For Carolina Franco, acting has been a personal love since she was about 6 years old, back in her native Colombia. But more recently, Franco, now 34 and in this country for 17 years, has expanded that love to welcome others of all ages to CreArte Latino Cultural Center, where she serves as co-founder, president and artistic director.
CreArte Latino was founded in 2012 as a creative hub for the Spanish-speaking Latino/Hispanic community, at first presenting plays in Spanish at borrowed venues around town. In 2017, the organization became a nonprofit and began to add to its programming; and in January 2020 Franco looked to start upgrading a space they had on 15th Street East. “That’s when Covid happened,” says Franco.
Growth had to be put on hold for a while. But with Franco leading the way, and a $71,000 grant from the Charles and Margery Barancik Foundation, the renamed CreArte Latino Cultural Center is now poised for the future, reopening in its renovated 4,500-square-foot space and expanding its schedule of theater productions, events, classes and other activities. It’s also been able to hire professional staff to complement the dedicated volunteers who Franco says did “90 to 95 percent” of the work on the improved space. (Franco has been a longtime volunteer for CreArte herself, while also working as a consultant for the Patterson Foundation’s Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading initiative.)
Offerings on the CreArte slate now: book clubs and bilingual painting workshops for adults and children, an acting workshop, and conversational Spanish classes designed for low to intermediate Spanish speakers. The center also hosted two vaccination pop-up clinics during the pandemic.
“I know the need here; it’s about more than acting now,” says Franco. “When we became a cultural center, we became an exchange between the Latino/Hispanic community and the general community. We want to include everyone.”