By SIMÓN RIOS
June 08, 2014 12:00 AM
NEW BEDFORD — For decades the Strand Theater has stood lifeless, the shell of a former cinema that, in spite of neglect, has weathered the winds of time. More than 20 years after the Acushnet Avenue building was reclaimed, the Cape Verdean Association in New Bedford hopes to establish a multicultural arts center in the years to come.
“Historically, Cape Verdeans are a permanent part of this community,” said Mannie Lopez, an advisory board member with the association, during an open house that will continue into this evening. “Madeirans are a permanent part of this community, Azoreans, we’re all family here. This is the kind of community New Bedford has been for many years now.”
He said the cultural center is there for all the city’s ethnicities, particularly the cultures that share Portuguese as a mother tongue.
In March, the association received its first grant, $5,000 from the Cape Verdean government. It would later get a $30,000 block grant to fix the roof, a major step in rehabilitating the theater that the group says is the oldest in the city.
The association has big plans for the former Strand, a 5,400-square-foot theater that played movies for 85 years. They see it as a future cultural Mecca for the city, offering education, arts and culture, in addition an office for the Cape Verdean consulate.
Built in 1896, the building was acquired by the association for $79,400 in 1992 after suffering heavy fire damage three years before. With an estimated rehab cost of $1.2 million, the group hopes to be up and running in about two years, depending on the success of roughly 30 grant applications and other possible funding sources.
Although the theater’s ceiling is marred with smoke damage, the space offers a sense of what it will become. A cafe was set up in the corner for this weekend’s open house, as well as a kiosk with Cape Verdean novelties and cultural items. Providence-based musician Zerui is to play both days.
Raquel Dias, president of the Cape Verdean Association, said a huge component of the center’s purpose will be to keep the youth out of the streets. It’s also about preservation of culture, which often fades away with the generations.
“We are losing, our children are losing their culture,” Dias said. “I want them to be occupied with something fun, with knowledge.”
“For me, culture’s everything. It’s a sense of life.”
Her husband, Emanuel Dias, is the association’s treasurer. He said they plan to facilitate tours to the Cape Verde islands, bringing people back to the mother land on top of bringing Cape Verdean artists to the center.
“There’s people here that are dying to go there,” Dias said. “But they’re afraid to go there because they don’t have people that were actually born there that can show them the place.”
Shelly Correia, New Bedford native and descendent of Cape Verdean immigrants, visited the country for the first time in 2010, with plans to visit again this year.
“There’s nothing like being connected when you actually have seen the country and you can feel it, smell the air, walk on the sand,” she said of her trip.
Correia said she didn’t learn much about the culture growing up in the city — neither the language nor the cuisine — and there was never a meeting place like what the Cape Verdean Cultural Center aims to be.
“Having this cultural center here, I feel like I belong, and I know that I can say this for many people in this city,” Correia said. “There’s a place to call home now.”