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Friday, May 24, 2024

Lizette Cruz Watko

FOUNDER, DIAMANTE ARTS & CULTURAL CENTER
PRESIDENT,
WATKO ENTERTAINMENT
CARY

In 1993 when Lizette Watko started North Carolina’s first Spanish-language newspaper, La Voz de Carolina (Carolina’s Voice), she estimated there were fewer than 60,000 Latino residents in the state. Now, there are more than 1 million.

While she sold the newspaper five years later, she’s made promoting Latino culture a big part of her life’s work throughout her career as a nonprofit leader. In 1998, she founded the Diamante Arts and Cultural Center in Raleigh to raise awareness of artists, cuisine, music and other facets of the community.

Diamante, which means diamond in Spanish, continues to offer exhibits and provide leadership programs for aspiring artists. This year marked the 20th anniversary of the group’s Three Kings celebration on the 12th day of Christmas, which is a widely celebrated annual holiday throughout Latin America. The annual Ritmo Latino festival in May has attracted more than 12,000 people.

“We consider every artist to be a small business, so we consider our work to be economic development,” she says. “People misunderstand that the arts drive everything in our community because a lot of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) is based on art because someone has to design TVs, cars, newspapers, magazines. There’s an artist
behind those designs.”

Watko’s mother was Dominican while her father was from Puerto Rico. Raised in Los Angeles, she and her husband, Eric, came to North Carolina when he enrolled at N.C. State University’s graduate school. He’s a telecommunication industry executive.

Diamante, which has three part-time staffers, just moved into new leased space in west Raleigh. “If I had a wish, it would be for us to raise $1 million to create a center where we don’t need to spend money on a lease because the costs are astronomical,” she says. “But arts and culture aren’t supported as widely as they should be.”

This year, Watko says she’s going to focus on reinvigorating her entertainment company, which has included event planning, blogs and podcasts. Building greater Latino participation in civic affairs is also a constant goal.

“It takes time for people in the community to gain influence, particularly because many aren’t eligible to vote until they gain citizenship,” she says.

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David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg is editor of Business North Carolina. Reach him at dmildenberg@businessnc.com.

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