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LINCOLN HEIGHTS : Aztlan Foundation Breaks In Old Jail

July 04, 1993|MARY ANNE PEREZ

The south end of the old Los Angeles City Jail, long ago abandoned, has a new look about it, with Chicano posters and artwork on its walls and educational and artistic events planned for the site.

It is the new home of the Aztlan Cultural Arts Foundation, which had its grand opening last weekend with a ritual blessing and a showing of an intellectual criticism of the modern media. The north end of the building is home to the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts.

"We're eclectic," said executive director Armando Martinez, 34, who with his wife, Donna Ramirez, and about 15 others started the foundation. "We're not going to fit anybody's mode. We want to merge the ancient with the modern, the dancing with the contemporary issues, such as how the media operate. That's an important issue to our community."

The foundation, at 401 N. Ave. 19, evolved out of the group's publication, New Visions of Aztlan, a collection of essays, poems, photographs and articles. The current issue, the fourth, celebrates the life of Cesar Chavez and explains the June hunger strike by Chicano students at UCLA.

The building is still a maze of dark hallways, and the floor tile in one of two classrooms was loosened after a water pipe on the second floor burst. Organizers hope to lay some new tile and hang more artwork throughout the wing to make it more of a community gathering place. They refer to the building as the University of Aztlan.

"It's a way to get people grounded in the idea that we have a whole different way of thinking," Martinez said. "The concept of a university is it's a part of all things working together. We're looking at creativity and promoting Chicano/Latino values."

The reference also points out an irony because the building once housed a jail.

"If you look at our modern reality, more Latinos and African-Americans are in jails than in universities," Martinez said.

The Aztlan Cultural Arts Foundation helps promote other events taking place throughout the community, such as concerts at Plaza de la Raza and an indigenous art festival at Paramount Ranch.

Martinez said the foundation and the publication have focused on art and creativity as an important means to educate the public.

"The artists, many times, represent the conscience of the community and translate things that people can't see," he said.

"We want to be that communicator, that translator for the community."

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