3-Minute Interview: Roberto Vargas

The Nicaraguan-born poet, who will perform Friday evening at the Glide Memorial United Methodist Church, was an organizer who helped establish The City’s four cultural centers, including the Bayview Opera House, in the 1960s and ’70s. Today at 1 p.m., The City’s Neighborhood Arts Program will host performances and unveil renovations at the Opera House as part of two weeks of 40th anniversary celebrations.

When did you learn to organize? Around 1961, I started working with the Teamsters and eventually I became an organizer.

When did you become involved with the arts scene? I started writing poetry and hanging out in North Beach in the early ’60s. That was my first introduction to the liberation of arts — liberating museums from classrooms and bringing them out in the streets and developing public art so people can see it for free and participate.

When did you become an arts organizer? In 1968 I started getting paid by the Neighborhood Arts Program as a part-time organizer. We had organizers for the various communities — initially the Afro-Americans, the Asians and the Latinos. At one point, we had half a dozen.

What did you do as an organizer? Our jobs were to work within the communities. If they were going to put on a production, we’d help them get the permit, provide a flatbed truck and we had a speaker system. We printed posters and fliers for them and we’d help with publicity.

How were the cultural centers founded? We knew that the communities needed facilities and we found out [the Department of Housing and Urban Development] had some funding available. We all started having town-hall meetings to see if we could find consensus on the specific sites.

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