What is the National Hispanic Cultural Center? We Talk to Rebecca Avitia, Exec. Director

Posted: May 18 2015

Rebecca Avitia, Exec. Director of National Hispanic Cultural CenterWe recently had the opportunity to speak with Rebecca Avitia, Executive Director of the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The National Hispanic Cultural Center is dedicated to the study, advancement, and presentation of Hispanic culture, arts, and humanities. The NHCC has a library and genealogy center, an art museum, a world-class performing arts center with three theatres, rental space for private events, a restaurant ,a paleteria, a gift shop, and the largest concave fresco in the United States.

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National Hispanic Cultural Center - OutsideHISPANIC.COM: How did the National Hispanic Cultural Center come about?
: The Center was a long time in the making. It actually started being talked about in the 1970s. At that time, there were two movements happening in New Mexico. There was a group of business owners and politicians who started talking about a venue to showcase the rich Hispanic culture. At the same time, there was a group of Hispanic artists who were looking for an exhibition space, as there was a concern that their art wasn’t being shown in conventional institutions.

The vision began as a New Mexico Hispanic Cultural Center; however, the idea resonated so deeply that it became apparent that what was really necessary was a National Hispanic Cultural Center. Federal support was secured as well as donations, and what was created was a 40-acre campus adjacent to a 14-acre strip along the Rio Grande River.

The National Hispanic Cultural Center now has five buildings, with more buildings in future plans, and celebrates its 15th – quinceañera – anniversary in October 2015.

HISPANIC.COM: Please describe the type of events that occur at the National Hispanic Cultural Center.
: The center presents about 700 events a year, with two thirds of these events being free. The events range from music, theatre and dance performances, to visual arts exhibitions and lectures, to history and literary arts exhibitions, lectures and courses, including the annual National Latino Writers Conference in July. Of the 700 events, 350 of the events are presented by our Education Program, and they range from hands-on art activities for kids, a monthly culinary arts program called Salud y Sabor, and month-long summer institutes on poetry, circus arts and theatre. Lastly, we also have programs from the Spanish government housed in our education building: the Cervantes Instituto and the Spanish Resource Center.

HISPANIC.COM: The center stresses that it is kid friendly, can you provide details?
: We pride ourselves in treating children with the same respect as adults, whether a child visits the center for a kid-focused event or an adult-focused one.   We especially pride ourselves in bringing kids to the center during the school day, for museum tours or performances, with the same or higher engagement from the artistic directors or curators. Also, on the first Saturday of the month, we have Vamos al museo, where we invite kids into the museum for a tour of one of the art exhibits. These tours are often led by the artists themselves, who then teach the kids about the artistic process. On a recent tour, for example, the artist taught the children how to cut papel picado.

National Hispanic Cultural Center - DancersHISPANIC.COM: Please describe the type of events that occur at the National Hispanic Cultural Center.
: Our range of events is impressive by any standard. The performing arts program brings in everything from stage plays, touring musical groups, dance troupes, and opera. The History and Literary Arts program houses a library and genealogy center that hosts Resolanas and readings, and it is home to the annual National Latino Writers Conference. And the Visual Arts program exhibits amazing art from established and emerging Hispanic artists. Our attendance is about 220,000 on average per year. Museum admission is $3, and visiting the library is free.

HISPANIC.COM: Tell us about a visit to National Hispanic Cultural Center.
: We are set up like a campus. You can walk around the campus, or perhaps just go to the museum, library or a theatre. You can easily spend the whole day here by strolling through the museum, grabbing a bite to eat, and then attending a movie or stage performance. And the food is great! Pop Fizz is our paleteria, which serves tortas, frito pie, and paletas. And we have a brand new restaurant coming in June - M’tucci’s Cocina, which will serve nuevo Latino food. A must on any visit is our 4,000 square foot concave fresco titled Mundos de Mestisaje by Federico Vigil.

National Hispanic Cultural Center LibraryHISPANIC.COM: Why did you join the National Hispanic Cultural Center?
: I was born and raised in Albuquerque, and growing up, Hispanic culture was a rich component of my family life. In fact, I would often spend parts of my summer with my grandmother in Puerto Rico, helping her as she gathered the source materials to write one of her many books on Puerto Rican genealogy. Initially, however, I was on a very different career path; I was a commercial litigator. I worked for several years in New York City after law school. After I moved back to New Mexico, I got married at the NHCC and used to come here for performances and other events. When the Executive Director position opened at the Center, I decided to apply. For me, it was an opportunity to follow a career path that better matched my passion for the Hispanic culture, one I first began to enjoy when I served as President of the New Mexico Hispanic Bar Association. I was fortunate to be selected, and I started working here in February 2014. It’s an amazing place to have the privilege lead!

HISPANIC.COM: On social media and news sites, we’ve noticed folks are talking about launching other Hispanic Cultural Centers in other cities. How does this fit in with the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque?
: I think this continued movement is exciting. We need places throughout the United States to celebrate and preserve Hispanic culture, as well as nurturing it so it can evolve. It’s an exciting time to live in – when the idea of a Hispanic cultural center isn’t radical anymore. The wonderful thing about a center like ours is that people really identify with it and can see themselves represented in it whether their experience is enjoying a performance, visiting the museum, or discovering their family roots in our genealogy center. In some ways, the NHCC celebrates differences, but I think in actuality people find commonalities in culture via the center.

For people planning their next vacation, I’d urge them to consider cultural institutions – museums, libraries, cultural centers, performance venues. Whether it’s the National Hispanic Cultural Center or another venue, these cultural institutions feed a person’s soul and identity, and there’s no better way to refresh.


  • Posted by Felix A. Montelara on May 26, 2015

    Excellent Article. More in our Latino community needs to know a what is going on Culturally and what resources are available. Thanks.

  • Posted by Patricio Trujillo on May 23, 2015

    It would have been great to know who the initial artists were that were the advocates of the roots of the NHCC, as a way of keeping things in perspective. This line “What is the National Hispanic Cultural Center? We Talk to Rebecca Avitia, Exec. Director” This line appears so much in the article I almost didn’t read beyond the headline. It’s nice to see information about NHCC tough.

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