Plaza de la Raza was founded by prominent labor, business and community leaders and local residents originally in response to plans by the City of Los Angeles Parks and Recreation Commission to demolish Lincoln Park’s historic boathouse. Margo Albert, Mexican-born actress/singer and Frank López, a well-known labor union organizer, spearheaded the efforts to find alternatives to the boathouse’s destruction and proved to be the guiding lights in the formation of Plaza as a community-based cultural arts and education center. It officially became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization on May 20, 1970.
Situated in the heart of East Los Angeles in Lincoln Park, Plaza de la Raza Cultural Center for the Arts and Education is the only multidisciplinary venue of its kind in Los Angeles. Plaza is a focus of activity, a popular meeting place for its neighboring communities, and a regional center for the five million Angelenos of Mexican and Latin American descent. It is a truly a “Place for all People.”
Throughout its remarkable history, Plaza de la Raza has been one of the few landmarks in Los Angeles where artists and performers, children and families, audiences and visitors convene to celebrate the rich contribution of Latino performing and visual arts in the City of Los Angeles and the American landscape. Due to the legacy of its success, Plaza is not only a regional cultural treasure but has earned recognition for excellence and national leadership in after-school arts and recreation programming. Plaza is also one of the city’s most popular points of interest for visitors, artists and performers, and it is highly regarded by the surrounding community as a “safe haven” for local youth.
Plaza’s programming history includes a roster of stellar performing groups, artists and events that have been hosted at the center. Highlights include an historic presentation of the work of the Mexican master David Alfaro Siquieros, followed by the largest exhibition of work by artist Frida Kahlo in the United States (1987). Plaza has hosted the legendary Bella Lewitzky, ballet folklórico troupes and master artists from Mexico, and performances by Francisco Martinez Dance Company and the National Chinese Dance and Orchestra Ensemble in their first-ever visits to the United States. Plaza presented The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit by Ray Bradbury (hosted by the author), the premiere of The Last Angry Brown Hat, a residency of José Luis Valenzuela’s Latino Theatre Initiative during 1995-1996, and most recently, ¡Cantinflas!by Herbert Siguenza of Culture Clash. Plaza has hosted the L.A. Philharmonic Orchestra, Dr. Loco and the Rockin’ Jalapeno Band, Los Lobos, and the first American presentation of the Chinese National Orchestra and Dance Ensemble.
Plaza’s free annual family programming includes the Target Feria de la Familia now in its 6th year, featuring performances and workshops, recitals, exhibitions and performances by the students each quarter, the Day of the Dead /Dia de los Muertos celebration, which features music, dance and altars created by youth, artesano bazaars hosted by its La Tiendita store, and a hugely popular holiday party featuring nascimientos (crèche or Nativity scene installations, typically with statues and figurines) and a toy giveaway (which, for many families, is where most children receive their only gifts at Christmas).
Plaza de la Raza Plaza’s School of Performing and Visual Arts offers quarterly workshops to local children, youth, and adults in a variety of traditional and folk disciplines, at low or no cost. The school’s primary constituency is comprised of poverty to middle-income Latino families and at-risk youth residing in the surrounding communities of Lincoln Heights, El Sereno, and Boyle Heights.
In 2010, Plaza celebrated its 20-year collaboration with the California Institute of Arts (CalArts) through its Community Arts Partnership (CAP). In addition, the Plaza Cultural Ambassadors program features four student performance groups — Folklórico Dance Troupe, Latin Jazz Ensemble, Mariachi Musicians, Salsa Band — all comprised of young musicians who perform at dozens of community venues and events every year.