MECA began in 1977, growing out of the St. Joseph Fun ‘n Food Fest, the first citywide celebration of the various cultural groups that lived in inner-city Houston. St. Joseph's Catholic Church in the Old Sixth Ward led the festival; the church’s pastor, Father Sam Rosales, asked MECA’s founder and executive director, Alice E. Valdez, to build upon the spirit of community created by the festival by developing a program that would provide alternative arts activities for the city’s youth and families. MECA received 501(c)(3) status and was incorporated in 1979; in 1993, MECA moved to its current home in the historic Dow School building in the Old Sixth Ward. Built in 1912 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the school is currently undergoing restoration through MECA’s Dow School Rehabilitation Project; Phase I exterior restoration was completed in 2010.
MECA programs are nationally recognized for producing talented student artists. Such recognition includes being designated a Point of Light by President George H. W. Bush and being named a four-time semi-finalist for the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities Coming Up Taller Award. Student ensembles and artists also are known for their talent and achievements; recently, the National Endowment named the advanced Mariachi ensemble an American Masterpieces Touring Ensemble for the Arts.