A Fiscal Year End Update From Executive Director Kristen Sbrogna

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A Fiscal Year End Update
From Executive Director Kristen Sbrogna

La Peña’s fiscal year runs September 1 – August 31, and I’m pleased to share that after finalizing our financial statements, La Peña reports a surplus! For those of you familiar with our financial situation, this is big news for us, and reflects a turnaround to a new phase of stability, renewal, and smart growth.

I would describe the sentiment in the air at La Peña as one of hopefulness. We had a year full of “transition” and change, but we also accomplished a lot, and the result is a renewed center, a new restaurant, and new projects on the horizon. At our core we are still an organization committed to arts and social justice, rooted in Latin American culture.

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In addition to stabilizing our budget in 2014, La Peña completed phase 1 of our Building our Future capital campaign. We raised $100,000 to fund renovations to the café, bathrooms, and lobby, and to purchase new sound and lights systems for the theater.

Our financial success is in large part due to our ability to adapt to the new fundraising climate. Between 2010 and 2012, La Peña reduced its budget by more than a third (from approximately $750,000 to approximately $450,000) due to the loss of a few large corporate grants. The necessary result was a multi-phase restructuring. The final phase, reflected in the graph below, shows the final implementation of the restructuring in 2014.

Despite the savings in staff expenses, our impact on the community has not been compromised. In 2014, La Peña added many regular free and low-cost programs in our lounge while maintaining close to the level of La Peña presents shows in the theater. This slight decrease is reflected in the dip in artist fees from 2013 to 2014 seen below.
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The artist fees are still impressive: they surpass those in 2012 when the staff budget was more than double what it is now. In addition, the distribution of total artist fees is over less shows overall, meaning artists are being paid more on average per show than in 2013. This is largely because at the beginning of 2014 we restructured our financial agreement for our shows to give artists a higher percentage of the door net.

The graph below shows our mission-based categorizations for our La Peña presents programs.
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*In addition to the more than 140 La Peña presents shows included above, in 2014 La Peña hosted over:
46 2nd Gen events
750 classes, workshops, and summer camps (15-20 individual classes/week)
123 community free or by-donation events (mostly in our lounge)
97 rentals
26 Saturday morning family programs

Ensuring we are on a sustainable path will take a little more time “in the black,” but I am confident that as we move forward we will continue to secure our financial footing and expand our programs. As we approach our 40th year, La Peña is as strong as ever!

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Amiguitos returning this fall!

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Since I was a kid I would begin moving to the rhythm and reciting lyrics as if written on the back of my hands the moment that song played on the radio. Whether it was in the intimacy of my own home by myself or with family, or in an open atmosphere shared with friends and friends-to-be, the joys and innocence of dancing and singing hand-in-hand go un-matched. Now-a-days the radio and television don’t exactly have the most kid-friendly music with suitable lyrics, it can be difficult to find the right match and we all know music is better when enjoyed with others, especially live music.

The Amiguitos program at La Peña provides a space and atmosphere that upon entering I was immediately brought back to my childhood. Local artists and musicians alike come together with kids and adults to create an atmosphere that’s fun, welcoming, and lively. And after a great time with music there is fresh and authentic Mexican cuisine next door at Los Cilantros that the whole family can sit down to enjoy. Artists offer their own unique talent and style of music making each time a different and refreshing experience for everyone.


The Bug Family Band had the kids non-stop jamming to their originally composed music as well as the cover of classic children’s tunes. Even the “older kids” (adults) couldn’t help but bug out. Also really popular within the community is Your Song My Song, comprised of musicians Jaime Lee Currier and Eric Hart. With both Jaime and Eric being teachers it’s no wonder that they are able to keep the attention of both the kids and adults during their performances with such a high level of engagement and participation, their enthusiasm is contagious for anybody who’s in the room. Musician, activist, and educator, Bonnie Lockhart is also another great member of the Amiguitos team. Her knowledge of knowing how to play the guitar, piano, and percussion provide her a diverse range of sounds to get the children moving along. Drawing from different cultural backgrounds such as the Caribbean, Mexico, West Africa, and here in the United States as well as many more, Bonnie’s songs are as much educational as they are entertaining. Equally informative and inspiring for the youth is the EarthCapades theater performance. Performing at festivals, schools, and theaters across the country the show is a well-balanced mixture of music, comedy, storytelling, and audience interaction while raising environmental awareness.


All of these artists are just an example of the great talent that is shared at the center. The fall line-up has yet to be announced, but there’s no doubt that they will bring the same great energy and fun to the space as the previous ones. The roster of artists for the months to come will be up soon on the La Pena events calendar. Stay up to date by following La Peña on social media such as facebook, twitter, and instagram.

About the author: George Cheng is currently an intern at La Peña Cultural Center and an undergraduate student at the University of California Berkeley studying Interdisciplinary studies with a focus on Art and Social Change. George will be teaching a break-dancing workshop alongside other members of his student organization, Dwinelle Hall breakers, on September, 20th. Click HERE for information about the workshop.

Celebrating 39 years of culture at La Peña

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La Peña Cultural Center has been a lively cultural space in Berkeley for the past 39 years. Since it’s doors opened, La Peña has served as a community cultural center promoting a wide diversity of cultural traditions from the Americas and Caribbean as well as promoting social and political justice. Doing so, La Peña has created the perfect mixture of politics and the arts in a community that is known for its diversity.


This past month of June has been filed with celebrations geared towards celebrating La Peña’s 39 years of promoting peace, social justice and action, as well as cultural awareness through the arts and education. Paz: Fandango Urbano was one of La Peña’s 39th anniversary events that filled the theater with sones jarochos. A son jarocho is a regional folk musical style pertaining to Veracruz and the Gulf of Mexico consisting of the jarana jarocha, a guitar shaped instrument, a requinto jarocho or guitarra de son, which is also similar to a small guitar, a pandero jarocho, similar to a tambourine, a quijada, typically made of a donkey or horse jawbone and conga drums or a cajon.

Once the doors opened and people greeted each other and took their seats, the musicians came out onto the stage and began playing their harmonious and lively music, that were composed and put together in previous Fandango workshops and jam sessions.  These sones reflect the Bay Area experience of those who have partaken in the past Fandango Urbano workshops. The lead artists, Maria de la Rosa would zapatiar to the music in her traditional son jarocho dress adding the rhythm of her tapping heels as she danced to the music. The zapatiado dance is a traditional dance in fandangos and is also a form of percussion, having their dance essentially become an instrument. After playing a few sones the artists, invited the audience to dance and to come up and showcase their zapateado. Once the artist were done with their performance, they invited the audience to jam with them in a Fandango Urbano and create new community sones.

Listening to sones for the first time, was really a pleasing musical experience. The combination of the small acoustic instruments gave the music it’s folkloric accent, while the cajon conga drums, and the zapatiado dance gave the music it’s percussive rhythm.


The following day after Paz: Fandango Urbano, La Peña held it’s open house to invite the community to see the newly renovated lounge and cafe, which now  serves farm fresh Mexican food from “Los Cilantros,” and to officially celebrate La Peña’s 39 year anniversary with live music and the broadcasting of World Cup’s match between the U.S.A. and Portugal. The afternoon started off with a performance by Gail Dobson’s vocal class, which consisted of the community’s children singing popular songs and the Latin American Songbook class who were both very good and showcased both group and solo performances. There was also Salsa, Bomba y Plena, Cumbia, and other diverse genres of Latin and Afro-Cuban music, that just made you want to get up and dance, like some of the attendees did. The food provided by “Los Cilantros” was also very savory and fresh. I had the opportunity to try their chicken tamales and they were simply delicious. The fresh agua de piña (pineapple water) was also very sweet and refreshing and complimented in my opinion the chicken tamales. The World Cup also started soon after, which drew soccer fanatics as the U.S. and Portugal played an intense and suspenseful game, which lead to a draw between the two teams. La Peña was additionally holding a silent auction. The auction consisted of many paintings and posters that reflected what La Peña stands for culturally and politically, as well as books and other cultural objects from different areas.


Attending both events made my weekend truly a different experience from the typical routine. In two days I heard a wide variety of new music and was able to enjoy and be exposed to the different compositions of other cultures besides my own, try some wonderful and appetizing food, as well as being able to enjoy it with the local community all thanks to La Peña Cultural Center. My favorite part was the Fandango, where majority of the audience made a circle around the band and artists and began having a jam session with traditional Veracruz folk music, which I would never thought possible for folk music. The soccer match, was an adrenaline pumper, as people would stand up and cheer as their team came close to scoring and things got even more exciting towards the end, the energy in La Peña was really something else. Being able to attend La Peña’s 39th anniversary celebration really was a great cultural experience and a fun time.

About the author: Sonia is currently  an intern at La Peña, as a part of her work field. She first heard of La Peña Cultural Center through her Chicano Studies advisor at UC Berkeley. She took interest in becoming an intern at La Peña, as it provides a space for people of all cultures to showcase their cultures through the arts, spoken word, and theater performances. She is currently finishing her bachelors at Cal and hopes to use the experience learned at La Peña to further promote cultural and ethical awareness.

Amnesia: A Musical Journey of Remembering by Michael Gallagher

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Most of us have forgotten our own history. The details that live past our grandparents or great-grandparents sink into time past our vision. Even worst, we develop a lack of inspiration to dive deep into our lineage. Caught up in the daily race of jobs, school, dreams, the role of family ties diminishes.

ariel 1The play Amnesia motivates the audience to reclaim their own story. The story is of a Jewish American man from Oakland California who seeks the roots of his family tree. The main character inhabits both the space of Jewish traditions and modern Oakland hip-hop culture. A mix of theatre, dance, spoken word, live music, and rap all integrated into one story. The combination is abrasive at first, but that is the beauty of it – both styles grind up against each other before ultimately fusing.

The story of Amnesia is of a young adult who traces his ancestry from Kiev, New York City, and Arizona. Lead role and writer Ariel Luckey is the only actor in Amnesia. At first this was odd to me because I had never experienced a theatre piece with only one actor. Furthermore, I made sure to not research Amnesiabefore I went to see it in order to lessen the chance of any predetermined expectations. The strangeness of the solo actor quickly faded after the first act and my attention switched following the storyline.

Ariel Luckey.3 photo by Bethanie HinesWhen Ariel Luckey walked out in silence in the beginning, I had no idea who he was. He walked through the aisles making a simple beat with smooth stones in has hands. The lights set a mysterious mood and the band lay prepared but silent. Ariel eased into a mystical tale that drew the audience close into a reflective state. Then, out of nowhere, he says “I’m from Oakland!” followed by live hip hop music and energetic dancing.

But it is more than just hip-hop. The instruments have an Oakland-Jewish flavor: trumpet, violin, cello, accordion, chimes, electronic beats, and vocals. The five musicians handle all of the sound work, whether it be simple sounds to imitate the scenery of the setting, or full-blown songs. Ariel Luckey is talented at spoken word as well as rapping. His personality shines through all of these skills with the same light.

The monologues are sometimes extremely long in length and the fact that he can memorize an entire play is undeniably impressive. At one point, Ariel uses only body language to communicate a scene. I had never seen so many styles of

performance included into a single play with one actor. The variety of theatrical elements is essential in Amnesia and an unforgettable trait of Ariel Luckey.

The magic of Amnesia has to do with its ability to transition. The past-future fusion of language, music, and story allows the play to smoothly alternate between different characters. The main character plays himself in modern day Oakland and often transforms into his great great grandfather. He embodies his own history in an attempt to understand it. The history runs itself through filters like monologues, music, characters, setting, and even interpretive dance.

amnesia 2The switching of the lens brings us closer to essence of Amnesia. There is Oakland, Ukraine, Arizona, New York – and a prayer for all immigrants. The inclusion of immigrants in Arizona portrays a subtle bridge to Mexican-American struggle. The line from Amnesia: “Research itself is a pilgrimage,” resonates with anyone who has never sought the significance of their ancestry.

I was left with Ariel’s last words: “Illuminate the world with sparks of light,” after he had the audience say a prayer for anyone they knew that was struggling. Amnesia touches our hearts where they lay the heaviest: our family. Now I seek my own story with a little more effort, with creativity in mind. One day I hope to tell it in such a spectacular way as Ariel did. After all, as Amnesia says, “You have to go back to move forward.”

About the author: 

Michael Gallagher is an undergraduate at California College of the Arts with a major in Writing and Literature. His concentration is in poetry and performance. Michael first got involved with La Peña during his Writing Practicum course taught by Faith Adiele. The course connects writers with local communities around the Bay Area and offers students experience in working with practical writing.


Board Meeting Agenda 6.30.14

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La Peña Board Meeting

Monday, June 30 , 7-9 pm at La Peña

·      Approve Proposed agenda (7 – 7:05)

·      Approve last board meeting notes from March 24, 2014 meeting (7:05 – 7:15)

·      Public input (7:15 – 7:30)

·      ED and Staff report (7:30 – 7:45)

·      Financial Report (7:45 – 8:00)

·      Café Update (8:00 – 8:15)

·      Renovations Update (8:15 – 8:30)

·      Set Next Board Meeting

We’re showing the World Cup!

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Hey fútbol fans, did you know that you can catch the World Cup at La Peña?  It’s true!

Here’s a schedule of the matches that we will be showing:

June 19 @ 9am, Colombia vs Ivory Coast
June 19 @ 12pm, Uruguay vs England
June 19 @ 3pm, Japan vs Greece
June 20 @ 9am, Italy vs Costa Rica
June 20 @12 pm, Switzerland vs France
June 20 @ 3pm Honduras vs Ecuador
June 21 @ 9am Argentina vs Iran
June 21 @ 12pm Germany vs Ghana
June 21 @ 3pm Nigeria vs Bosnia – Herz.
June 22 @ 9am Belgium vs Russia
June 22 @ 12pm Korea Republic vs Algeria
June 23 @ 9am Chile vs Netherlands
June 23 @ 1pm Mexico vs Croatia
June 24 @ 9am Costa Rica vs England
June 24 @ 1pm Japan vs Colombia
June 25 @ 9am Nigeria vs Argentina
June 25 @ 1pm Ecuador vs France
June 26 @ 9am USA vs Germany
June 26 @ 1pm Algeria vs Russia

Quarter and Semi finals matches to come, stay tuned.

Third and Fourth Place match
Sat July 12 @ 1pm

World Cup Final

Sun July 13 @ 12pm

Remember – Los Cilantros is now open for breakfast and lunch.

Come cheer for your favorites!

We’ll see you there.

A Sunny Saturday at La Peña by Michael Gallagher

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When driving down Shattuck Avenue from Oakland to Berkeley there is one building that stands out in bold colors: La Peña Cultural Center. The mural at the front of the building pops out in three dimensions and explodes with color like sculpted fireworks. Even simply walking by La Peña is a treat: one can expect to hear music, poetry, or the sound of feet dancing rhythms, faintly spilling from the doorway. Lively events where locals teach and practice culturally inspired art forms are La Peña’s calling.

Recently I visited the Adult Afro-Peruvian dance and Cajon class which takes place on Saturdays at La Peña. The class is taught by Gabriela Shiroma and she teaches the graceful yet fiery art of Peruvian dance traditions. The people attending the class were of a wide range of ages, from young adults to older, more experienced dancers. As I walked in to observe the class nobody gave me any second looks or hesitated in their moves – the class was proud and welcoming.

A handful of the women dancing wore vibrant traditional dresses. The dresses flowed wildly when the dancing intensified. The women would hold the ends of their dresses and whip them along with the rhythms of the drums. The instructor directed mostly in Spanish, and had them practice different group routines. The pacing was quick and sharp – the dancers worked diligently at making progress in choreography and synchronicity. When the rhythms of their bodies matched up it created a connected, vibrant body.

The atmosphere of La Peña is always casual and warm. After the Afro-Peruvian dance class, I stayed to check out the Cajon class. I watched the children’s Cajon class set up their wood blocks in a circle in the center of the theatre. Children are always involved with the arts at La Peña, and can often be seen dancing or playing music alongside their parents. The children sat on their drums and talked and joked until the instructor sat down and began to sing.

The instructor, Peta Robles, is a master Cajon percussionist and a widely respected holder of Afro-Peruvian traditions. Peta began the class by singing in a gorgeous, strong voice, immersing the children in the sound of the Afro-Peruvian spirit. They became silent and attentive, and Peta let her proud voice ring out a line of Peruvian lyrics. The sound and strength of the singing made chills run down my spine. It was so different than anything I experience regularly and had an ancient sound that filled me with intrigue.

The children had to repeat the singing one by one on their own, a warm up for their voices and rhythm. The ages of the kids had a wide range and it was utterly adorable to hear the tiny voices of the youngest ones. They were all pretty good at singing and could drum great. To see such talent and encouragement in diversity and music was beautiful. I recommend Peta’s Cajon to any children seeking the roots of song and music.

If you ever find yourself driving to Berkeley, stop by La Peña at 3105 Shattuck Ave and just peek your head in the door. I guarantee something colorful and wonderful is occurring inside. Check out their website for a full calendar of events, or simply stop by and look at the posters on the building. Their doors are always open during events and classes and they are more than happy to let you walk in and check them out.

If you can’t make it during the day for a class, then stop by in the evening and check out their café or a live performance. La Peña is one of the most active and diverse community centers in the entire Bay Area; it is a pinnacle of Latino community arts in Berkeley. The magic of La Peña will touch anyone who sets foot in its door. I left feeling blessed.

About the author: 

Michael Gallagher is an undergraduate at California College of the Arts with a major in Writing and Literature. His concentration is in poetry and performance. Michael first got involved with La Peña during his Writing Practicum course taught by Faith Adiele. The course connects writers with local communities around the Bay Area and offers students experience in working with practical writing.