Arte Américas, the only Latino cultural arts center in the Central San Joaquin Valley, had to temporarily close during the pandemic and was extensively vandalized.
During its closure, the center had its windows smashed, its air conditioning system destroyed, its exterior electrical wiring cut and experienced two intrusion situations through its roof.
“It was just a really, really tough time for us,” said Ruth Saludes, executive director of Arte Américas.
After reopening — and having to pay for repairs — the art gallery and cultural center is now receiving a new wave of public investment from state and local governments.
Assemblyman Dr. Joaquin Arambula presented a check for $7 million to Arte Américas Wednesday morning in downtown Fresno. The funding is expected to help with renovations and expansion of the program, with the goal of helping the facility become a world-class museum and cultural center.
In addition to state funding, Fresno City Council member Miguel Arias said the city has provided an additional $400,000 to help with building improvements.
The infrastructure damage “threatened the vitality of this building and what it represents,” Arias said.
Vivian Velasco Paz, chair of the board of directors of Arte Américas, said the funding would have an impact beyond the building’s infrastructure.
“The community will be the true beneficiaries of these funds,” she said. “More children are going to discover art here, and the wonderful thing about Arte Américas is that it brings together several generations.”
Latino cultural arts center plans to expand
Since its founding 35 years ago, keeping Arte Américas open has “always been a financial struggle,” Saludes said.
It has managed to stay afloat through a series of grants, public and private donations, volunteer staff and, most recently, a $5 gallery entry fee which is waived on free access days. .
“A lot of museums and galleries have closed (during the pandemic). We didn’t,” Saludes said. “We worked very hard over the last three years to make sure we were stable.”
Arte Américas executives hope the latest funding injection will help keep the center open and vibrant in the future.
The center currently uses a third of its building, and Arte Américas staff want to make more use of the facility’s space to expand its offering of arts and cultural programming.
Beyond repairing damage sustained during the pandemic, the funds will help cover the costs of much-needed repairs to the second floor. The second floor was used years ago but is no longer operational, Saludes said. It needs new floors, updated bathrooms and an updated kitchen, she said.
Arte Américas also plans to invest in temperature control and security systems.
The funds will also help pay the property’s mortgage. Previously, retired judge and founder of Arte Américas, Armando Rodriguez, helped pay the center’s monthly fees when he struggled financially.
“We actually own all of this property. It’s not a rental,” Saludes said. “And we almost completely paid off (the mortgage). It won’t be very long. And of course, now it will be easy to pay it back.
The funds granted will also enable Arte Américas to hire five new staff members. Currently, Saludes and a program manager are the only two full-time employees and there are a few part-time workers.
Saludes said new job descriptions have not yet been drafted because Arte Américas wants to assess which areas could most benefit the center and the community.
The gallery aims to make the Fresno community “stronger”
In Riverside, the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture received a $9.7 million grant of the State to support its development. It opened earlier this summer.
Seeing how cultural centers in other cities were receiving grants worth millions of dollars, Arambula requested a similar amount for Arte Américas, Velsaco Paz said.
Arambula secured $21.5 million in public funds to pour into various local agencies and nonprofits in District 31, including the $7 million for Arte Américas, according to his office.
“We need to be able to celebrate that our diversity is our strength,” Arambula said. “By examining our culture and understanding how we can express ourselves in art, we can be a stronger community.”
This has always been the center’s mission, said members of the Arte Américas board of directors.
“When we launched Arte Américas, we knew it was important because we recognized that Fresno was changing,” said Lilia Gonzáles-Chávez, one of the founders of Arte Américas. “We needed to provide a place where children could see themselves in the most positive light possible.”