Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts turns 30

Turning 30 isn’t always easy — it takes a little maturity and a whole lot of youthfulness. For San Francisco’s Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts (MCCLA), which celebrates its 30th anniversary Sept. 7, it willalso take a gala.

For this fundraising event, tango and flamenco dancers, salsa musicians and some of the founders of the center will be taking over the San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Center to mark three decades of teaching, promoting and inspiring the expression of Latino arts and culture.

The center on Mission and 25th streets — then called simply the Palmetto Museum — opened in 1977 after artists, activists and students clamored for a larger share of the city’s funding for minority art programs. Along with other local minority groups, members of the Latino community received a grant to open a cultural center. After looking at several possible sites for the center, including a mortuary, poet Alejandro Murguia came across a big four-story furniture store. It was ideal.

Since the 1970s, MCCLA has become the largest Latino cultural center in the country, and now attracts many artists from around the world. Yet the center’s focus has changed over the years. While it began primarily as a resource for artists, it now mostly serves kids and youth, says Nina Serrano, a poet and one its founders.

Serrano, who is putting together a special anniversary magazine for the gala, proudly lists four of her grandchildren who have been involved in the center’s activities. She also notes another change from the 1970s: MCCLA is no longer male-dominated and homophobic.

“I think this is a wonderful thing,” she says. “As the people change, the center has changed. Now, it’s an open and welcoming place to all people.”

MCCLA offers classes for adults and children, events such as the Day of the Dead and gallery exhibitions of silkscreen posters, paintings and drawings, some of which were recently shown at the de Young’s “Chicano Art” exhibit. The gallery is hosting an exhibit of works by 50 Bay Area artists that will end with a fundraising art sale on Aug. 25.

Two weeks later, the gala will showcase entertainment by Nora & Edu and The ArgenTango Dancers, flamenco master Danica Sena “La Mora” and Grupo Andanza Spanish Arts, Puerto Rican band Conjunto Alegre and master of ceremonies Maria Medina Serafin. The gala will also include a ceremony for Awards in Excellence in Latino Arts that honor six distinguished members of the Latino arts community.

For Serrano, the event is also about celebrating achievements. “It’s very selfish, but as an editor I’m looking forward to seeing people open the magazine and see how impressed they are because it’s so beautifully produced.”

“Beyond that,” she quickly adds, “it’s a gratification to know that our community work has flowered and matured and continues to grow.

IF YOU GO

Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts’ Gala Fundraiser

Where: Green Room, San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Center, 401 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco

When: 7 to 11 p.m. Sept. 7

Tickets: $150 ($125 before Aug. 24)

Contact: (415) 643-5001 or www.missionculturalcenter.org  

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