Cultural center sets path for future expansion as it turns 10


Highlights

The Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center celebrates 10 years in Austin.

Austin’s Mexican American Cultural Center is developing a new master plan in hopes of expanding the facility.

When the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center opened its doors a decade ago, it realized a longtime community dream that some thought would never happen.

Now with increased visitor traffic and minimal space for additional cultural programming, the center — which turns 10 this weekend — eyes an expansion that could carve a future path for the city and Austin’s rising Latino community.

“When I think about the MACC, it can’t just be another small cultural facility, especially in Austin, Texas,” said Rick Hernandez, the center’s advisory board chairman who has more than 30 years of experience leading arts and culture groups. “Austin is too important, not just to Texas but to the nation as a whole.”

For the past year, the center has been working on updating its master plan and gathering community feedback. Next month, it’ll host a public meeting to discuss future visions for the center.

INTERACTIVE: Take a look inside the MACC

The master plan, originally crafted in 2000 with the intention of designing and building three phases of the center, was never fully realized. A decade later, the center — designed by the renowned Mexican architect Teodoro González de León, who died last year — is only one-third of its original vision. CasaBella Architects, the firm that helped develop the original master plan, is now back helping develop the new master plan.

Over the years, a lot has changed that’s made the 2000 master plan stale. While the center once sat in a residential area off of Rainey Street, it’s now surrounded by high-rise condominiums and bars. Then in 2015, the Austin City Council voted for the cultural center and two adjoining lots to be designated as parkland.

In the meantime, the center’s programs continued to evolve.

Since its opening, the cultural center has become a place where people feel ownership, a place where they could gather, gain skills, and learn about history and art, said Herlinda Zamora, the center’s culture and arts education manager. “There’s something special about what we’ve created here,” she said. “We’re a connection to community.”

RELATED: Preserving the history of the Mexican American Cultural Center

Adding a theater, additional parking, shade structures and a grand entrance are among the preliminary ideas for a revamped cultural center. A final public meeting to present concepts is planned for December.

To make the new master plan a reality, funding possibilities are being explored, including Mayor Steve Adler’s “downtown puzzle” proposal. That plan would leverage tourism dollars to address homelessness downtown as well as provide funds for cultural arts and historic preservation by increasing the city’s hotel occupancy tax and creating a Tourism Public Improvement District.

With a growing number of Mexican American Cultural Center visitors and new facilities planned that could draw more tourists for concerts and theater performances, center advisory board member Kathy Vale Castillo said the cultural center offers a strong case for becoming a tourist destination.

In a July interview with the American-Statesman, Adler said that about $50 million had been identified by the Visitor Impact Task Force for arts, cultural and historic projects such as the center, the Palm School and the Austin Downtown Alliance, but there’s been no breakdown of potential dollars in the proposal. Adler is expected to present his plan at a Mexican American Cultural Center advisory board meeting next week.

Other funding possibilities could include a bond election or public-private partnerships, Hernandez said.

RELATED: MACC exhibit examines East Austin neighborhood changes

The struggle for a cultural center dates back to the 1960s, when the rise of the Chicano movement helped spur local political activism. Over the decades, community-run cultural and neighborhood centers popped up such as the Juárez-Lincoln Center and El Centro Chicano. But both of these were destroyed. In 1978, El Centro Chicano was the victim of arson. The Juárez-Lincoln building was first firebombed in 1980 and then demolished in 1983.

Failed bond propositions and internal disagreements later plagued plans for a new cultural center, but in 2007, after a decades-long fight, the Mexican American Cultural Center finally opened.

In the past 10 months, the center has had more than 50,000 visitors, putting it on pace to eclipse the total attendance for fiscal 2015-16. Zamora said that more outreach would be needed outside of the center’s walls. She hopes to expand programming to libraries and senior centers for people who can’t easily get to the center.

“What’s so important about organizations like the MACC is that ultimately we can be the driving force to help people understand why where they come from is important,” Hernandez said. “Let’s complete (the center) and make it the best it can be.”

Ahora Sí: Read about MACC anniversary in Spanish



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Driver hits, critically injures pedestrian at Stassney, Congress
Driver hits, critically injures pedestrian at Stassney, Congress

A driver hit and critically injured a pedestrian in South Austin on Thursday night, Austin-Travis County EMS officials said. Medics responded at 10:02 p.m. to Stassney Lane and South Congress Avenue, EMS officials said.  The pedestrian, estimated to be in his 40s, was taken to St. David South Austin Medical Center with life-threatening injuries...
H-E-B recalling olives that may contain glass, store says
H-E-B recalling olives that may contain glass, store says

H-E-B is recalling certain store-brand olives that may contain glass inside, the store said Thursday evening.  The recalled product, 10-ounce glass jars of H-E-B’s “Ode to Olives Sliced Salad Olives,” has a best by date of Nov. 3, 2019, the store said in a news release.  The store issued the recall after customers who had...
Reports: Victim’s family sues parents of accused Santa Fe school shooter
Reports: Victim’s family sues parents of accused Santa Fe school shooter

The family of one of the victims in last week’s Santa Fe High School shooting is suing the parents of the accused shooter, according to two Houston-area TV news stations.  The parents of 17-year-old Chris Stone have filed suit against the parents of accused shooter, Dimitrios Pagourtzis, KTRK-TV reported. They argue in the suit...
Intense, tearful meeting with shooting survivors ends Abbott gun talks
Intense, tearful meeting with shooting survivors ends Abbott gun talks

Gov. Greg Abbott ended three days of gun violence discussions Thursday with an intense, sometimes tearful session devoted to survivors and victims of mass shootings in Texas. Many in the state Capitol room attended Santa Fe High School or had children who were there when a gunman killed eight students and two teachers last week, and while there was...
Democratic governor candidate Valdez owes $12,000 in property taxes
Democratic governor candidate Valdez owes $12,000 in property taxes

Lupe Valdez, who on Tuesday won the Democratic nomination for governor, owes more than $12,000 in property taxes on seven different properties, the Houston Chronicle reported Thursday. Valdez’s campaign spokesman Juan Bautista Dominguez said that the former Dallas County sheriff does owe the money and said she is paying it back. “Sheriff...
More Stories