What's Going on with the Phoenix Latino Cultural Center?

Lynn Trimble
Consultant Evonne Gallardo conducting the first Latino Cultural Center town hall in April 2017.
For more than a year, the city of Phoenix has been exploring what it would take to launch a Latino Cultural Center. This month, it finally released a report detailing its findings.

The city set aside funds "to promote knowledge and appreciation of the cultures of Latinos" in 2009. Approved through a 2001 bond, the money was earmarked for renovating and expanding the Museo Chicano in downtown Phoenix.

But the Museo Chicano went bust in 2009, and the money wasn't spent.

In 2016, City Council members Laura Pastor and Michael Nowakowski expressed interest in moving forward with a new Latino Cultural Center, says Gail Browne, executive director for the City of Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture.

So the City Council took action. 

On October 19, 2016, the City Council approved a $70,000 contract with Los Angeles-based consultant Evonne Gallardo, who heads Evonne Gallardo Arts and Culture Management. She's worked for more than a decade with arts and culture organizations — including the Los Angeles County Arts Commission.

The council tasked Gallardo with undertaking "a needs assessment and feasibility study for a Latino Cultural Center" in Phoenix.

click to enlarge Latino Cultural Center town hall held April 13, 2017, at Memorial Hall at Steele Indian School Park. - LYNN TRIMBLE
Latino Cultural Center town hall held April 13, 2017, at Memorial Hall at Steele Indian School Park.
Lynn Trimble
Gallardo looked at what the community wants to see in a Latino Cultural Center, and what type of resources would be needed to make it happen. She gathered information through town halls, focus groups, and an online survey. And she researched similar centers in other cities.

She found that creating a new center could cost $4.5 million.

But the city bond funding falls far short of that amount.

For now, the fate of a possible Latino Cultural Center is in limbo. Which means it’s pretty much where it was nearly a decade ago, when the city parked the funds meant to move it forward.

Minutes from the October 19, 2016, City Council meeting indicate that just under $1.4 million could be used for a Latino Cultural Center. And those funds have to go toward a capital project — which means building a center or renovating an existing building.

There’s another reason that efforts to create a Latino Cultural Center could get stalled.

After seeing Gallardo’s report, Councilman Sal DiCiccio issued a press release saying he disagreed with her recommendations.

Phoenix City Council members saw the report in September. In October, it was posted on the Department of Arts and Culture portion of the city’s website.

The report addresses not only possible programming for the center, but also options for securing the money needed to create and sustain it.

Gallardo took several steps to involve Latinos and other community members in creating the report, including convening several town halls and focus groups.

click to enlarge Latino Cultural Center town hall held April 23, 2017 at Grant Park Community Center. - LYNN TRIMBLE
Latino Cultural Center town hall held April 23, 2017 at Grant Park Community Center.
Lynn Trimble
She also conducted approximately two dozen interviews with artists, arts administrators, and others. And she collected input from 254 people through an online survey posted on the city’s website.

Gallardo also worked with an advisory committee whose 15 members were recommended by Pastor and Nowakowski.

Several of the members lead existing Latino arts and culture organizations – which include CALA Alliance, Cultural Coalition, and Xico Arte y Cultura, to name a few.

Compiling this input, and her own evaluation of similar centers in other parts of the country, Gallardo issued her findings.

The report reveals several philosophical underpinnings, including the importance of creating a center “that is inclusive and bridges the many diverse streams of the Latino experience in Phoenix.”

It should have a highly visible downtown location, according to the report. And programming should happen at both the center and other venues.

The report calls for balancing “seasonal/consistent” and “organic/spontaneous/experimental” programming. And it stresses the importance of collaboration.

But making all that happen could cost several million dollars, which makes implementing the report’s recommendations easier said than done.

Gallardo's report provides the likely cost for both full and partial programming.

Doing everything the report recommends would require 22,620 square feet. Partial programming would take 18,330 square feet.

Either way, it’s a pricey proposition.

New construction for the larger center would run at least $4.5 million, and rehabilitation of an existing space would run $2.3 million.

The smaller space would cost at least $3.6 million to build. Rehabilitating a space that size would cost $1.8 million, according to the report.

click to enlarge Latino Cultural Center town hall held April 20, 2017, at Maryvale Community Center. - LYNN TRIMBLE
Latino Cultural Center town hall held April 20, 2017, at Maryvale Community Center.
Lynn Trimble
Whether the city will actually create a new Latino Cultural Center remains to be seen.

At this point, the report is moving through proper channels.

Gallardo presented her findings to the City of Phoenix Arts and Culture Commission on Tuesday, October 17. On Wednesday, October 25, she'll present them to the Phoenix City Council’s Parks, Arts, Education, and Equality Subcommittee. It's open to the public.

The make-up of the subcommittee could complicate the city’s quest to create a new Latino Cultural Center.

Both Vice Mayor Pastor and Councilman Nowakwoski sit on that committee, along with Councilman Daniel Valenzuela.

So does DiCiccio, who issued a press release on October 3 disputing Gallardo’s findings.

DiCiccio wants the center's focus expanded to include sports, food, and other elements of Latino culture, according to that release.

And he's concerned that the survey didn't capture input from a broad enough swath of community members, according to Sam Stone, his chief of staff, who spoke with New Times by phone on October 6.

What becomes of the drive to launch a new Latino Cultural Center could depend on what that subcommittee recommends to the Phoenix City Council.

Ultimately, the council will have to decide whether Phoenix should move forward with any or all of Gallardo's recommendations. Stay tuned to future city council agendas if you want to follow along.