by: John Rodriguez
Founded in the place where Hip-Hop was first born decades ago, a community center geared towards reaching and providing youths an educationally developing outlet through the use of the genre stands in Austin Place, in Mott Haven. Rodrigo and Gonzalo Venegas, two brothers who make up the hip-hop group Rebel Diaz, helped establish the community center within the Bronx just two years ago. “Hip Hop started in the Bronx, but the Bronx had no hip-hop community center, “ said Rodrigo who describes the center as being a place where hip-hop can reach younger audiences and provide them with a outlet so they can, “learn and perform,” the genre which they may already love at the Rebel Arts Diaz Collective.
The collective is housed within the second floor of an abandoned candy factory, a space with a square footage around 4,000, and provides screenings of films, runs art workshops, and hosts panels for discussions regarding the hip hop culture with a nostalgic décor reminiscent of the genre’s early days back in the late 70s early 80s. While community centers across the city are slashing services to the community due to budget costs, the Collective manages to stay afloat due to their persistence to provide for their community.
Last December, the Rebel Diaz Arts Collective won a $35,000 grant from the Union Square Awards which they plan on using to create new workshops to be opened this spring. Member of the Collective help pay the bills to keep the space open and running by selling t-shirts and mixtapes with the support of unpaid volunteers. Some of the Collective’s funding even comes from out of the country, a oil company in Venezuela, CITGO, provides some funding to the center to keep its doors open for the community. While the Collective attracts some investors who want to empower the community, Venegas feels the importance in staying active relies on the community because, “we already have power. We just need to organize.”
The collective is a safe haven for growing singers, poets, deejays, and comedians who collaborate together within the center while staying away and avoiding succumbing to the lifestyle of gangs and the streets which they may be witnessed to. YC the Cynic, a 20-year-old rapper from Hunts Point describes the collective as being a place that, “keep people out of trouble,” and it provides a different setting that, “you learn things here you don’t learn at school.” The Collective consists of members who make ranging from 14 to 33 years of age, and come from different walks of life like a college professor, a Chilean graffiti artist, and a deejay from Milwaukee.
While the converted candy factory is a epicenter of information pertaining to both hip-hop and Latino culture, it also provides another educational outlet where the history of Black Panthers and the Young Lords (Puerto Rican Nationalist Group within the US) are depicted in workshops the Collective offers. And outside from the workshop political message can be viewed on graffiti murals, and one example discusses the country’s immigration debate. On a rooftop mural visible to the Bruckner expressway reads, “No Human Beings is Illegal,” a message which supports the Latino immigrants flooding to Mott Haven, and combats the message of Arizona’s immigration law.
While the hip-hop culture gets a bad rap due to the misunderstandings the media cannot understand about the culture, and the poor representation of some of its artists. A member from of the Collective describes it presence perfect when she says, “We have such a safe, sweet, environment here. It’s not what you’d expect from a hip-hop community center.”