Julia de Burgos celebrates new digs in Brooklyn Centre neighborhood

Center House.jpeg

After 30 years of promoting the arts and culture of Cleveland’s Latino community, the Julia De Burgos Cultural Arts Center now has a permanent home on Archwood Ave. in Cleveland. The center spent many years moving from one location to another until an opportunity came up to share space with Archwood United Church of Christ at 2800 Archwood. 

“Three years ago, we came here to the Archwood United Church of Christ,” said McKenzie Merriman, program coordinator at the center. “As their congregation shrunk and we had the need to fill a space, we realized that our missions are aligned. So, we’ve been renting the campus from them for the last three years. By the end of the year, we will be owners of the space.”

The center’s mission is to “transform lives by preserving, educating, and promoting Latino heritage through the teaching and practice of history, culture, the visual, performing, and literary arts,” according to the website. Julia De Burgos was a writer from Puerto Rico. The center is named for her because she believed in promoting the rich culture of poetry, education and women’s empowerment in the Latino community. The organization has always served the near west side. 

On May 8, the center had a Spring celebration for artists, students, families and community members to celebrate the accomplishments made during the past year. According to Merriman, the organization also uplifts all Spanish and/or Latino cultures from Argentina, Spain, Brazil, Mexico and other Latin countries. 

A chance to reinvent

Before the pandemic, the center was offering hour-long flamenco ballet classes taught by Alice Blumenfeld focusing on technique including arm-work, footwork, traveling patterns, and turns along with a traditional Sevillanas choreography. A graffiti art class for those 8 to 16-year olds delves into drawing aliens, model car painting and dinosaurs. The Latina leadership program is geared for girls 13 to 17 years old to help educate and empower them. 

When Covid 19 started to spread, the organization decided to close its doors and began to focus on ways to grow internally. They focused on fundraising, as well other planning and setting up virtual programming. More grants were received for artist support through Unidos Porel Arte, which offers support to local Latino artists, and Cuyahoga Arts and Culture. Renovations began on the house that included a newly paved parking lot courtesy of a green infrastructure grant through the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, said Letitia Lopez, executive director of Julia De Burgos Cultural Arts Center.

Reading garden with outdoor art located next door to the Julia de Burgos Cultural Arts Center.

Reading garden with outdoor art located next door to the Julia de Burgos Cultural Arts Center.

It was also a chance to transition into owning the house and the 20,000 sq. ft. adjacent church, which is considered the main building, and is part of the renovation project. According to the church’s website, services are still ongoing virtually. The congregation is welcome to stay if they like, said Lopez.

Renovations to the home’s front room, with its large picture window, include contemporary ceiling lights that add depth to the paintings by local artists that adorn the walls. Next door in the reading garden is a framed art installation that is both eye-catching and thought-provoking. The Neighborhood Leadership Development program contributed to the restoration of the house. Private donations were offered and the center raised $13,000 on their own. Renovations are being completed by locally trained and licensed electricians and contractors, Lopez said. 

Other rooms in the center are filled with portraits of women of color in the neighborhood. Colorful, reimagined pianos greet visitors with splashes of bright reds, greens and blues. Some of the center’s ongoing programs include virtual poetry readings and interviews with cultural researchers or artists about a certain topic such as the indigenous people of Puerto Rico.

“We had a director who was putting together a play, so there was a virtual play that she recorded with her small cast honor center and then we broadcast that,” said Merriman. 

Julia De Burgos Cultural Arts Center is beginning to kick off the 2021 artist grant recipients of the Support for Artists grants from Cuyahoga Arts and Culture. CAC’s relationship with the organization is primarily to fund artists through the center. They are not legally allowed to directly give to artists. 

One of the pianos chosen to take part in the Piano Scavenger Hunt.

One of the pianos chosen to take part in the Piano Scavenger Hunt.

The Support for Artists grants began last year. The program is supported by CAC. The first year the center gave six artists $5,000 each. According to Lopez, the number grows to 10 artists this year who will receive $5,000 each.

Paving a path for the future

Looking ahead, the center plans to double down on their support of artist grants. Soon local artist Moises Borges will be working with an indigenous tribe in Brazil and interviewing them from Cleveland. The center hopes to send them Wi-Fi hotspots and cameras to support some of their technology needs. This will allow for virtual conversations that can be posted online, so that the public can access them. Anyone can apply, but priority is given to artists of color. 

“The majority of the proposals we’ve received are from Latino artists,” said Lopez. “Because we’re a Latino arts and culture center, it’s just very organic that we would have mainly artists of color applying for grants.”

Lopez’s voice exudes pride when speaking about how in 2017, Hurricane Maria brought an  influx of Puerto Ricans to Cleveland and how the center helps reconnect them to what they had to leave behind.

“My parents are from Puerto Rico, said Lopez. “It becomes very easy here in the United States to lose your culture. So it’s important for our center to nurture those like me who were born here. They needed a place to make them feel at home and as well as a slice of their culture.”

In late June, Piano Cleveland will host a piano scavenger hunt. The pianos on display at the center will take part. 

“The pianos are going to be set up across town in June … so we will be linked to venues like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Public Square,” said Merriman. “For this piano scavenger hunt we helped connect two of the artists with that opportunity.”

For more information about Julia de Burgos Center, call 216/894-5664 or visit www.juliadeburgos.org.

Gregory Burnett is a local freelance reporter.

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