By Chanel Ward
The Latino Cultural Arts Center (LCAC) found a niche in creating a culturally artistic extension throughout Colorado communities. The roots of LCAC began with the Abarca family and their love for the arts and the artists who recall and celebrate our history through their work. In an ambitious effort, LCAC is expanding their vision to encompass a community focused endeavor in their years-long effort with the creation of Las Bodegas, the largest investment in Latino arts at a $9.3 million cost.
LCAC Executive Director, Alfredo Reyes, recently discussed LCAC’s Las Bodegas project. The Denver native and South High School graduate also serves as the Co-Chair of the Commissions of Cultural Centers for the City of Denver.
Reyes says he is, “the proud son of Mexican immigrants—Aurora and Juvenito Reyes—rest in peace to them both.” Reyes, who speaks as passionately about his heritage as he does when speaking about the city in which he was raised. “I’m a proud son of Denver,” Reyes declared. “I love this city, I love who this city has been, and I am proud to be a part of where the city is going.”
The impassioned Reyes gives credit to the many influences in his life—mainly his family and the people who influenced him to become an artist and Sundancer—and is now helping lead Denver’s largest arts project to date.
He has also had the opportunity to travel the globe and his one common takeaway: “We all want love and freewill to live.”
The following is an interview with Alfredo Reyes. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
El Semanario: Could you please give us some information about the Latino Cultural Arts Center and how it started with your Master’s Degree project at CU-Boulder and how you paired with Adriana Abarca [Founder and Chair, LCAC].
Alfredo Reyes: I want to make clear that the LCAC is decades in the making, with the history of the Abarca family; Luis and Martha Abarca and their love and support of the Arts in the 60s and the 70s, during the Chicano civil-rights movement, Don Luis loved hanging out with artists and as he had a little bit of extra cash in his pocket, he would turn around and buy art works from his friends who at the time, were young! Look at Carlota EspinoZa, they were young and leading the Civil Rights Movement. So, to encourage them to pursue their careers as artists, he would purchase their artwork and decorate the business offices, and it wasn’t before long that Adriana had the realization that they had the beginnings of a family art collection. So, between the art collections, and the real estate that the company (Ready Foods, Adriana Abarca is a co-owner) was outgrowing is what initially sparked that vision of the Latino Cultural Arts Center. So, the vision goes further back, but it was in 2015 that I was introduced to Adriana through a mutual friend, and it was then that she asked me if I would dedicate my master’s [degree] project to developing the concept in plan. So, I took that vision of a Cultural Arts Center and gave it the articulation. What would it look like through controlled programming, and would those programs do that’s happening locally? What’s happening nationally? What can we learn from them? Most importantly, what’s not happening? And how could the LCAC then, fill that niche? And through that research, I learned two things; one, that for our community art and social justice go hand in hand; and two, that there was an urgent need for space, that was multi-generational, where families could learn together where youth could learn from elders and vice versa. And as that concept grew, one of the things that’s become very striking was that it’s not just about social justice. It’s a matter of economic empowerment and economic mobility, in Colorado alone, the creative economy generates over $16 billion in revenue for the state of Colorado. However, a few questions came up; one, what’s the first thing to be cut from public schooling? The arts.
Who goes to public schools? It’s poor Chicana/o’s, poor Black kids, poor white kids who go to public school. However, then the question becomes in private schools and most prestigious elite K through 12 schools, they invest in their arts, they make art a requirement, because the research is clear–that art is essential to the development of the human brain for scientific and mathematical reasoning. For a sense of belonging, a sense of imagination and problem solving, for our sense of community building. Art is vital to the human life span for the expression of our humanity. So that’s where the concept of the LCAC is located, very firmly, but it’s not just about social impact in addressing issues of mental health and about environmental stewardship, but it’s about making sure that our community is also benefiting from those billions of dollars in revenue, from growing that size of the play by investing in our own community and making sure that poor people also have access to the arts.
Las Bodegas will open its new 10,030 sq. ft. location, at 1935 West 12th Avenue in the heart of Denver; equipped with a multimedia lab, sound booth, two artist-in-residence studios, art classrooms, conference rooms, a café, three offices and in a courtyard with landscaping and murals. How did the name Las Bodegas come about, and how important is this project, not only to the Denver community, but all Latino communities across the globe, really?
Reyes: So, how did the name come about? Just very blatantly, you know. The Warehouses. I know on the east coast Las Bodegas means like a shop, or a corner market, but we’re in Colorado, you know. So, The Warehouses, our warehouses and just trying to keep it simple, not trying to get too fancy with it and just calling it for what it is. It’s something that’s bilingual, multicultural, easy to translate and that’s really where the name came about. I wanted to keep it simple. Very to the point. We just want it to be a space that’s accessible, that is open and available to families, communities, artists and educators and having it be that first entry point for the rest of the cultural impact. That will eventually expand half a city block, that’ll eventually span to the location in front of the Bronco’s stadium. So, wanting it to be that first entry point, that’s accessible and relatable and a place for innovation for creativity and a springboard for the rest of the country, to the rest of the Américas.
And your second question, around the significance for Latinos nationally and globally. That’s a big one! And I would start by sharing one of the quotes by one of our board members, Bobby LeFebre that I thought to be really beautiful and really inspiring, “that Las Bodegas is for us, by us and for everyone.” And I find that to be really impactful, because of the way that we’ve gone about finding what it means to be Latino and Latina; for us to be Latino, it’s Indigenous, it’s African, it’s Asian, it’s European, and it’s always evolving. So, within that sense of hybridity, there’s a space for everyone. There’s a home for everyone to come and express themselves, to come and learn, to come and create, to come and heal and I think that’s something that in terms of the significance for Las Bodegas and what we’re looking to do. The building itself will be impressive on its own, solely on the fact that it will be one of the first commercial buildings in the city to be fully electric. It will have solar panels, it will have a heat pump, it’ll have battery storage, it’ll have EV [electrical vehicle] charging stations, so that the building itself is a tool to teach our community about electrification and resilient infrastructure. And that’s so important because as gas becomes more expensive, who’s going to get left footing the bill? It’s poor people.
So, we want to make sure that our community knows about what that green resilient technology looks like, how it functions, but more important that they understand the rebates and the incentives and the grants that are available at the federal level. At the state level, at the city level, so that they too can participate in the electrification of our national infrastructure. Save, you know? Financially, in real material ways. But most importantly, what will make Las Bodegas stand out, will be our programming and the power of our programs, that again, sit at the intersection of social impact and workforce development.
Some of those programs for example, now that we’re here in the Fall, is our Day of the Dead programming, called Ofrendas and will live there. We want to make sure that we teach people about the importance of handmade altars in honor of our deceased and to remind people that this is a sacred ancient tradition that deserves to be revered for its healing practices, this isn’t Halloween, or some ethnic bastardized version of Halloween. And altar items at best, you make them yourself. Support an artisan, support an artist, support somebody who did it by hand. This isn’t something to be mass-produced and purchased at Hobby Lobby, or at Walmart. So that’s something that we want to be really keen on. But at the same time, that we teach our community about the importance of mental wellness—that we learn how to talk as a community about grief, about loss, about resilience. Because, unfortunately, in a society that’s culminated by so much violence, as ours is, at best what we’ve come to expect are, “thoughts and prayers, thoughts and prayers” from our political leaders, but that’s not enough. We need to have concrete ways to address our mental wellness; it could be stigmatized access to mental health care for boys and men, especially. It’s that kind of programming, that’ll live at Las Bodegas, we’ll also have our public art mentoring program. Where the city of Denver is unique in that we have a law, that for every major capital improvement project in the city, over a million dollars, 1% of it as to be reinvested back into public art and we have Frederico Peña [former mayor of Denver] to thank for that. Where, for every project, whether it’s to expand a street, a sidewalk, a bridge, a new library, a new prison, the expansion of DIA (Denver International Airport), 1% has to go back into public art. So, at any given point there’s about a dozen ongoing art commissions in the city of Denver ranging from ten thousand dollars, all the way up to two million dollars, like DIA or at the National Stockyards. But what we found, however, through some internal research is that there’s a gap in age of artists, 25 and under that are applying for and receiving public art commissions. How come? Because they’ve never done it. Now that became the value proposition, let’s put established artists that have gone through the process, in partnership with young people; so that they can learn about ideation, design, implementation, project management, budgeting, working with the client, but more importantly, that they learn that public art as we know it is a uniquely Mexicano contribution. It was Diego Rivera, it was Siqueiros, it was a little school that took the public walls to document a particular moment in time to offer radical social critique to offer a sense of radical hope.
It was when they came to Chicago, to LA to Detroit to New York that they inspired a new generation of American public artists. That’s really important, that’s vital, not only that sense of history, that it’s got workforce development. If we want to push back against the gentrification and the displacement that has happened in Denver, we have to focus on economic empowerment. We have to make sure that we’re creating high paying jobs for artists, for our young people, our family. Otherwise, we’ll just keep getting pushed out further and further and that’s why I believe the multimedia lab is so important.
One of the things that I learned through the pandemic is that the future of content delivery and quality videography. But it’s so expensive. How come? Because we don’t have enough professionals to have the cultural competency and the technical wherewithal to tell our stories in a compelling way. So then that became the value proposition, okay, let’s create our own ecosystem. Let’s create our own pipeline where young people can come, and learn and practice on us, to come and practice on the LCAC and learn from documenting our programs, our events and those that rise to the top, that want to pursue careers in film in audio and photography and animation that we then contract them out to the rest of the social service sector and to our industry partners, to not only generate revenue for the cultural arts center and Las Bodegas, but for the young people.
Las Bodegas project is Denver’s largest investment in Latino arts, as you mentioned, at a $9.3 million project cost, with $6.6 of that already allocated through its 130 donors, how will the additional $2.7 million be made up? Can you tell me about the opening, how people can get involved and then stay connected?
Reyes: So, the ways to get involved, I’ll start with that—attend our Ofrendas workshops. We’re offering 16 workshops this Fall throughout the Denver metro area for people to come and learn about altar making, and mental wellness. So that’s one way to get involved and to donate. I want to encourage folks to become a monthly donor, whatever amount they feel comfortable with setting and forgetting, whether it’s $5, or $20, right now we have people giving anywhere from $5 to $100 a month. And it’s that kind of grassroots network where we all pitch in a little bit of our treasure, that’s going to allow us to scale our programs.
And, in terms of an opening date, we are not going to announce an opening date until we have received our Owner-Occupant Certification. But I do have a general timeline, once we break ground, it’ll take nine to twelve months to complete the build-out. Right now, we’re about $1.3 million dollars before we can break ground. So, it’s all contingent on us being able to close this capital campaign quickly and break ground, because the longer it takes for us to break ground, the more expensive the project will become. That’s something people don’t realize. So, that’s the Catch 22. We’ve done a really tremendous job, getting us to this point, but now we need to close the campaign off. We need to close the construction gap with $1.3 and an additional $1.5. We want to have that cushion for operational support, so that we have funding for the first two years once the doors are open to get our feet under us.
To stay connected with all that the LCAC is accomplishing with Las Bodegas, stay connected at their main website https://www.lcac-denver.org and Las Bodegas at https://www.lcac-denver.org/lasbodegas where you can become a one-time, or monthly donor.
Chanel Ward is an Independent Reporter for The Weekly Issue/El Semanario.
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