From the late 1960s to the early 1980s Highland Park in Northeast Los Angeles was home to the influential Chicana/o artists collectives Mechicano Art Center and “Centro de Arte Publico”, which included among their members some of the most important Chicana/o artists of their time: Carlos Almaraz, Frank Romero, Judithe Hernandez, Teddy Sandoval, Gilbert Magu Lujan, Leo Limon, Barbara Carrasco, and John Valadez. In stark contrast to the upscale galleries of West Los Angeles, where an individualistic conceptual art was taking root, Highland Park was becoming home to an art form that emphasized the themes of community, cultural pride, and economic struggle inherited from the great Mexican muralists of the previous generation.
Mechicano Art Center (1969-1978)
Mechicano was one of the earliest Chicano arts organizations to emerge in Los Angeles. Founded in 1969 by community organizer Victor Franco in the La Cienega arts district, it moved to East Los Angeles in 1970. Artist and graphic designer Leonard Castellanos became the executive director. In 1972, they initiated the mural program at the Ramona Gardens Housing Project, directed by artist Armando Cabrera.
In 1975, under new director Joe Rodriguez, Mechicano moved to Highland Park. Located on the corner of Avenue 54 and Figueroa, the center continued to paint murals at Ramona Gardens, while holding series of art exhibitions in their studio space. In 1976, artist Sonya Fe was hired to run their silkscreen workshop.
Aldama House; Red Star Commune; Corazon Productions (1975-1977)
Beginning in the mid 1970s, a small number of Chicano artists, writers, intellectuals, and organizations began moving from East Los Angeles into Highland Park. Among those who made the move were muralist Carlos Almaraz and his girlfriend Patricia Parra. Their rented house on Aldama Street in Highland Park became an active artist commune at which many Chicano artists would gather for varied cultural and political activities. Soon Almaraz and Parra, along with Guillermo Bejarano, a student at the People’s College of Law, banded together with other artists and students to buy the house, in the process forming a collective that would become known as Corazon Productions. Among the artists who participated in this community were Frank Romero, Gilbert ‘Magu’ Lujan, Beto de la Rocha and Judithe Hernandez of Los Four, Wayne Healy and George Yepes of the East Los Streetscapers, ASCO’s Gronk, Leo Limon, and John Valadez.
Public Art Center /Centro de arte publico (1976-1978)
By 1976, Corazon Productions splintered in the aftermath of the end of Carlos Almaraz and Patricia Parra’s relationship. In 1977 Almaraz, along with Guillermo Bejarano and Richard Duardo, founded the Centro de Arte Publico on 56th and Figueroa in Highland Park. Almaraz and Bejerano had been Highland Park residents for several years and Duardo, a UCLA graduate and former printer for Self Help Graphics, had grown up in the area after his family moved there in the 1950s. For Duardo, the Centro was the first of many design studios he would develop over his career. John Valadez, a painter and muralist, also became involved, producing works that focused on Los Angeles street scenes and urban Chicana/o youth.
A number of women were invited to participate in the Centro, which reflected a growing concern for gender equality in the art community and the country as a whole. Barbara Carrasco, Dolores Cruz and Judithe Hernandez were among the artists informed by a burgeoning Chicana feminist agenda, experimenting and developing a uniquely Chicana feminist iconography.
CHISME ARTE (1975-1983)
Chisme Arte was a publication of the Concilio de Arte Popular, a statewide arts advocacy group founded to interconnect and stabilize the network of Chicano arts organizations throughout California. Organizational members of the Concilio included The Galeria de la Raza and The Mexican Museum in San Francisco, The Teatro Campesino in San Juan Bautista, The Royal (Rebel) Chicano Air Force in Sacramento, Mechicano Art Center in Los Angeles and The Centro Cultural de la Raza in San Diego.
In 1976 Concilio de Arte Popular, which was funded through the California Arts Council, obtained a grant to produce a publication devoted to the creative endeavors of Chicano artists throughout the state. Though originally based in Sacramento, Chisme Arte moved to Centro de Arte Publico’s Highland Park studio through the efforts of Carlos Almaraz, Guillermo Bejerano, and Victor Valle, and with the blessing of Jose Montoya. While the publication was meant to reflect the statewide network of artists and their regional organizations, after the move to Los Angeles Chisme Arte became a much clearer reflection of the Los Angeles’ 1970s Chicano art world.
By the end of the 1970s, after almost a decade of Chicano art activism, Chicana artists began to produce a Chicana feminist iconography grounded in movement ideologies, but with with a more critical reading of the role of women in Chicano/Mexicano culture. These artists began to contribute to the Chicano visual arts landscape in a much more visible way and gained more local – as well as national – attention. The seminal piece by Sybil Venegas, “Conditions for Producing Chicana Art” was published in a 1977 special “la mujer” edition of Chisme Arte. This article was one of the first scholarly articles written on Chicana artists and, for many of the artists, it was the first time they had ever been written about.