The Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center is dedicated to the preservation, creation, presentation, and promotion of Mexican American cultural arts and heritage. The center is a tremendous resource for the community and visitors to learn and participate in classes and programs that will foster a meaningful understanding and appreciation of not only Mexican American but also Native American, Chicano, and other Latino cultures. The programs and education curriculum include the areas of visual art, theatre, dance, literature, music, multi-media, and the culinary arts.

The idea of establishing a cultural facility for Latino artists and the community emerged in the early 1970s.  Several Hispanic visionaries and artists approached the City of Austin to request support for the development of a Hispanic focused cultural arts facility.

Finally, in 1986, the City Council appointed a task force to determine the feasibility of building a Mexican American Cultural Center.  It was the first of various advisory groups created to provide guidance in the development of the center. Later, the City contracted the services of a major consulting team to conduct a formal and comprehensive location, market, financial feasibility and operations study.  The team’s recommendations supported establishment of a center.

In 1992, the center was part of the citywide bond package put before the voters.  The referendum did not pass.  By 1998, the community had regrouped and with the leadership provided by Hispanic elected officials and other leaders of the community, the 1999 bond package was approved by the voters. The following year, the City authorized a professional services agreement with CasaBella + Del Campo and Maru and Teodoro Gonzalez de Leon for architectural design and construction phase services. A Master Plan for the Mexican American Cultural Center was also developed with input from the community and from various Mexican American arts organizations. The long awaited ground breaking ceremony took place in November of 2005.  Construction of the Mexican American Cultural Center began in January of 2006, and the facility was completed in June of 2007.  The reality of the long-time dream was finalized on September 15, 2007 with a ribbon cutting ceremony attended by thousands from the community.