Mission Cultural Center turns 35
Some of San Francisco’s most esteemed Latino artists, poets and musicians as well as city policy makers gathered Oct. 5 at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts 35th anniversary celebration, titled Corazon del Barrio Awards of Excellence.
“Today we are here to celebrate the resilience of the community, and the resilience of the cultural center,” said Jennie Rodriguez, executive director of the MCCLA. “Today is the day to acknowledge those who have committed themselves to the arts and to the community. They are the ones who inspire us with their work, day by day.”
The MCCLA’s 35-year history has not only been shaped by a vibrant and ever-changing community, but also by the individual efforts of talented and engaged community members striving to keep culture alive and the arts accessible in their neighborhood.
“I am totally delighted about being awarded tonight,” said Mission-based visual artist Ester Hernandez, who has been affiliated with the center since it was first converted from an abandoned furniture store in the late ‘70s.
“It was really important to me, coming from the countryside, to find a place as an aspiring artist to connect with the community—a place to learn and grow and share my art and meet people from all over the world,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez was among the cadre of artists and community members recognized at the benefit gala for their excellence and community dedication. Awards also went out to: San Francisco Poet Laureate Alejandro Murgiuia; Zenon Baron, founder of the Mexican Folkloric dance company Ensambles Ballet Folkorico de San Francisco; Metzi Henriquez and Jose Rivera, directors of Fogo Na Roupa, an award-winning Carnaval contingent; Isabel Barraza, dancer and former member of the MCCLA Board of Directors; artist and MCCLA teacher Alfonso Ochoa; as well as the Mission District Young Musician’s Program, which brings tuition-free music classes to low-income youth.
The ceremony was hosted by Univision news anchor Maria Leticia Gomez, and included live performances by Zambra Flamenca, Mala Junto and Afoutayi Dance Group.
“We are here to celebrate our age, but also the arts,” said Rodriguez. “And really, it’s like a big family party.”
During the awards ceremony, a sense of support and respect, and a deep appreciation for the center’s mission by all attendees became evident as applause, laughter, and even a few tears filled the MCCLA auditorium.
“My life was transformed by what goes on here in the center,” said Peter Bratt, director of the film “La Mission,” who once participated in capoeira classes at MCCLA, which he says greatly influenced him as a young man. “I don’t know who I would be or where I would be if I hadn’t found the support for that longing, that search.”
“[The center] adds beauty to the world and changes lives on a small scale,” he added.
Before the awards were handed out, several honorary speakers addressed the audience. District 9 Supervisor David Campos and Joaquin Torres, director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services, officially declared Oct. 5, 2012 “Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts Day” in San Francisco, on behalf of Mayor Ed Lee.
In addition to this honorable recognition, the center also received a “birthday present” from the San Francisco Arts Commission: a new roof.
“The arts are the epicenter of our communities,” said Tom DeCaigny, director of cultural affairs at the Arts Commission. “The city has made a capital commitment to the MCCLA and will continue to make sure that we are resourcing our cultural centers so that everybody in every neighborhood in SF has access to a high quality art experience.”
While the awards ceremony was evidence of the lives that have been touched by the work of the MCCLA and its essential role in the community, it also served as a reminder that the center’s survival does not solely depend on its funders—but also on the people it serves.
“It is the individual’s responsibility to support those institutions that serve the community and give you this level of service that some would consider discretionary in these moments of financial difficulties,” said Rodriguez. “[A cultural center] is something many people think they can do without, but actually it’s quite the opposite. It’s in times like these that art and culture can nurture and help you find your way.”