Art space that helped start the Barrio Logan Arts District closes
By Brent E. Beltrán
This past Thursday night the Voz Alta Project Gallery in Barrio Logan closed its doors as a physical space. Though curator Carlos Beltrán (no relation to the author) will keep Voz Alta going through collaborations with other spaces the physical space that was Voz Alta is no more.
Due to a variety of reasons Carlos chose to close the space that helped start the revitalization of the arts in Barrio Logan. If Chicano Park is the grandfather of Chicano art and culture in San Diego then Voz Alta is the child that became the big daddy to most of the recent spaces that have opened up over the last four years. Places like The Roots Factory, The Spot, Stronghold, Chicano Art Gallery, La Bodega and The Nest all owe their existence to Voz Alta and those that made Voz Alta possible.
The performance space Voz Alta was created in 2002 by members of the Taco Shop Poets, El Campo Ruse, Calaca Press and other individuals after the demise of El Campo Ruse on 16th St. and during the boycott of the Centro Cultural de la Raza. Recognizing the lack of performance spaces for underground Chicano and Latino artists these groups and individuals banded together to open up their own space.
Voz Alta came out of a nonprofit called The Voz Alta Project which was started by Taco Shop Poets, their family and friends to provide arts workshops to San Diego youth. The original space on E St. opened in March 2002 and featured art exhibits, poetry readings, musical performances and what eventually became a local musical staple, Bill Caballero’s Latin Jazz Jam. It was also the rehearsal space for the TSP and the youth theater group Teatro Con Safos.
Some of the founders of the original space included Adrian Arancibia, Tomás Riley and Miguel-Angel Soria of the Taco Shop Poets, Consuelo Manríquez and Brent E. Beltrán of Calaca Press, Stephanie de la Torre, Gary Ghirardi, Carmela Castrejon, Ana Arancibia, attorney Norberto Cisneros and other dedicated individuals who joined the board shortly after the space opened including Bill Caballero, the late Marco Anguiano, MariaJulia Urias, Lizz Huerta and others.
After half the original members left, the venue moved a few years later to Broadway and 16th St. next door to the iconic dive bar, Landlord Jim’s. Members Adrian Arancibia, Stephanie de la Torre, Gary Ghirardi and Bill Caballero continued on with the new space and others like Victor Tapia, Paul Lopez, Cecil Hayduke, Carlos Beltrán and others joined up. Within a few years, due to eminent domain and the expansion of City College, Voz Alta was forced to pack up and move on.
Carlos Beltrán took the reigns of Voz Alta and re-opened on National Ave. in Barrio Logan where it has been for the past six years or so. It was in this space where Voz Alta really made a name for itself. After locating to various venues in the Southbay after the end of the Broadway and 16th St. space Bill Caballero brought his jam session back to Voz Alta. Thursday nights became happening in Barrio Logan as musicians from all over came to jam. Bi-weekly art exhibits featuring work by established Chicano and emerging underground street artists brought much notoriety to the space as well with frequent write-ups in City Beat.
Though the physical space known as Voz Alta may no longer exist its legacy will live on. People like Bob Green and Ana Brown created The Roots Factory after having volunteered at Voz Alta. Milo Lorenzana and Max Bojorquez founded The Spot and the recently opened La Bodega after seeing the example set by Beltrán and Voz Alta. Other Barrio Logan art spaces also owe their existence to la Voz.
Voz Alta showed the possibilities of what can be done if individuals commit their time and energy to making grassroots art spaces thrive. Voz Alta set the example and I’m proud to have played a role in helping create the space. But my involvement was only during the first year. It is people like Carlos Beltrán, and his years of commitment, who turned Voz Alta into the great space it was. The burgeoning Barrio Logan Arts District owes him a debt of gratitude. He helped restart it all.
As the DJ’s played and Cumbia Machin jammed for the final time at Voz Alta the patrons danced the night away with a beer in their hand and smiles on their faces. For this was no wake for a dead comrade. This was a celebration. A celebration that lives on in the minds of all who ever ventured into Voz Alta. A celebration that continues on in the work of those that came after Voz Alta opened its doors in Barrio Logan. En Voz Alta we all thank Voz Alta for giving us reasons to celebrate our art and culture over the years.
Over the past few days I’ve contacted some people to share their thoughts on Voz Alta. Here are their responses:
“Voz Alta changed my life. I showed up for The Lingo open mic when they first opened in E Street. The folks there were warm, welcoming and encouraging. They gave me my first poetry feature and eventually asked me to sit on the board. Through Voz I met some of the greatest friends I’ve ever known. I grew tremendously as an artist there, mentored, pushed and encourages by other Chican@ artists who made me realize my voice was important and gave me the confidence to start publishing my work and calling myself a writer. Voz changed my life, gave me confidence, lessons and friendships that have sustained me as I’ve continued on my path. I will be forever grateful and know that they will continue to do good work wherever they end up.”
— Lizz Huerta, writer and former Voz Alta boardmember
“I found Voz Alta the first year I moved back to San Diego. It was the best thing. I made new friends, saw art, participated in my first art shows. I was inspired. I found the jazz jam that would become my weekly “church” – my place of community, warmth, music & spirit. I was so pleased to realize one day that I’d become a “regular” there. Carlos, Adriana & everyone involved made me feel welcomed and at home. Honestly, it’s been my “heart” of San Diego.”
— Letitia Rogers, artist
“Voz established a continuous presence of Chicano art which was followed by so many other Chicano art venues. It has been a healthy and powerful transition which San Diego cannot ignore any longer. With the move of La Voz others may follow but as fertile gardens go, new ones will rise to fill fresh vacuums and satisfy a growing hunger for art & culture.”
— Mario Torero, artist
“In my over 45 years of art and culture involvement here in San Diego y Tijuana. The outgrowth of Voz Alta has been a key effort to expand Chicano Alternative Spaces, not only in geographical expansions but in disciplines and flavor. In the downtown space, spoken word and poetry along with various music endeavors proliferated, in this recent decade the Barrio Logan location brought more new school artists and the last three years a now recognized staple of Latino jazz. We all will miss the Thursday happening, the camaraderie and special shows, I feel sorrow in a certain part of my aging heart, but I feel great expectations that Voz Alta will prevail into the future. ¡VOZ ALTA PRESENTE!”
— Victor Ochoa, artist
“The San Diego art scene is constantly energized by indepenent/alternative art spaces that have a commitment to exhibit local artists. Although they sell art, these are not strictly commercial spaces in that they allow the artists to take risks and improvise. This is the true heartbeat of local arts. At an event last night at a fairly new arts venue, many were sad about the closing of Voz Alta, which also shows that these spaces support each other.”
— Alessandra Moctezuma, curator of Mesa College Gallery
“As I used to be a co-conspirator with the Taco Shop Poets and privy to some of the Genesis myths associated with the same, it is with no little sadness that news of the passing of Voz Alta reached my ears. A long time oasis of Latina/o artistry, revelation, invention, and discovery, Voz Alta nurtured a generation of Mexica-traced and Califas-tattooed San Diego and SoCal artists. RIP.”
— William Nericcio, professor of literature at San Diego State
“Voz Alta was definitely the heart of art spaces in Barrio Logan. Pioneers you can say, not to take away from what was already here in the barrio, but added this fresh new vibe that people are attracted to. All good things must come to and end but for Carlos Beltrán it’s a new beginning. I can’t wait to collaborate with him. Voz Alta will always be that staple spot!”
— Milo Lorenzano, La Bodega
“It changed an important course in my life. Voz Alta helped me grow as a person and always made me want to push my imagination to the next level. They brought new life to that street. I was very fortunate to have lived a few steps away. Met some of the nicest and interesting people alive. I will forever be grateful for their contributions to our cause.”
— Cesar Castañeda, Chicano Art Gallery
“Voz Alta – Loud Voice, was an assertion. An organic, independent expression of the arts from a Chicano/Mexicano/Latino perspective embracing all cultures and walks of life. It was a gathering place for free thinking, laughing, dancing, music making, poem speaking, art creating, lovemaking beings. It will be missed but more importantly it leaves us a model for future artspaces in Barrio Logan.”
— Mario Chacon, artist