Acción Latina Adds a Community Art Gallery

Acción Latina’s new community art gallery is nestled in the heart of San Francisco’s Latino Cultural District at 2958 24th Street. The gallery seeks to showcase the work of established and emerging Latino artists as well as that of non-Latino artists whose work reflects the nuances of Latino life locally, nationally and internationally.The exterior wall of the new gallery features scaled down, exact replicas of several Maya bas-relief masterpieces. The gallery is surrounded by the vibrancy of Latino culture that has made this area world renowned and a popular tourist destination. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 11:00 AM – 6:00 PM.

We sat down with Acción Latina’s Executive Director, Georgiana Hernández, to talk about the new space.

When was the vision born to create a gallery?

Our initial vision was to just pop out part of the wall that faces 24th Street and create a showcase window but as time went on, of course, the vision expanded and so we created an actual gallery. 

We’re so appreciative to have received support from the San Francisco Arts Commission, the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, the Voluntary Arts Contribution Fund, and individual donors, all of whom helped to turn our vision into a reality.

How large will the space be? How did you work with limitations of the existing building?

We knocked down the entire wall that faces 24th Street. Our architectural firm, Vargas-Greenan Architects, worked with us on the design and a structural engineer worked with us on the structural aspects. The gallery area encompasses the entire front of our building.

Can anyone visit?

We’ll be open Tuesday through Saturday, 11:00 to 6:00 pm.

The Muertos exhibit located in the upper window of the wall that was knocked down to create the gallery resonated with so many. Did the gallery evolve out of that?

One of our board members, Mike Ruiz, developed a special exhibition for Dia de los Muertos back in 2013, using the upper windows of our building to create a cemetery depicting businesses that have ceased to exist as a result of gentrification. That exhibition became so popular, with tourists snapping pictures almost every day. Maybe that exhibition did inspire us to create a new space within our building to showcase the art that reflects the concerns, desires, and beauty of our community.

Who did you work with on the design?

We worked with Vargas-Greenan Architects on the architectural design and they were wonderful partners during the planning and development process. A lot of the credit for the design of the exterior façade also goes to our board member, Mike Ruiz. He had a vision of including Mayan reliefs on the lower panel of the exterior of the building, so the gallery facade is really going to be unique. The glyphs are exact replicas of the Mayan relief masterpieces.

What are some of your art gallery inspirations?

Two of my favorite galleries/museums are the Museo Rufino Tamayo in Oaxaca City and the Rodolfo Morales Museum in Ocotlán—both are in Oaxaca [Mexico]. The latter, in particular, is mesmerizing, with some of the artwork painted onto huge columns, and you just walk around and lose yourself in the art. I’d like our new gallery to have that same effect, for people to get lost in the artwork, to really spend time with each piece of art, appreciate all that went into creating it, and maybe even imagine what the life of the artist might be or have been. With our busy lives, we just don’t do enough of that, letting the art take us into imagined worlds. I think that’s why art is so important, it liberates us from the here and now.

What kind of media do you see in the space?

Because our gallery window is so large, we’ve had some conversations about maybe having looped videos that play at night, shorts that tell stories about the neighborhood, past and present. Could be cool and informative. We’ll see what the future brings.

The exhibition, ¡Cuba Libre! – An Exhibition of Cuban and American Ceramics, Prints & Photographs, curated by Catherine Merrill, shows from January 16 through February 27, 2016. The exhibition showcases the work of some of Cuba’s most preeminent ceramic and print artists as well as artists in the United states with whom they’ve had more than a decade-long intercultural exchange. The curator, Catherine Merrill, is a ceramic artist who received the Jose Maria Heredia Medal of Honor for her contributions to Cuban ceramics. This is the highest arts award in the province of Santiago de Cuba. She has been described as “the foremost U.S. authority on contemporary Cuban ceramics.”

About Mike Ruiz

Michael Ruiz’s work is influenced not only by his background in design and illustration, but also by his heritage and years of study of the ancient cultures of Latin America. Several of the pieces in the exhibition are meant to reflect the religious conflict that still exists for the indigenous peoples of Mexico, Central and South America. For more than 25 years, Ruiz taught art and art.

“I’m honored to have a one-man show in Accion Latina’s new art gallery,” said Ruiz. “Given the demographic changes within San Francisco’s Mission District over the past decade, it’s important that community institutions like Acción Latina find ways to preserve and showcase Latino art and cultural traditions. The new art gallery definitely contributes to this goal.”

About Acción Latina

Acción Latina is a nonprofit organization founded in 1970 and is dedicated to promoting cultural arts, community media and civic engagement as a way of building healthy and empowered Latino communities. Acción Latina’s new art gallery was made possible through the generous support of San Francisco’s Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services, the San Francisco Arts Commission, the Voluntary Arts Contribution Fund, and individual donors.