From the outside, it looks like any ordinary building.
Aside from its size and triangular shape, the building’s traditional white paint and red bricks almost blend in with the surrounding homes. However, a few times a month, locals will hear the thump of music vibrating the building and people pouring in as the space known as La Cultura comes alive.
Located on Verbeke Street, La Cultura, or “The Culture,” is a new hub for vendors and artists. At least once a month, organizers host pop-up shops, art exhibits, open mics and more, featuring black-owned businesses and African-American artists.
“We need a space for us. We need a space to seek refuge where we feel respected and understood,” said La Cultura founder Elyse Irvis. “A space where we can enact our cultural practices, whether it’s hearing rap music without hearing someone complain about the choice of genre or selling hair products that are for us.”
Businesses such as The Natural Pick, Amma Joe, She is Shic shoes and art organizations like Artcan have used La Cultura for their pop-up shops and exhibits.
“There are so many up-and-coming creatives, artists and entrepreneurs in the area that don’t get the opportunity to showcase their greatness,” said Erin Moore, founder of The Natural Pick. “This space is unique because it can become whatever you want. This is a space where they seek what’s fresh and allows [businesses] the spotlight and exposure.”
La Cultura is an idea that Irvis pondered for awhile. After high school, she set off to college at Syracuse University with the intent of never returning to Harrisburg.
Post-college, she lived in Philadelphia for three years and in the Bronx for two. In both cities, people of color made up the majority of the population, and Irvis felt a connection there. She felt a sense of community.
In 2017, when she moved back to Harrisburg, her craving for community persisted. Immediately, she got involved. She began working for a local nonprofit, became the membership chair for the African American Chamber of Commerce and joined Young Professionals of Color of Greater Harrisburg (YPOC). These organizations put her in the center of the local black and brown community of young professionals, and she wanted to help advocate for these businesses and artists.
Last June, Irvis hosted a pop-up shop at a new, black-owned Airbnb located in Uptown Harrisburg. There, she saw that people seemed unaware of the number and quality of local, black-owned businesses. She soon came across the space on Verbeke Street, and everything came together.
“I really wanted to find a way to generate dollars back into the local black community by investing in the local black businesses that you don’t see everyday, as far as a set address,” Irvis said. “The fact that this space was walking distance from the Broad Street Market, two blocks from the Riverfront, right in the heart of Midtown, the location was good for doing consistent pop ups, which was what I wanted to do and where I saw a need.”
La Cultura officially opened its doors in August. The first event landed during 3rd in the Burg, with a plethora of vendors and dozens of attendees. According to Moore, La Cultura not only offers a sense of community and culture, but it helps businesses like hers, which run mostly online, show their face to their community.
“It’s one thing to have an online presence and a social media platform, but it’s truly an experience when you get to see regulars or potential clients in person,” Moore said. “The face-to-face interactions are priceless, and this is a space where I am able to do so.”
So far, La Cultura has hosted events such as “The 7th Sense,” a live art showcase created to “stimulate all your senses,” “Don’t Touch My Hair,” an event inspired by Irvis’ own experiences, where attendees heard from hair experts and purchased locally made products, as well as many other pop-ups.
“There are still places where black and brown people don’t feel comfortable,” Irvis said. “I want to be a solution to that.”
La Cultura is located on 214 Verbeke St., Harrisburg. For more information, visit their Facebook page: LaCultura717.