While our physical offices are closed until further notice in accordance with Austin's COVID-19 "stay home-work safe" order, the Handbook of Texas will remain available at no-cost for you, your fellow history enthusiasts, and all Texas students currently mandated to study from home. If you have the capacity to help us maintain our online Texas history resources during these uncertain times, please consider making a 100% tax-deductible contribution today. Thank you for your support of TSHA and Texas history. Donate Today »


Ann Landeros
Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center
Photograph, the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center. Image courtesy of the Austin Chronicle. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

EMMA S. BARRIENTOS MEXICAN AMERICAN CULTURAL CENTER. Located on a six-and-one-half-acre site on Lady Bird Lake near downtown Austin, Texas, the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center (ESB-MACC) provides a venue for Mexican-American-themed visual and performing arts. The complex consists of a 30,000-square-foot facility with classrooms, exhibit galleries, and performance space as well as a 22,000-square-foot outdoor plaza. In November 2011 the center was rededicated in honor of Austin cultural arts leader and political activist Emma S. Barrientos, who died in 2009.

Conceived in the late 1970s by a group of artists and cultural leaders who wanted a venue for displaying and teaching Mexican American art and culture, the ESB-MACC project progressed slowly. Although the city of Austin created a series of task forces beginning in the mid-1980s and dedicated the downtown site to the cultural center in 1993, recurring economic downturns delayed construction until early 2006.

The project’s funding came from a combination of municipal bonds and private donations. After rejecting a proposed bond issue in 1992, Austin voters approved $10.9 million in bonds in 1998 and an additional $5 million in bonds in 2007 for the facility. The first fundraising campaign, with a goal of $40 million, began in 2001. In 2005 the city of Austin used a $1.5 million federal grant to fund the center’s engineering and construction contracts. The design contract cost $1.8 million. Originally scheduled to begin in 2003, construction began in January 2006, a few months after the 2005 ceremonial ground breaking. During the two-year delay, construction costs increased by almost a third.

Festival at the Cultural Center
Photograph, the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center hosts a Mexican Independence Day festival in Austin, Texas.  Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

Mexican architect Teodoro González de León designed the center with CasaBella Architects of Austin serving as the project architects and Solis Constructors, Inc., as the construction contractor. The cultural center’s 2000 master plan contained three phases. The first phase, which cost $16 million, included the classrooms, exhibit space, and theater that opened in 2007. The architecture has white concrete panels embedded with marble aggregate and large windows. Austin American-Statesman architecture critic Jeanne Claire von Ryzin described the design as a type of “international modernism” with subtle references to “meso-American” forms. Since its opening, the ESB-MACC has hosted exhibits by local, regional, and national artists as well as provided educational programs in visual and performance arts, including a Latino Arts residency program.


Austin American-Statesman, April 23, 1993; December 28, 1994; September 24, 2000; July 1, 2001; August 22, 2004; October 9, 2004; November 20, 2005; February 19, 2007; September 23, 2007. Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center, austintexas.gov (http://www.austintexas.gov/esbmacc), accessed March 9, 2016. Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center (ESB-MACC) Oral History Project Collection (AR.2015.012), Austin History Center, Austin Public Library, Texas.

Image Use Disclaimer

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Ann Landeros, "EMMA S. BARRIENTOS MEXICAN AMERICAN CULTURAL CENTER," accessed August 05, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/lbe03.

Uploaded on March 11, 2016. Modified on May 25, 2016. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
visit the mytsha forums to participate

View these posts and more when you register your free MyTSHA account.

Call for Papers: Texas Center for Working-Class Studies Events, Symposia, and Workshops
Hi all! You may be interested in this call for papers I received from the Texas Center for Working-Class Studies at Collin College...

Katy Jennings' Ride Scholarly Research Request
I'm doing research on Catherine Jennings Lockwood, specifically the incident known as "Katy Jennings' Ride." Her father was Gordon C. Jennings, the oldest man to die at the Alamo...

Texas Constitution of 1836 Co-Author- Elisha Pease? Ask a Historian
The TSHA profile of Elisha Marshall Pease states that he wrote part of the Texas Constitution although he was only a 24 year-old assistant secretary (not elected). I cannot find any other mention of this authorship work by Pease in other credible research about the credited Constution authors...