Los Angeles Times
Calendar section
Thursday August 11, 2005

Built on a theory of revolution
*Tired of protests, a couple decided they'd change the world with a
hub for folks who 'do their own thing.'

By Adam Bregman, Special to The Times

AS revolutionaries go, gleeful, exuberant Anita Martinez and her
quiet, pensive boyfriend Tiburcio Vasquez (a pseudonym borrowed from a
local 19th century bandit) are fairly mild-mannered.

Weary of organizing and protesting, they decided to channel their
politics into Flor y Canto Centro Comunitario, an all-volunteer
community center in Highland Park, which they opened with neighbors in
2001. It's a hub for activities such as lectures, movie screenings,
group meetings and more.

The airy, apricot-colored space has the ambience of a Mexican
coffeehouse, with attractive thrift-store and sidewalk-rescued
furniture, shelves of books with subjects as varied as anarchism,
gypsies and knitting, and an inviting Foosball table that dominates
the room.

During the afternoon, when the sun streams through the windows, Flor y
Canto is an after-school hangout for kids from nearby Nightingale
Middle School, who burst in through the door to use the four computers
(50 cents per half-hour, or free if the kids are broke). Some come
with their parents, others by themselves.

"We're not here to educate kids or indoctrinate them into any
political ideology," Martinez says. "It's just a space for people to
come and do what they want. It seems to attract kids and people in
general who like to do their own thing."

In the evening, Flor y Canto takes on a different personality, hosting
wide-ranging events, which are always free.

On a recent Friday Film Night, pierced punks and a fiftysomething
crowd of seasoned political activists drift in late, clutching food
and drink for a potluck. Screening is the obscure 1981 documentary
"Anarchism in America." Afterward, there's a frank, thoughtful
discussion on whether the film accurately reflects anarchist ideals.
The conversation touches all aspects of anarchism, and it makes for an
uncommon sight - a group of mostly older folks in earnest
- not about real estate values or the latest reality show, but
changing the world.

Hector Gallegos is the host of a radical lecture series at Flor y
Canto called Free University, wherein neighborhood regulars and
tenured professors talk about political topics near and dear to their
hearts. One, on the obscure political-artistic movement Situationism,
attracted a surprising range of people.

"Housewives and people who might bag your groceries, they were taking
notes," he says. "We put up thousands of fliers around bus stops and
places like that, so people came out of nowhere."

The well-attended lectures have tackled anarchist favorites like Emma
Goldman and the Zapatistas, as well as topics unlikely to be available
in the UCLA catalog such as Puerto Rican independence or the
liberation struggle in Tanzania.

A photo exhibition titled "Recognize: Snapshots of Los Angeles Bike
Riders" adorns Flor y Canto's walls, and the venue hosts the monthly
Los Angeles Needle Exchange, a knitting group. Rather than grandmas
knitting booties and exchanging casserole recipes, this knitting
outfit (the group also crochets, embroiders, cross-stitches, etc.)
possesses a punk aesthetic, includes quite a few men and creates art
shows of their work.

"Last year, we had the Liberation Doll Parade on our wall," says
Martinez, describing a display of homemade dolls fashioned in the
likeness of inspirational characters from history. "Instead of a May
Day Parade, where everyone goes around and gets bored marching, [we
had] a little parade on the wall."

KEEPING with Flor y Canto's unwavering independent theme is the
touring punk-rock cabaret, the Perpetual Motion Roadshow, which has
appeared at the space. The tour, which originated in Canada and
journeys across the country, features under-the-radar indie acts. The
participants have included "ninja poetess" Cynthia Gould, "speed-metal
folkie" Snoovy, "puppet-packing satirist" Jeff Cottrill and
"disgruntled guitarist" Ocho. "No boring readings or your money back,"
the tour claims, though the shows are always free.

"The idea," says Vasquez, explaining Flor y Canto's anti-capitalist
philosophy, "is that you can have a space where it isn't a business
model, where it's not just a bookstore or a café or something.
This is
an example of where you don't need a lot of money to make it happen."

Flor y Canto pays its rent through donations and book sales. Says
Vasquez: "We are all volunteers. Nobody gets paid. For the past four
years, it's been able to maintain itself because people have found a
need for it."

Flor y Canto

Where: 3706 N. Figueroa Ave., Highland Park

When: 4 to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday

Price: Free

Info: (323) 276-1148 or www.florycanto.org