City explores location, feedback on Latino cultural center

Currently downtown is home to the Arizona Latino Arts and Cultural Center (ALAC) on Adams St and 2nd St, pictured. The proposed Latino Cultural Center would fall under the umbrella of the City of Phoenix, rather than a non-profit organization. (Courtney Pedroza/DD)

Latino and Chicano cultural influence can be seen all over Phoenix, and soon there could be a center dedicated to their culture and arts.

The city of Phoenix is looking at adding a Latino cultural center, and is exploring options and asking for community feedback. No location has been set yet, but one option that may be considered is Margaret T. Hance Park. The potential for the center to be downtown has drawn a variety of opinions.

Community members met at a town hall-style gathering Thursday evening to voice their opinions and questions about the prospect of a Latino cultural center coming to Phoenix.

The town hall meeting took place at Memorial Hall in Steele Indian School Park with an introduction by Evonne Gallardo, consultant on this project, and a brief statement from District 7 Councilman Michael Nowakowski. The format of this specific town hall was different than a standard one where citizens wait to take their turn at the microphone to express their thoughts or concerns. Instead, attendees were divided into groups of no more than six to eight people and topics of discussion were projected onto a screen.

According to Evonne Gallardo, consultant for this project, this group-centered approach was to improve the quality of community feedback.

“This format was really designed to be a part of the process of intake, so that we were making sure we got everyone’s opinions, their dreams for the project,” Gallardo said.

The main objective of this series of town halls is to obtain feedback from the community that will help toward the current capital needs assessment and feasibility study the city is conducting. There will be two more sessions for community members who were not able to attend the first one.

Government documents cite that this is being done through the 2001 City Bond program, and the study began in 2016 through the Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture.

Some of the topics of discussion for the night included, “What does Latino Art and Culture mean to you?” Other topics asked participants to envision the cultural center of their dreams, the location, and what they would like included in the center.

Ray Cabrera, Director of Downtown Environment for Downtown Phoenix, Inc. and fifth-generation Arizonan, shared that he would like to see the Latino cultural center based in downtown Phoenix, as opposed to Maryvale, which has the highest concentration of Latinos in Phoenix.

“As a citizen, I want all of our cultural destinations to be downtown. I feel like every city shows their best face downtown with all their cultural amenities, their museums, their cultural centers, gastronomy,” Cabrera said.

Suhey Ortega, a student at Arizona State University whose focus includes transborder Chicano/Latino Studies, envisions a center inclusive to all cultures within the Latino spectrum, but one of her main concerns relates to accessibility.

“Parking’s a pain in the ass, so location, for me, is something that’s really big. It needs to have parking, but as much as I love downtown and its vibrancy, how do you get the older generation to come here?” Ortega said.

Reyna Montoya, Founder and Executive Director of ALIENTO, a local organization which helps immigrant families express through art, said in an earlier interview before the meeting that one of her biggest concerns also related to the issue of accessibility.

“I know that in downtown, right now, there’s a lot of gentrification happening so is it even going to be accessible to the latino community. What are gonna be the regulations? Are they going to have free parking? Little things like that can really make it or break it for our community to be in those spaces,” she said.

Michelle Beaver, a Valley resident, said she currently finds it hard to experience Latino culture in Phoenix, compared to an experience she had in Chicago, Illinois.

“There’s a ton of great Latino art here, but you have to find it sometimes, it’s in like pockets and you have to know certain people, at least I did,” Beaver said. “Why do we not have a collective?”

Phoenix is home to two other centers which are directly tied with the Latino and indigenous community through non-profit organizations. One is Arizona Latino Arts and Cultural Center (ALAC) on Adams St and 2nd St, and Xico Inc, on Buckeye Rd and 10th St, the latter of which promotes indigenous arts. The proposed Latino cultural center would fall under the umbrella of the City of Phoenix, rather than a non-profit organization.

The town halls are step four of a ten step process published on the city’s website. The next step would be to conduct interviews and survey, and Gallardo hopes to present a finished plant to the governing board by the end of June this year.

For more information on the upcoming town halls, you can visit the website for the Office of Arts and Culture. On April 20 there will be another town hall at the Maryvale community center from 6 to 9 p.m. and one in downtown on April 22 from 10 a.m to noon.

Correction: April 14, 2017:
Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story incorrectly labeled District 7 Councilman Michael Nowakowski as representative of District 8. It has been corrected to reflect his correct district.

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