It started in 1970 when the burgeoning Chicano art movement in San Diego needed a home and convinced city officials to provide space in an abandoned building in Balboa Park.
Today, El Centro Cultural de la Raza is a respected city treasure with a 31-year history of supporting artistic expression in the Mexican-American community. But El Centro is running out of space. And in an effort to preserve the past while making room for its future, the art center has donated its archives to the California Ethnic and Multicultural Archives (CEMA) housed in the Davidson Library at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
"Acquiring and preserving the archives of this centro was extremely important to us," said CEMA director Sal Guereña. "The collection documents the incipience and evolution of the Chicano visual arts movement in Southern California, and it uniquely captures the dynamics of the U.S.-Mexico border culture in a way that nothing else does."
During its history, the center has been home to artists, crafts people and dance, music and theater groups. The archives contain hundreds of graphic prints of art and thousands of slides depicting art, murals, performances and cultural arts activities. Also included are literary materials, correspondence, videos and other items of historic value.
Artists represented by the archives include Guillermo Aranda, Herminia Techitsin Enrique, Victor Ochoa and Mario Torero Acevedo. Groups include Teatro Mestizo, The Border Arts Workshop and Toltecas en Aztlán.
Guereña said the donation has been talked about for 16 years. El Centro director Nancy Rodriguez said she is glad it has finally been accomplished.
"We made this decision with a sense of both accomplishment and anticipation," Rodriguez said. "We are thankful to see the history of the Centro archived with such care and respect."