La Peña Cultural Center
Whether you’re a dancer or a do-gooder (or hopefully both!), La Peña Cultural Center is the place to put your foot down in Berkeley’s Ashby neighborhood. Since it was founded by two Chilean ex-pats in 1975, the longstanding nonprofit has remained loyal to nurturing a prolific marriage between art and activism as a means of building community and creating dialogue. The celebrated social hub focused on social justice opts to be distinctive versus discreet as it pulsates with international cultures, speakers and educational pursuits. And, yes, percussion-heavy sounds from live bands often keep the space buoyant.
La Pena hosts community gatherings, theater performances, dance classes, art exhibits and more. Photo courtesy of La Penal Cultural Center Facebook page.
Located on Shattuck Avenue, two blocks from Ashby BART Station, the first welcome sign you’ve come to the right mighty place is the signature lively mural that arches over the doorway, leaping off the wall to greet you with an alluring visual symphony. In addition to hosting community gatherings, the famed theater stage, gallery walls and lounge space can be rented for private use.
La Pena Cultural Center offers different dance classes, including salsa. Photo courtesy of La Penal Cultural Center Facebook page.
Curating a calendar that intermingles events as disparate as the international traditions it spotlights, La Peña presents robust Latin dance parties every First Friday, thought-provoking art exhibits (like one that pays homage to the Black Panther Party) and regular classes throughout the week.
From a recent Chilean Independence Day celebration. Photo courtesy of La Penal Cultural Center Facebook page.
Let’s put it this way: In the morning you might find stillness at Mindful Meditation Yoga, at lunch you can try Afro-Peruvian dance, and at night you can let loose at Capoeira Angola (Brazilian martial arts and dance). Here, family-friendly pursuits are key. Adult and children are invited to join regular language courses, or there’s Preschool Creative Dance class and bi-lingual musical circle for the youngest of patrons. And when you’re hungry before or after whichever class you choose to explore, La Cilantros Restaurant anchors visitors next door as a fitting complement with Mexican fair.
Always bustling, music and dance find their powerful place alongside the call for action at La Peña, where locals have long been marching to the beat of their own cajón.