What we do

La Peña is a vibrant community cultural center with a global vision that has promoted social justice, arts participation, and intercultural understanding for 40 years.

As an internationally known gathering place, we share multiple cultural traditions, support progressive movements, and keep alive peoples’ histories.

La Peña was started by a group of Latin and North Americans as a response to the military coup in Chile that overthrew the elected government of Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973. La Peña opened its doors in June 1975 and has been thriving ever since.

Today our focus is on supporting new 21st century cohorts of leaders in arts activism in one of the most racially and ethnically diverse metropolitan areas in the United States, the Bay Area.

Our goals are to encourage creativity, promote dialogue, share knowledge, and build community capacity for social and economic change. To this end we are in the process of reshaping our building to create an arts HUB, more workshop and performance spaces, and more classrooms.

La Peña’s educational philosophy stems from the cultural and political traditions of its founding: interconnectedness among cultures, cooperative efforts, innovation of new arts expressions, and solidarity among activists.  Our distinctive programming brings together community leaders, educators, and activists, as well as teaching artists, professional and student musicians, dancers, poets, and muralists to participate in Indigenous “roots art” forms from the Americas and the African diaspora.

Our activities contribute to building civic engagement in a democratic society. In our work, we practice the egalitarian and collective practices in our work that we hope will build a more just society in the future.



La Peña shares the utopian hopes of millions of people around the world who struggle for more humane social arrangements. According to Kenyan Nobel Prize laureate Wangari Maathai, “In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness to reach a higher moral ground, a time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other. That time is now.”

Quechua speakers in Bolivia and Peru have articulated a goal of sustainable autonomous regions with functional communities that authorize their own local organization, resources, production, transport, consumption, culture, and education. Their concept of Sumak Kawsay is a spiritual and environmental model of humans living in harmony and balance, interconnected with land, water, air, forests, plants, animals, ancestors, and descendants, in relationship to the whole life-force in the world of which we are a part. Rather than base their culture in the domination of nature and the exhaustion of resources, Sumak Kawsay reaches for an entire way of life based in solidarity, generosity, and reciprocity. It is a civilizing and emancipating project that proposes interculturality, plurinationalism, gender equality, and decoloniality.

The idea is not to return to the past but to generate a future different from the overly individualized, materialized, destructive and disenchanted society that has dominated the Americas since colonialism. The aim is intense citizenship through which every person has a right to participate, thrive, and create.

Arudhati Roy, award-winning Indian author, wrote: “Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness – and our ability to tell our own stories… Remember this: We be many and they be few. They need us more than we need them. Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” Seeds germinating in the earth of our imaginations, these visions grace our work at La Peña.