Congratulations to Linda Lucero, executive/artistic director of the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival (YBGF), who on a beautiful Saturday afternoon received a proclamation from San Francisco mayor, London Breed, declaring it “Linda Lucero Day.”
Celebrating its 23rd anniversary, the YBGF is a crown jewel of outdoor festivals in the City for its qualitative artistic presentations that reflect the diversity of San Francisco and its artistic cultural traditions. And on Saturday, July 15, it was a love fest celebrating the honor bestowed on “Lulu” (Linda Luceros’s nickname) with Mission District’s La Doña — Cecilia Peña-Govea— and the legendary king of Latin Soul, Joe Bataan, in concert.
Lucero is a beloved leader in the cultural arts community of San Francisco and is recognized nationally as an artist and activist. Former executive director of La Raza Graphics Center, founded in 1971 by Al Borvice, Pete Gallegos and Oscar Melara, Linda established herself as a visionary and guided artists to produce mounds of posters and silkscreens that spoke truth to power for Chicanos and Latinos.
Lucero’s iconic 1975 poster depicting Puerto Rican nationalist, Lolita Lebrón — titled Lolita Lebrón ¡Viva Puerto Rico Libre! — was featured in the Smithsonian American Art Museum‘s exhibition, ”¡Printing the Revolution! The Rise and Impact of Chicano Graphics, 1965 to Now.”
Her 20-year association with Yerba Buena Gardens Festival has helped lead this incredibly dedicated team and organization to present creatively important events with internationally recognized artists as well as resident talents, that are unique and entertaining for the whole family. The stats speak for themselves: over 42,000 artists presented, 75 commissioned new works, and they have reached over 2.3 million attendees.
Linda Lucero has an impressive legacy and San Francisco is blessed to have her culturally enriching us all. Her commitment to art, social justice, and progressive ideals are qualities of a unique human being with leadership that is inclusive, not exclusive. I caught up with Linda Lucero a few days after receiving her proclamation to ask about her award and her cultural work.
Linda, how did it feel to have “Linda Lucero Day” proclaimed in your hometown of San Francisco?
I was absolutely astonished and humbled by the honor and the multiple “whereas” clauses! Especially the part about me truly reflecting “San Francisco values at their best.” My heart is overflowing with love, gratitude, and pride. I’m still processing. And to be honored at that specific concert with the legendary Joe Bataan and the fabulous La Doña on the stage and with that audience at the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival. I looked out at the crowd and felt the love.
It was a fitting honor for the 20 years you’ve spent founding, organizing, and curating an incredibly diverse roster of entertainment for the whole family at Yerba Buena Gardens. What has inspired you all these years?
My dad Fernando Lucero, my mom, María Teodora Zamora. My family, friends and neighbors inspire me. Growing up in the multicultural Mission inspires me. The Mission has always been a center of local, national, and international activism. The City and the Bay Area’s musicians, poets, playwrights, actors, visual artists, radio DJs, community and political activists. Too many to mention by name. They continue to offer inspiration. I feel fortunate.
What are your most memorable moments of the last 20 years presenting the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival?
Besides Joe Bataan and La Doña and Eddie Palmieri, last year’s all-star tribute to Jewlia Eisenberg was amazing. The great Lila Downs, our longstanding artistic partnerships with American Indian Contemporary Arts, No. Cal. Martin Luther King Jr. Foundation, Marcus Shelby, Pistahan, Afro Solo, John Santos, Circus Bella, RAWdance and Ensemble Mik Nawooj. SF Indigenous Peoples Day. DakhaBrakha from Ukraine, Armando Peraza, Vân-Ánh Võ. A tribute to Khalil Shaheed, Vanessa Sanchez’s La Mezcla, Jake Shimabukuro, Omar Sosa, Yosvany Terry, and so many, many more. This list is just off the top of my head – I love everything we present, from emerging artists to legends. Yerba Buena Gardens is sacred ground, we feel it and honor it every day.
As an arts presenter in San Francisco, what are the challenges you are currently facing and how do you envision the future for the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival?
Yerba Buena Gardens Festival presents admission-free music, dance, theater and cultural events in beautiful Yerba Buena Gardens in downtown San Francisco. Artistic excellence, inclusion, diversity, and innovation are at the heart of our mission. Free, Outdoors, Fresh! After 23 years, we have forged a unique place in the cultural landscape of San Francisco. We offer a vital and beloved platform for artists, arts organizations and the public. Our most pressing challenge for YBGF’s leadership at the moment is to secure a long-term contract that provides sustainability for our work. At least for the next hundred years!
From your days running La Raza Graphics Center back in the day to today at the YBGF, you have proven to be a leader in the Mission District community. You have helped bring color to the walls and streets and music in the air as well as dance and theater in public spaces. How do you see the Mission today? Obviously, there are a lot of challenges facing the City and specifically the Mission community, but I see a lot of wonderful things that keep me optimistic. The annual SF Carnaval – 44 years! – is a treasure, as well as the Brava Theater Center and Mission Cultural Center. All these organizations continue to nurture and support terrific and important artists. Besides Calle 24 Latino Cultural District, there is the recently recognized SF’s American Indian Cultural Hub centered on 16th Street (near where I grew up). There are a number of brick-and-mortar venues being built, such as The VillageSF that will house a number of Native organizations; the new La Galeria de la Raza; the new SF Community Music Center; and CANA’s new space Indigenous Peoples Cultural Arts Healing Center. It’s astounding what I see coming to fruition after years of hard work.