Did you know? La Peña Cultural Center

By In Dance

January 1, 2015, PUBLISHED BY IN DANCE

Highlighting the Activities of Artists/Organizations in Our Region

La Peña Cultural Center is a vibrant community space with a national reputation and global vision that promotes peace, social justice and cultural understanding through the arts, education and social action. As a welcoming gathering place, La Peña provides opportunities for artists to share diverse cultural traditions and create and perform their work, while supporting and interfacing with diverse social movements.

In Dance interviewed Programming Manager, musician and actress/director Diana Alicia Cervera with additional insights interspersed from Afro Peruvian dance teacher, Gabriela Shiroma.

Who created La Peña Cultural Center?

In 1975 a group of recent Chilean immigrants and Bay Area community members founded La Pen?a Cultural Center as a space dedicated to Latin American culture, politics and promoting social change through the arts.

Why was La Peña Cultural Center started?

La Peña was created in response to the 1973 Chilean coup that resulted in the removal of President Salvador Allende. The center was opened in 1975 by the Chilean community and is now approaching its 40th anniversary of promoting art, activism and cultural expression across all marginalized groups and cultures. Our understanding of our mission as a cultural center has been to make the necessary connections between art and politics. At the same time we have sought to make the connection between local, national and international efforts for democracy, self- determination and a world where the gap between those who need and those who have too much will disappear.

Describe your activities and programs.

Our programs include a wide array of art forms and political events including theatre, film, music and dance. Among many other types of programs we house various musical classes led by top notch vocalists and artists. We are also home and hub for cultural and traditional dance forms such as Bomba, Afro Peruvian dance and most recently West African Dance. Our teachers are truly gems and possess the key to sustaining our traditions across generations and lines of difference. La Peña’s activities and programs are like familia. When you are a part of our programs or classes you feel at home. You feel close with the people there because there is a sense of togetherness that is really magical and unique.

Dance teacher Gabriela Shiroma: “La Peña is my second home, not house, home. We [De Rompe y Raja) were the first Afro Peruvian group to perform as an ensemble of music and dance in the Bay Area, since 1994.”

How many performers, dancers, and artists do you work with?

We work with hundreds of artists and performers each year including those that are in our space on a weekly basis as teachers and artists. La Peña is really a place where artists can cultivate their craft in a unique and supportive environment.

Is there anything unusual or unique about the work La Peña does?

It’s always a surprise and it’s exciting to be here. I would say that it is an honor and privilege to be surrounded by a community of talented people dedicated to promoting art as a vehicle for change. That in itself is unique and unusual for me due to the fact it is not often one can find a space that is fueled by passion and belief in something greater. To come together to work towards un mundo nuevo (a new world) is inspiring and special. Love and work that comes from a deep-rooted love for others and change is something difficult to quantify but all around at La Peña.

If no one knew anything about La Peña, what would you want them to know?

I would want them to know about the people who have passed though La Peña, the years of work and love that hundreds of people have put into the space across the years. Above all I would want people to know that La Peña is a home for them no matter their origin.

Gabriela Shiroma: “That [La Peña] is an incredible place if you are in search of culture, arts, education, awareness, connections, friendship and most important community.”

What is the most rewarding part of what you do?

The most rewarding part of working with La Peña is the fact that I have been able to meet so many amazing people but that I am able to do what I love infusing my love for art into the programming and meeting others who share the same passions.

Gabriela Shiroma: “The most rewarding part of my work is to teach and learn from students…to motivate individuals to create community through arts and culture. To connect people and motivate them with the sparkle of Afro Peruvian culture, music and dance in their lives. That is my life mission.”

Do you have a favorite performance or memorable moment with the organization? 

One of the most inspiring moments I remember feeling at La Peña was before I worked there. I attended a benefit concert and this was the first time I remember seeing Maria Marquez an amazing and supremely talented Venezuelan singer. She performed a set that left me in AWE! To see a woman sing and play multiple instruments and fill a room filled me with an inspiration that I had been long seeking. Watching her made me want to become better, work harder at my craft. I remember how I felt in my seat there in the dark I saw possibility something to strive to be. Who knew a year later I would be a student in her vocal class at La Peña!

What programs or activities do you have coming up?

We are gearing up for the 40th anniversary this summer, which we are hoping to make one of our biggest celebrations yet. All our events can be found on our calendar at lapena.org. There is always something exciting happening on any given night from our open mic to political film screenings during the week, come visit us!

What’s a future goal or dream that you have for La Peña?

A future vision I have for La Peña is for it to expand to be able to house even more community groups and classes. I think it would be really exciting to have a black box theatre in the space or a bigger theatre space that could host new theatrical works by marginalized communities. My dream would be to create a residing theatre company/troupe within the center that caters to representing stories and voices of underrepresented groups.

Do you have a favorite dance move?

Not really, I just like to move!

A favorite song to dance to?

“Atrevete Te Te” by Calle 13

Learn more at lapena.org

This article appeared in the January/February 2015 issue of In Dance.

In Dance is a publication of Dancers' Group.