expensive printer and salary owed to the former director started piling up. The all-volunteer board and staff kept the Centro going despite the challenges. But by 2014, the city of San Diego again threatened to pull the Centro’s lease.

Since then, the volunteers behind the Centro have managed to pay off the debt and have scored two modest grants from the county. They now have an annual budget of about $30,000, according to the most recent financial report filed with the city, and they’ve hired one part-time staffer. The board is also in lease negotiations with the city and is working to secure a new long-term lease that would ensure the organization’s presence in the park for decades to come.

The events at the Centro have slowed considerably over the past few years as the board worked to get the financials in order. But the Centro’s Arts Advisory Committee, the group that curates art exhibitions and other events, has a new team of volunteers who told CityBeat last week that they’re busy lining up diverse programming and events. The committee’s first event is happening from 11 a.m.. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 22, and it’s asking the public to volunteer to help spruce up the Centro.

Board president Tommy Valentino Ramirez said the Centro has also started a fundraising committee and has an ambitious goal of hiring a new executive director and a small paid staff in the next few years. They plan on applying for funding through the city’s Arts and Culture Commission this year, Ramirez said, and they’re working on other new fundraising strategies.

“Everything is starting up again,” he said. “We’ve made some big strides.”

Aida Soria, another member of the Centro’s board, said now that the financials are better, they are also working on mending the Centro’s relationship with members of the community who haven’t visited the Centro since the boycott.

“That boycott has banished a whole generation of people,” Soria said. “So we’re trying to get the older generation to come back in, plus invite the younger generation to come in for the first time.”

You’re reading the Culture ReportVoice of San Diego’s weekly collection of the region’s cultural news.

Immigrant Artists and More News for the Culture Crowd

Javier Marín
Javier Marín’s “Mujercitas y Hombrecitos” installation is on view at the San Diego Museum of Art. / Image courtesy of the San Diego Museum of Art
Javier Marín’s “Mujercitas y Hombrecitos” installation is on view at the San Diego Museum of Art. / Image courtesy of the San Diego Museum of Art

The Kinsee Report: Here’s Where I Want to Be This Week

  • In a past life of mine, I lived in Tijuana and curated art exhibitions on both sides of the border. Any time I see a show featuring SD and TJ artists, I get very excited. I’ve been in San Diego long enough to see the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego curate some stellar such shows. The museum’s latest binational exhibition, “Being Here with You/Estando aquí contigo,” looks like it could be one of the best yet. The show, which opens this week, includes works by 42 artists – including Alida Cervantes, Andrea Chung, Mely Barragán, Thomas DeMello, Cog•nate Collective, Raúl Moyado Sandoval, James Luna, Joe Yorty and PANCA, just to name a few.
Raul Moyado
Raul Moyado’s “Cycloramic Ascencion” is on view in the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s new exhibition “Being Here with You.” / Image courtesy of the artist
Raul Moyado’s “Cycloramic Ascencion” is on view in the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s new exhibition “Being Here with You.” / Image courtesy of the artist

Food, Cannabis, Beer and Booze News

sushi san diego
Image via Shutterstock

Kinsee Morlan is engagement editor at Voice of San Diego. Email her at kinsee@vosd.org with arts and culture news and tips, or submit your question about San Diego arts and culture here. Want to recommend the Culture Report to someone? Share this sign-up link. Subscribe to Voice of San Diego podcasts

Kinsee Morlan

Kinsee Morlan was formerly the Engagement Editor at Voice of San Diego and author of the Culture...

Leave a comment

We expect all commenters to be constructive and civil. We reserve the right to delete comments without explanation. You are welcome to flag comments to us. You are welcome to submit an opinion piece for our editors to review.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.