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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 Report, Voice of San Diego’s weekly collection of the region’s cultural news.
Immigrant Artists and More News for the Culture Crowd
- The Union-Tribune’s fall arts preview is out, and this year the reporters explored the immigrant experience in the arts. The collection of stories about some of San Diego’s immigrant artists explains how their life experiences have influenced their art. The paper also released “Our Immigrant Story,” a multimedia project that includes print stories, a five-part podcast series, videos and a museum exhibition opening next month.
- CityBeat is out with its annual fall arts issue, too.
- The first-ever ArtWalk Carlsbad launches this weekend. (Del Mar Times)
- Javier Marín’s sculptures are on display at San Diego Museum of Art’s free galleries through March. KPBS describes how the artist creates human forms using traditional sculpting techniques and unusual materials.
- Astrophysicist and author Neil deGrasse Tyson is coming to town next week to give folks an entertaining review of the science that movies like “Star Wars” have gotten wrong. San Diego Magazine sat down with Tyson for a Q-and-A.
- The GI Film Festival returns to San Diego this week. (San Diego Entertainer)
- There’s a pop-up event featuring handmade goods by Mexican artists, designers and craftsmen happening this weekend. (CityBeat)
- A new exhibition featuring the work of 42 artists working in San Diego and Tijuana opens Thursday at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego‘s downtown location. ArtNews calls the show one of the “most promising museum shows and biennials around the world.”
- The Nation writes about the annual Fandango Fronterizo event in which musicians and audiences gather on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border to participate in a binational concert of son jarocho, a style of music that comes from Veracruz. The “arts can be a forerunner to progress in society” and used to “create more harmony” between the United States and Mexico, it notes.
- There’s a new art gallery in town.
- Faiya Fredman has been a respected figure on San Diego’s art scene for nearly 70 years. A retrospective of her work is now on view at the Oceanside Museum of Art. Here’s more about the show and the artist from the curator, Mark-Elliott Lugo.
- Here’s a look inside the weekly art class offered to prisoners at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in Otay Mesa.
- Wait, what? That’s all I have to say after reading about the recent leadership shakeup at the La Jolla Music Society. (Union-Tribune)
- The ax-throwing trend won’t quit. (Mission Times Courier)
- My favorite San Diego band is back with a new album. Finally. (No Depression)
- Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a bill that prohibits criminal penalties for sidewalk vending. The new law also allows municipalities to establish permit programs for vendors that treat them like other brick-and-mortar businesses. I produced a podcast about how street vendors and performers often clash with law enforcement.
- The North County Arts Network is hosting a forum this week with District 5 county supervisor candidates Michelle Gomez and Jim Desmond.
- In a past Culture Report, I told you about Mari and Keone Madrid, a married dance duo who have built an international following and have been working on a special show in San Diego. Their new immersive dance theater piece opens this week. (Union-Tribune)
- The exhibition “San Diego: The Architecture of Four Ecologies” opens at the La Jolla Historical Society this week. Here’s more about the artist and curator who organized the show.
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.
- Fellow fans of female musicians take note: On Friday night, the Casbah is hosting a night dedicated to music made by women. A dance party and karaoke is involved. Never has there been a a more opportune time for a ladies’ night out.
Food, Cannabis, Beer and Booze News
- The county launched a new mobile site meant to help people get health information about thousands of restaurants, food trucks and markets across the region.
- Why be bothered ordering your own sushi when a knowledgeable chef can order it for you? (Union-Tribune)
- Dive bar fans can relax: Aero Club isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. (Eater)
- A summit focused on reducing food waste is happening in San Diego this week.
- Read up on local beer history. (WestCoaster)
- A gallery dedicated to food photography is opening in La Jolla. (Eater)
- Perhaps you’ve seen the billboards around town. They’re meant to challenge the stoner stereotype and remind people that all sorts of people use marijuana. (Union-Tribune)
- Here’s a roundup of good restaurants in Tijuana via Eater.
- These fancy hot pockets do look good (jk, they’re empanadas). (Reader)
Kinsee Morlan is engagement editor at Voice of San Diego. Email her at email@example.com 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.