Founded in 1970, the Galería is a non-profit community-based arts organization whose mission is to foster public awareness and appreciation of Chicano/Latino art and serve as a laboratory where artists can both explore contemporary issues in art, culture and civic society, and advance intercultural dialogue. To implement our mission, the Galería supports Latino artists in the visual, literary, media and performing art fields whose works explore new aesthetic possibilities for socially committed art.
Since its founding in 1970, Galería has been conducting programs serving Latino audiences and artists. It is one of the nation’s most stable and cutting-edge Latino arts organizations. Like many cultural institutions of its kind in the country, Galería was born of the legacy of cultural activism. It was founded by a group of Chicano artists and community activists in San Francisco's Mission District, which included Rupert García, Peter Rodríguez, Francisco X. Camplis, Graciela Carrillo, Jerry Concha, Gustavo Ramos Rivera, Carlos Loarca, Manuel Villamor, Robert González, Luis Cervantes, Chuy Campusano, Rolando Castellón, Ralph Maradiaga, and René Yañez. Peter Rodríguez gave Galería de la Raza its name. René Yañez and Ralph Maradiaga later become the Galería’s first artistic and administrative directors, respectively.
Initially, Galería operated in a storefront on 14th street and Valencia; then, in l972, it moved to its current home on 24th street and Bryant. In 1985, Humberto Cintrón became the administrative director following Maradiaga's death. Enrique Chagoya succeeded Yañez in 1987 as artistic director. In 1990, María Pinedo became the executive director. Liz Lerma succeeded her in 1993 and was followed by Gloria Jaramillo in 1995, Bill Moreno in 1998 and, in 1999, by Carolina Ponce de León.
Throughout its history, Galería has emerged as an international forum for the examination and expression of artistic concepts central to the Chicano/Latino experience —concepts such as community memory, popular culture, ceremony, family and social activism. When Galería opened in 1970, El Movimiento Chicano —the Chicano civil rights movement— was its galvanizing and unifying force. The movement aimed to enhance the everyday lives of the Chicano community through exhibitions, community art programs and cultural activities while making art accessible to the largely Chicano/Latino population of San Francisco’s Mission District.
From the outset, Galería defined itself as a place of cultural affirmation and self-discovery for the founding Chicano community. In the 1970s, Galería organized the first community mural program in the United States, re-introduced Frida Kahlo's work to the American public, and was at the forefront of reclaiming images and practices from popular traditions that not only reflected but formed El Movimiento. For example, Galería was responsible for establishing the Mexican celebration of Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) as an articulation of Chicano/a and Latino/a aesthetics.
In the eighties, Galería began presenting temporary painted murals on a large billboard attached to the outside wall of its venue and launched its gift shop, Studio 24, as an alternative fundraising resource in face of cuts in federal funds for arts, and as an experiment in community entrepreneurship.
In the mid-nineties, artist and board member, Amalia Mesa-Bains, developed the ReGeneration Project, a program aiming to provide emerging artists with exhibition and professional development opportunities and to directly involve young Latino artists in the planning and management of Galería activities. Participants in this project created the Digital Mural Project, an ongoing public art program, which replaced the painted temporary murals on our Bryant Street billboard with computer-generated images. In recent years, performance and public event series have been developed to address the educational needs of diverse populations—seniors, adults, adolescents, and students.
In 2003, Galería began its Youth Media Program, a mentorship program for college art students and youth of color conceived by Julio C. Morales. College students are trained in arts education, mentorship and community-based public art/social justice practices. The students also develop and teach multi-media workshops to youth participants. Participants explore the potential uses of artwork in a social context and the role of the artist as a citizen in public life. College students are trained in arts education, mentorship and community-based public art/social justice practices. The students also develop and teach multi-media workshops to youth of color such as video and sound editing and computer graphics.
Galería's founding values entailed an aspiration to transform the Chicano/Latino community’s social and cultural environment into a place of justice and equality. To this day, the legacy of the Galería’s founders continues within the broader framework of contemporary society.