Centro Cultural Aztlán: Keeping Chicanx Traditions Alive

SAN ANTONIO — No surprise that in a city so steeped in Mexican culture, traditional celebrations originating south of the border would have strong and lasting influences here.

Dia de Los Muertos Community Altars

One omnipresent example is the annual celebration come every beginning of November: Día de los Muertos or also commonly known as Day of the Dead celebration.

Yet as accepted and even admired as this type of Hispanic cultural feasts have become, it wasn’t always this way. Not at all.

At least not when Centro Cultural Aztlán, a San Antonio Chicanx nonprofit arts organization, first began offering the community a Day of the Dead celebration more than four decades ago.

Back then people didn’t seem so keen on openly talking about, lest take joy in, those who passed away.

Not that Centro has ever minded playing the role of trend-setter, particularly in advocating for Mexican American and Latinx artists in San Antonio.

“We’ve been around a long time – 44 years,” explained Malena Gonzalez-Cid, the organization’s executive director. “We’ve always known how to do a lot with a little.”

Survival mode 

Centro has always had to battle against budget shortfalls and making ends meet but over the last year the venerable nonprofit has been staring at its most powerful nemesis yet: coronavirus pandemic.

El Gran Dia de los Artistas

As with countless other nonprofits, being forced to indefinitely close its gallery to the public and either massively scale down or cancel altogether major events, Centro came close to the brink of having to cease operations.

In all, it lost nearly half its 2020 budget and so far, things in 2021 haven’t seen much improvement so its future remains very much in limbo.

Still, Centro wasn’t about to just let decades of community service slowly fade into the sunset. It made the necessary pivot to virtual programming, bringing in artists to record videos, sharing exhibits through social media channels and offering arts classes to both children and adults through its Facebook page.

It’s on that platform that many members of the community have taken through the years to express their gratitude for all that Centro has done to uplift the local Chicanx arts scene.

Jose Esquivel. Los Maestros

“Beautiful gallery, relevant art, and totally supportive of local artists. Great openings, too!” offered Rita Maria Contreras.

“Great place. They support the arts and are in touch with the community,” posted Antonio Garcia.

“Love Centro Cultural Aztlán. For many years, this organization was a Godsend when I was trying to expose my middle, elementary and high school students to our heritage, traditions and art,” effused Linda Lopez de Roman.

At the Area Foundation, we’re also quite familiar with the work and impact that Centro has had in the community. Stephanie LaFroscia, our Senior Program Officer for Cultural Vibrancy in our Community Engagement and Impact Department, has engaged directly with Centro as part of her work as an advocate for arts nonprofits.

“In many ways, Centro is at the heart of the neighborhood, circulating a vitality that brings together local residents, small businesses and neighboring nonprofits and has built a legacy of cultural and civic engagement across generations,” LaFroscia said.

Road to recovery 

It’s keeping that legacy alive for future generations that has become Centro’s main mission as the future remains uncertain.

Having been able to survive the impact of the pandemic thus far does not mean nonprofits like Centro can now breathe a sigh of relief.

“We’re still very fragile,” Gonzalez-Cid said. “We are in a situation where we still need to seek all kinds of opportunities.”

Superhero Exhibit

One such opportunity could be the new Area Foundation Recovery Fund for the Arts. Driven by Donor-Advised Fund (DAF) holders pitching in $25,000 to start it off, this new effort is meant to help arts nonprofits try to get over coronavirus hump as the city gradually continues opening back up.

One of those investors is photographer and philanthropist Dundee Murray, who advises The Howard and Betty Halff Charitable Fund with the Area Foundation.

For Murray, the Recovery Fund for the Arts couldn’t come at a more critical time for San Antonio’s cultural arts scene.

“The San Antonio Area Foundation’s Recovery Fund for the Arts is a significant endorsement of the value arts organizations bring to our city and a commitment to help them recover and thrive,” Murray said.

“I am proud to support this Fund and proud of the Area Foundation’s leadership in supporting arts in San Antonio,” she added. “None of us know the ultimate impact of COVID-19 on the arts or any aspect of our lives, but efforts like this Fund are a great reason to have hope!”

Zonarte El Mercado de Aztlan.Annual gift Market

She encouraged fellow arts supporters to do their part if they can and contribute to the arts fund. Anyone wishing to take her up on the offer can do so on our online donation portal here.

For her part, Centro’s Gonzalez-Cid welcomed the news of the fund with open arms. The organization has given to the community, so it warms her heart to see the community want to give back.

“If it wasn’t for philanthropic support, we wouldn’t be here,” she affirmed. “It’s crucial. It’s a lifeline. We’re so grateful that the Area Foundation is still thinking of ways to help arts organizations.”

Learn more about how the Recovery Fund for the Arts supports arts and culture organizations who, through continued engagement with our communities, are shaping the post-COVID future for the cultural sector by clicking here.