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The Carver Community Cultural Center is a multicultural, multidisciplinary performing and visual art center that has resided on the city’s East Side since 1929. The Carver is home to the city’s original Black library and theatre and served as the gathering place for Black residents, long before the facility was erected. 

Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington and countless other superstars of the famed 1930s and ’40s Chitlin Circuit performed at The Carver, and that same spirit of celebrating Black artists lives on here to this day. Naturally, The Carver’s primary effort lies in presenting Black art and artists, however, it isn’t our only focus.

As supervisor, I work to feature culturally significant artists from around the world, including artists from our own backyard. When the perennial San Antonio holiday classic play, Las Nuevas Tamaleras, was seeking a new theatre to call home, we were ecstatic to welcome them into our space. The Jo Long Theatre at The Carver is also the most popular local venue for Arangetrams, or traditional dance debuts for young women of the Indian American community. 

In recent years, world-class artists such as Aaron Neville, Pedrito Martinez, Peabo Bryson, Sheila E and Jody Watley have all graced the stage. Our current performance season has seen Ottmar Liebert and the Robert Cray Band play to sold-out audiences, and we anticipate a sellout performance by Oleta Adams this April. 

Dancers practice for their final performance at the Carver’s Summer Dance Intensive Program taught by Dallas Black Dance Theatre professional dancers.
Dancers practice on the Jo Long Theatre stage during a summer dance program in 2017. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Named for its dimly lit cabaret-style arrangement, the Little Carver Intimate Series features an eclectic array of local and regional performances in our smaller performance area, the Little Carver Theatre. This season, we’ve enjoyed performances by rapper, producer, and scholar, Mexstep and San Antonio soul-pop artist Jed Craddock. Rock musician Nina Diaz is set to perform in the space next month, and Eddie & The Valiants will wrap up the series on April 1 with their signature “Westside sound.” 

Booking artists for the Carver Gallery space is another exciting aspect of the job. The Carver Art Gallery shines a light on local and regional visual artists via a schedule of rotating exhibitions that run year-round and can be viewed free of charge during regular business hours. Our next gallery exhibition opens Feb. 23 and features new works by San Antonio artist Alain Gakwaya. 

When designing our arts programming, we aim to present a collection of offerings that is as varied as possible. Our goal is to honor The Carver’s historic past, while embracing the ever-changing future. As we plan the performance season, we seek artists who provide outreach opportunities, such as Masterclasses and working with students from nearby schools. Our audiences are also fond of performers who directly engage with them, given the cozy vibe of our theater space. 

The original facade of the 1929 reads 'Colored Branch of the San Antonio Library and Auditorium'
The original facade of the 1929 building reads, “Colored Branch of the San Antonio Library and Auditorium.” Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

One event that I am particularly proud of developing is The Carver Soul Sets, a dance party series that was created as an homage to the music that the East Side made famous. It is a family-friendly throwback to the sights and sounds of juke joints like The Keyhole Club and Eastwood County Club, which once boomed here in San Antonio. 

This past October, we presented the first edition of Carver Soul Sets, which featured ’50s and ’60s soul classics spun by San Antonio’s DJ Sunnyboy and Los Angeles-based Ruben “DJ Flacosoul” Molina. The response was incredible and the event brought out even more local DJs, who added to the ambiance by spinning records from their own vinyl collections. We look forward to the next installment in May, when we feature ’70s funk and disco soul classics with San Antonio’s own Soul Spot DJs.

Exploring culture has always been a huge part of my life; the sights, sounds, tastes, and customs of our collective humankind still draw me to discover new art, music, food, and histories. Working at The Carver is akin to hitting the cultural jackpot, mainly because we are fanatical about bringing a variety of culturally significant arts experiences to San Antonio. 

At the same time, we want to be accessible to the community, so many of our outreach events are provided for free or at low cost. The Carver belongs to the community and everyone in the community belongs here.

The most rewarding part of my job is the interaction that we have with top-notch artists, musicians and performers. But I particularly enjoy seeing homegrown artists flourish. Remarkable things happen when artists are given the time, space and opportunity to share their gifts with the world. I feel like there is so much artistic talent right here in San Antonio and my mission is to share it with the world. 

Ernie Ramirez

Carver Community Cultural Center Supervisor Ernie Ramirez aims to design arts programming that honors The Carver's history.